Across Georgia, voters in 12 regions will have their say July 31
on a 1-cent Special District Transportation Sales and Use Tax for various transportation and road projects. Even if residents in one county vote it down, however, they will still have to pay the tax if it passes in their region.
If a region votes it down, it can come up for a vote again in two years with the Legislature’s approval.
Here’s a primer about the tax, including what proponents and opponents say:
Q: What is the transportation special purpose local option sales tax?
A: Under the administration of Gov. Sonny Perdue, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 created a referendum for a
1 percent regional sales tax to pay for transportation improvements across Georgia.
The state was divided into 12 multi-county regions where regional roundtables developed a list of transportation projects, including roads, bridges, airports, transit and other areas that can be funded by the revenue. Lists were finalized Oct. 15.
The July 31 vote is by region, and counties are not allowed to opt out of the vote. Region 7 (Central Savannah River Area) includes Burke, Columbia, Glascock, Hancock, Jefferson, Jenkins, Lincoln, McDuffie, Richmond, Taliaferro, Warren, Washington and Wilkes counties.
Q: How is the tax collected and distributed?
A: If passed, tax collection will begin January 2013 and will be in place for 10 years. The Georgia Department of Revenue will collect the money, and the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission will distribute the funds.
Richmond County is projected to collect $277.5 million over 10 years.
The revenue projection for Region 7 is $841 million, and $7.2 billion for the state.
Of the funds collected, 75 percent will go toward the approved list and 25 percent will be used for local discretionary projects not yet decided by city and county officials. The Georgia Department of Transportation is mostly responsible for project delivery.
The law calls for each region to develop a Citizens Review Panel that is responsible for assessing progress of the projects and issuing an annual report to the General Assembly.
Q: Will the transportation tax help Augusta’s economy?
A: Backers of the tax say transportation investment is crucial for future economic growth. Transportation projects are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs, improve trucking routes for commerce and attract businesses.
Connect Georgia, an entity created by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to promote the referendum, said the tax will invest up to $19 billion in the state’s economy over 10 years. An estimated 22,700 jobs will be created in Augusta’s region.
Georgia lags behind other states in transportation investment, although it is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, according to proponents.
Some opponents, however, question the validity of the economic calculations and see the tax as just another tax.
Q: What do proponents of the tax say?
A: Sue Parr, the president and CEO of Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, touts the tax as essential to the state’s economic health.
“Manufacturers who move their goods rely on our roads,” she said. “They need good connections to good highway systems in other parts of the state and in other states.”
Wayne Yost, the owner of Wrens-based Team Excavating Co., said if state taxpayers don’t fund infrastructure improvements, they’ll never get done.
“We as a people and especially local people for our local infrastructure are going to have to take responsibility for our own infrastructure and local economy,” he said. “If we’re going to wait on federal funds, we are going to be left behind.”
Q: What do opponents of the tax say?
A: Joe Bowles, Augusta’s Mayor Pro Tem, said it will hurt the local economy more than help it.
“Why go up another percentage when it’s just going to drive more people to North Augusta for gas, groceries and even big-ticket items?” he said.
Columbia County activist Al Gray sees the tax as another unwelcome government intrusion.
“To me, it’s an expansion of the government that I’ve always been against, and at the same time, it’s going to increase my cost of living,” he said.