The stake was in the heart with the first returns Tuesday night.
And as returns poured in — it didn’t matter from where in the Georgia Mountains region — the transportation sales tax vote appeared more and more doomed as the night went by.
“It wasn’t a surprise that it failed. We had been looking at the polls for several weeks,” said one of the issue’s biggest supporters, Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. “But the margin was surprising.”
The final tally in the Georgia Mountains was 25 percent in favor and 75 percent against. Hall closely mirrored the region’s vote, with 74 percent against and 26 percent in favor.
Towns County, where residents had rallied loudly against the tax, showed the least amount of support for it, with only 10 percent. Franklin County had the most support, with 34 percent voting for the tax.
By Dunlap’s reckoning, the referendum failed the worst in the 13-county region than any other of the state’s 12 designated regions because of its ultraconservative base.
“I think it’s (the idea of) no taxes, period. You can go on and say everybody thought (revenues) were going to Atlanta or everybody doesn’t trust government — that’s the whole ‘anti’ sentiment.”
Statewide, only three regions spanning central parts of Georgia — Central Savannah River Area (Augusta area), Heart of Georgia (Dublin-Vidalia area) and River Valley (Columbus area) — approved the referendum.
“We commend the voters in these regions for their willingness to invest in their own future,” said Chris Clark, president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, in a statement issued Wednesday.
“This decision will allow them to move forward with much-needed transportation projects that will create jobs and attract new economic investment at a time when it is needed the most.”
Todd Long, deputy commissioner for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said in a phone interview only that the DOT plans “to work with the three regions that passed (the tax) and we’ll deliver those projects on time, on budget and on schedule.”
Long, who deferred to the governor’s office for further comment, helped shepherd regional roundtables through the process of drawing up project lists.
Critics of the measure frequently pointed to a weak economy as the reason to vote against it. Many said the gas tax should be raised instead because it would serve as a sort of “user” tax.
In a June 7 public hearing, Gillsville resident John Lipscomb of Lanier Tea Party Patriots said, “We’re in a recession right now and I don’t think I can afford to pay any more taxes.
“Why couldn’t we roll up the tax on gasoline and let the people who use the roads pay for them? And Grandma who goes to the grocery store once a month doesn’t have to pay for everything.”
In response to the vote, Mike Scupin, local coordinator of the Lanier Tea Party Patriots, said, “I am extremely excited and grateful that through the leadership of the tea parties all across Georgia that the citizens of Georgia recognized this unconstitutional T-SPLOST as such, and have voted to stop it.”
State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, who served as one of the regional roundtable’s legislative members, said he believes the tax’s defeat could be traced to several issues.
“I think it’s the state of the economy, Obama fatigue, we’ve had 83 banks fail in the state of Georgia and people are just adamantly opposed to paying anything else right now,” he said.
The referendum “was the last hurrah for Gov. (Sonny) Perdue and we knew going in that it would be hard (to pass),” Rogers said. “The hope was for metro Atlanta, which has all the congestion problems. We will (have such problems) in a matter of years.”
Charles Bullock, political scientist at the University of Georgia, had figured an uphill battle all along for the sales tax and wasn’t surprised by the results.
Especially addressing the highly publicized Atlanta region’s results, he said, “It was a pretty substantial defeat for an effort that had the amount of money put behind it.”
In a statement after the results were announced, Gov. Nathan Deal expressed disappointment.
“Given state budget constraints, significant reductions in federal funding and the long time it takes to get projects completed, the rejection of the T-SPLOST significantly reduces our capacity to add infrastructure in a timely fashion,” he said.
On Wednesday, he issued another statement that said he would “continue to do what I have done since I became governor: work in consultation with state transportation leaders, legislators and local officials to establish our priority projects.”
Deal added: “There will be belt-tightening. It’s certainly disappointing that we won’t have the resources to accomplish all the projects needed to get Georgians moving quicker, but it does force state officials, including myself, to focus all our attention on our most pressing needs.”