Fractional sales tax for the arts legislation on hold until after transportation vote

By Maria Saporta

So much is on hold as the Atlanta region looks forward to the vote on the passage of the one penny regional transportation sales tax.

As currently envisioned, the transportation sales tax will be on the July 31, 2012 ballot — and community leaders are working as hard as they can to help make sure it will pass.

But one popular concept — a fractional sales tax that would be dedicated funding for counties to invest in the arts, economic development and quality of life initiatives — is being tabled until after the transportation sales tax vote.

Joe Bankoff, president of the Woodruff Arts Center who recently announced that he is retiring at the end of May, has been working with other arts leaders on a fractional sales tax bill that has come close to passage in the state legislature during the past two sessions. The bill has been championed by the Metro Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition.

It is one of those bills that has had strong bi-partisan support in the legislature as well as among county leaders.

It would be the first time Georgia would permit splitting up a sales tax penny that could be used for a variety of efforts such as arts and cultural organizations, green space acquisition and infrastructure improvements.

Counties would have the flexibility to decide how the funds would be spent and how much they would want to raise. For example, a county could seek voter approval for only half a penny rather than a full penny. The only stipulation would be that a percentage of the tax would go to the arts.

“I will continue to work on the fractional sales tax,” Bankoff said about his post-retirement plans. “This is something we need to do for the community and for the whole state. We are going to keep working on this because we think the issue is about jobs.”

Bankoff said the priority in 2012 will be in getting the regional transportation sales passed and that efforts to pass a fractional sales tax will skip a year.

“We have got to figure out a way to work on our transportation challenges,” Bankoff said. “We are going to try to get the T-Splost (transportation sales tax) done.”

For much of the past four years, the focus has been on a transportation funding bill. Finally, in the 2011 session, the legislature passed the regional transportation sales tax bill that would allow regions all across the state to develop a transportation wish list and take that list to voters.

For whatever reason, the sales tax has become the preferred way for Georgia to raise new revenues. By letting voters decide whether to tax themselves, legislators take the path of least resistance so they don’t have to vote on a tax increase.

In November, metro Atlantans once again voted in favor of a one penny educational sales tax for public schools.

This coming March, the City of Atlanta will ask voters to extend the water-sewer penny sales tax to invest in the city’s infrastructure (it has passed twice before, helping raise billions to upgrade the city’s sewer system).

All of these measures could push the City of Atlanta’s sales tax rate up to a level that is higher than many other competing cities.

Each initiative — transportation, the arts, sewers, education, etc. — has merit. But it would make sense to figure out other ways than just the sales tax for us to pay for our needs.

For example, couldn’t we increase the gas tax to help pay for our transportation needs? Couldn’t we ask voters for another round of quality of life bonds that could go towards sidewalk improvements, parks, etc.

And if we do ask voters to approve the sales tax for water and sewer, couldn’t we make sure that a significant portion be used for environmentally-friendly solutions — such as a the Historic Fourth Ward Park — where we can acquire green space and create parks that would help improve our water quality and solve our storm water problems?

The beauty of the fractional sales tax is that it can be split up and pay for a variety of initiatives that are critical to our future. And each county can tailor it to meet its individual needs.

Meanwhile, we’ll have to wait for at least a year or two before we’ll have an opportunity to vote on a fractional sales tax for arts and economic development.

Let’s hope that by that time voters will not have become so weary of sales taxes that they would reject a sales tax that could improve their quality of life.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

7 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “For example, couldn’t we increase the gas tax to help pay for our transportation needs?”

    Now, Maria, you know that, in a Republican-dominated Legislature, no Legislator could ever be caught taking a direct vote to increase taxes of any kind if they value their political careers in any way. A direct vote in favor of a tax increase is the political kiss-of-death in the GOP as any politician who was foolish enough to go on record as directly voting for a tax increase would have said direct vote used against them in their respective Republican primaries in what would likely be a losing effort at the hands of an even more Conservative slate of Tea Party-backed candidates. In the very volatile current political (and economic) climate in which anti-tax and anti-government sentiment is at a fever pitch, letting the taxpayers decide whether they want to vote themselves a tax increase for transportation goes above and beyond the call-of-duty for a Republican-dominated Legislature which is facing extreme pressure from their political base to cut taxes and cut the size of government and is the best that transit advocates will ever get and can ever hope for. Report

