1 percent sales tax for transportation: For first time, officials acknowledge it may last more than 10 years

By David Pendered

The proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation that voters will decide next year may last longer than the 10-year period that will be on the ballot.

That’s because elected officials are starting to talk publicly about the as-yet imaginary second phase of the proposed sales tax.

Two reasons for the presumed desire to extend the 10-year sales tax appear to be emerging:

  • A regional system to improve mobility and ease traffic congestion has yet to be devised by the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable;
  • The localized solutions now on the table, which are aimed at $22.9 billion worth of requests, cannot all be funded with the $6.1 billion the proposed sales tax is expected generate over its 10-year lifespan.

Voters would have to approve an extension of the sales tax. If an extension is sought, a referendum may be called for 2022.

Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash raised the issue of a second phase of the penny sales tax at a meeting Thursday of the roundtable’s executive committee. Her comment elicited one direct response.

“One question on the table is: What if the next phase is not passed?” asked Nash, who’s elected countywide to head the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. “The bottom line question, or one of the bottom line questions, is: Where will those costs be covered if there’s not a regional SPLOST for the next 10-year period?”

The only response Nash received came from a fellow Gwinnett official – Bucky Johnson, mayor of Norcross and chairman of the executive committee of the roundtable.

“It goes back to what the project sponsors are willing to commit to,” Johnson said.

SPLOST is the acronym for the type of sales tax commonly used by Georgia counties to pay for countywide improvements such as roads, parks and schools. It stands for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Money was a central topic of Thursday’s meeting.

The event started with a cautionary tale about tight federal funding from Therese McMillan, a deputy administrator with the Federal Transit Administration. She said funding is increasingly competitive and federal programs can be expected to change.

Two proposals from the staff of the executive committee drew fire:

  • Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, an executive committee member, protested the proposal that almost a third of the $6.1 billion not be allocated. The staff recommended setting 30 percent of the anticipated money aside to cover project costs that are higher than expected at this stage of design and engineering.
  • MARTA CEO/GM Beverly Scott, who does not serve on the roundtable, protested the proposal that new transit and rail lines be presented as only expenditures. She said it would be proper to show the revenues they are expected to generate through fares and federal sources, which will lower their projected cost.

One question that may have arisen for the first time in public involves how to actually put money into a bank to cover checks written to pay companies for their work.

“Can we issue bonds under the sales tax?” is one legal question to be resolved, said Kirk Fjelstul, chief counsel to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

Governments typically sell bonds to create a treasury that is used to pay for construction and related expenses. Bonds are repaid with sales tax revenues.

The meeting ended with members voting to direct the staff to continue working on the numbers behind the projects. That meeting may happen July 27.

The executive committee is to meet Aug. 4 – unless Johnson calls a special meeting with at least a 24-hour notice.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. J Allen says:

    Wow! It might take more than 10 years? An awe inspiring revelation.

    My favorite commentary yet on the TSPLOST –

    “State leaders need to recognize that the 2010 transportation initiative was a way for an exiting governor and timid legislature to kick the problem down an unfunded road. Georgia has a new Governor and Atlanta has a new mayor. While it would require significant political capital, the two should consider an entire re-work of the current plan. The risk of failure of the current initiative is great. The cost of failure and continued delay is even greater.”Report


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