READ THE OTHER SIDE: T-SPLOST is wrong way to fund road projects by Mike Scupin
Like many of you, I grew up on the roads of Northeast Georgia.
My father was a family physician back in the days when they still made house calls. Many a night after dinner, I joined my dad on patient visits across South Hall, his car kicking up dust all along a busy dirt road we know today as Spout Springs.
Later, while playing football at Buford High and riding the team bus, my memories rode up and down the narrow, winding two-lanes from here to the mountains.
Though a lot has changed since then, many of those roadways from my youth seem stuck in time. Sure, Spout Springs Road is no longer dirt, but it’s on the same road bed with those same steep shoulders that have ditched many a car over the last fifty years. Meanwhile, this aging roadway is overrun with traffic from Hall County’s largest high school, largest library, largest neighborhoods, and one of its largest churches. The area also will soon be home to a new hospital.
To the north, U.S. Hwy. 129 looks no different than it did 40 years ago. And getting around Cleveland, especially during leaf season, is still a nightmare on wheels.
How could Hall County and Northeast Georgia grow up so fast and leave so many key roadways straggling behind? Transportation infrastructure is one of the most important investments that a community can make in its local economy and the future of our children. However, many of our area’s most critical road-improvement needs have been stalled for decades. Fiscal restraints from the recent recession — and the outdated motor fuel tax that primarily paid for roads in the past — certainly have been big factors.
As a state senator, I have heard my fair share of complaints about roads and traffic. And I sure have not had much of an answer or solution. Until now.
The General Assembly passed the T-SPLOST bill before I had the privilege of being elected a state senator, so I didn’t have the opportunity to speak for or against it in the legislature. My vote on July 31 is the same as everyone else’s.
But in July, we will all come together to vote up or down on the one-penny transportation tax, or T-SPLOST. In my opinion, this provision is one of the best opportunities in a long time to finally do something about our roads — from Spout Springs, Athens Highway and Sardis to Cleveland Highway and numerous other points north to the state line. But still I hear the complaints. Complaints about another new tax.
These are valid concerns. No one, including myself, wants a new tax. But my response is that if more people would take the time to understand the T-SPLOST merits — as well as its myths — they would clearly be in support. This is a complex problem that requires your careful consideration. It simply cannot be explained in a single sound bite, which is why I am so passionate about you understanding the truth about T-SPLOST.
For example, is T-SPLOST really a tax when Hall County stands to receive more money than we would pay out? T-SPLOST is projected to receive around $362 million for our county, while we would pay out approximately $250 million. That’s because representatives of the other counties in our region recognize the importance of Hall County as an economic hub for the area and voted to send more dollars here to increase their access to doctors, hospitals, colleges, retail and businesses.
On top of that, studies show close to a third of our local sales taxes are paid by outsiders, which would cut our transportation tax bill by roughly another $80 million. The net effect is that Hall County residents will actually pay approximately $170 million in sales tax and get more than double in return for their money in transportation projects.
Unfortunately, I hear a lot of misinformation about T-SPLOST. The biggest rumor is that a portion of our local T-SPLOST dollars will be sucked up by Atlanta and MARTA. Absolutely untrue. One-hundred percent of local T-SPLOST revenues will be spent right here in our Northeast Georgia region, and a quarter of that total goes directly to the local counties and municipalities.
I also hear quite often that T-SPLOST dollars will be funneled into the state’s General Fund or squandered by Georgia DOT. Again, absolutely untrue. In fact, there will be a special citizen’s commission charged with independent oversight to ensure proper fiscal management and absolutely no co-mingling of the tax revenues with any other funds or projects.
Also, unlike the unpopular Georgia 400 tolls that were extended by executive order, T-SPLOST expires after 10 years — or sooner if we meet the dollar cap. Then, it would take another referendum to even consider it again.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here and propose a deal. I won’t bug you with a worthless appeal for your support of T-SPLOST if you’ll simply promise me one thing. Take the time to educate yourself on this referendum. (A good place to start is www.ConnectGeorgiaMountains.org).
Because if you and your neighbors learn the facts, we don’t need a fancy poll or political pundits to predict the final vote. T-SPLOST wins hands down.
Butch Miller is a local businessman and state senator representing Hall County.