    Reply
  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    In other words, politically, NO, we cannot increase the gas tax, because doing so would most assuredly result in the end of the political careers in a GOP Primary of any Republican State Legislator who voted to do so. Report

    Reply
  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Georgia Statehouse Speaker David Ralston is already facing howls of protest and derision from the Tea Party and Libertarian factions of the Republican Party who are quite displeased that the Speaker and much of the Republican-dominated State Legislature supported letting Georgians vote to increase taxes for transportation. Can you imagine extreme angst and discontent there would be within the Ultra-Conservative base of the GOP if the Republican members of the party had voted directly for a tax increase for transportation? Most of them would be defeated by challengers to their political right who would refuse to even consider letting taxpayers decide whether to vote themselves a tax increase. Ralston’s saving grace is that he is very popular and well-liked in his North Georgia Mountain district and the Tea Party, Ultraconservative and Libertarian challengers are almost completely from suburban and exurban Atlanta. At least the current Republican leadership is willing to do some work on transportation and let the voters decide whether to vote themselves a tax increase, something that would not even see the light of day under more Conservative leadership.Report

    Reply
  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Georgia Statehouse Speaker David Ralston is already facing howls of protest and derision from the Tea Party and Libertarian factions of the Republican Party who are quite displeased that the Speaker and much of the Republican-dominated State Legislature supported letting Georgians vote to increase taxes for transportation. Can you imagine the even more extreme angst and discontent there would be within the Ultra-Conservative base of the GOP if the Republican members of the party had voted directly for a tax increase for transportation? Most of them would be defeated by challengers to their political right who would refuse to even consider letting taxpayers decide whether to vote themselves a tax increase. Ralston’s saving grace is that he is very popular and well-liked in his North Georgia Mountain district and the Tea Party, Ultraconservative and Libertarian challengers are almost completely from suburban and exurban Atlanta. At least the current Republican leadership is willing to do some work on transportation and let the voters decide whether to vote themselves a tax increase, something that would not even see the light of day under more Conservative state legislative leadership.Report

    Reply
  5. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Georgia Statehouse Speaker David Ralston is already facing howls of protest and derision from the Tea Party and Libertarian factions of the Republican Party who are quite displeased that the Speaker and much of the Republican-dominated State Legislature supported letting Georgians vote to increase taxes for transportation. Can you imagine the even more extreme angst and discontent there would be within the Ultra-Conservative base of the GOP if the Republican members of the party had voted directly for a tax increase for transportation? Most of them would be defeated by challengers to their political right who would refuse to even consider letting taxpayers decide whether to vote themselves a tax increase. Ralston’s saving grace is that he is very popular and well-liked in his North Georgia Mountain district and the Tea Party, Ultraconservative and Libertarian challengers are almost completely from suburban and exurban Atlanta. At least the current Republican leadership is willing to do some work on transportation and let the voters decide whether to vote themselves a tax increase, something that would not even see the light of day under more Conservative state legislative leadership.Report

    Reply
  6. Jay Driver says:

    Spending as a percent of income is higher the lower the income. This statement is understandable and is proved by data. This means sales taxes are regressive taxes, even if some food is exempt or taxed at a lower rate. The Georgia tax rate is flat, causing it to act as a regressive tax for low incomes in excess of the tax base.

    The percentage of income spent on taxation as a measure of burden is better than using the dollars spent on taxes.

    If we keep raising sales taxes in Georgia we place a heavy burden on the poor and also price ourselves out of competitive locations.

    More importantly, we presumably elect legislators (and vote them out) because they provide an over view of where money should be spent–and they can take the interactions among different kinds of spending into account. Spending more in one area can reduce the need to spend in another area, a result that voting on individual tax measures cannot take into account.

    Voting on individual tax measure piece meal because the causes are “worthy” leads to wasteful allocations of tax money and results.Report

    Reply
  7. Burroughston Broch says:

    Sales tax to support the arts should occupy the lowest slot of the priorities list, alongside the taxpayers building Arthur Blank a new stadium.

    I financially support the arts that appeal to me, choral music and ASO amongst them. Let’s suppose that these arts don’t appeal to you. Why then should government force you to support them? You support what you will and I will support what I will.

    And please, no talk of how support of the arts enriches everyone’s lives. It doesn’t.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.