Georgia’s transportation sales tax holds voters hostage

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has signed into law an innovative taxing measure to improve the transportation infrastructure in the state. The law, though, is fraught with problems, and merely amounts to politicians being able to say, “I told you so,” when residents complain about the condition of the roads in the state.

traffic.jpgAccording to a press release from the governor’s office, the law breaks the state into 12 special tax districts. Each district will get together and form a transportation committee which will recommend projects in need of funding. They could be new roads, repaving, installation of traffic lights, etc. Once the list is complete, it will be put to voters in that district during the 2012 presidential election. If the voters approve the list – with its accompanying 1% hike in the sales tax in that district – then the state would fund those projects. If the voters reject the list, the region would receive no funding.

We have worked extremely hard to bring a level of accountability never seen before in our transportation planning process,” Perdue said. “Now, voters in each area of the state will have a chance to approve a plan that meets the needs of their area of the state while also connecting to the state’s transportation network.”

Sounds nice, until you get inside the heads of voters. As politics always play a role in these decisions, say for instance, that during the committee’s negotiations, three projects are suggested for Town A and just one project for Town B some 30 miles away, why would voters in Town B OK the tax hike? Especially if there were projects in Town B that residents felt should have been included.

From the politician’s standpoint, though, this is a win-win because it gives them an out.

sonny_perdue_2.jpg“These district lines are important because they recognize our state’s regional business centers, and the areas from which those centers draw consumers,” Perdue said. “This approach will mean dollars spent in a region remain in that region, and the projects will benefit the entire region.”

In other words, if a district rejects the sales tax increase, “we told you so.” Residents will have no recourse because they voted no to the projects, the politicians will say.

If the state was so concerned about spreading the funds out appropriately, there is another option: just ask for a 1% increase in the sales tax statewide to fund transportation projects and then funnel that money to each district according to its needs/size.

Doing the voting in this manner leaves the voters in each region no choice but to approve the sales tax increase lest funding goes to another region. That is not really the democratic process at work. But it is one way to ensure money is generated for infrastructure.

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