Worth every penny

Special purpose local option sales tax deserves your vote May 20

Its official name on the May 20 ballot is the Augusta-Richmond County Special Purpose Local Option Sales and Use Tax.

Most everyone just calls it SPLOST.

And you need to vote for it.

If it passes, more than $198 million will fund dozens of projects to make Richmond County better than ever.

Failing to pass SPLOST VII would be nothing less than slamming the door on golden opportunities.

There are two heavy economic hitters in this tax package: the Mills District – composed of the historic King and Sibley textile mill properties – and the growing Georgia Regents University Cancer Center. Under SPLOST, the mills would get $5.25 million, and the cancer center $8 million.

Both numbers represent crucial investments. The mills allocation would fund the groundwork for a city
proposal that would connect the downtown medical district with a distinctive Augusta Canal historic property ripe with possibility – residences, classrooms, offices. It would prime the area with a surge of development and vitality.

The cancer center allocation would spur the Medical College of Georgia’s efforts to bring a much-coveted National Cancer Institute designation to Augusta. The effect of that would be immense. Research money would come to Augusta, and with it the professionals to perform that research. And their families. And they’ll need places to live and
shop.

To put it into perspective: The University of Kansas Cancer Center won NCI designation in 2006. The result? By 2016, cancer center leaders there estimate “the number of jobs created will reach 2,241 and the regional economic impact of NCI investments will total $1.93 billion.”

Does Augusta have that potential? We’ll answer that question with another question: Who has the better-known medical community – Augusta, Ga., or Lawrence, Kan.? The NCI economic-impact numbers we have heard for Augusta have fallen firmly in that billion-dollar ballpark.

Anyone who has ever grumped about the quality of life in Augusta has no excuse to oppose SPLOST.

Do you oppose eyesore properties? There’s $4 million in there for demolitions.

Do you oppose flooding and poor drainage? There’s $2.5 million in there for the flood reduction program.

Do you think emergency coverage is inadequate? The sheriff’s office and fire department would get nearly $9 million for improvements.

Have you complained about the lack of things to do around here? The tax package generously includes $19 million in funding allocations to improve parks and recreation facilities countywide. And there’s money to enhance the wonderful missions of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the Augusta Symphony, the Augusta Museum of History, the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy and the Imperial Theatre.

Let’s talk a bit more about that. One of the knocks against SPLOST is that it’s supposedly illegal to allocate public money to nonpublic agencies. Opponents cite the gratuities clause in the Georgia Constitution.

We’ll cite that clause, too, verbatim, and the emphasis is ours: “The General Assembly shall not authorize any county, municipality or other political subdivision of this state, through taxation, contribution or otherwise, to appropriate money for or to lend its credit to any person or to any nonpublic corporation or association except for purely charitable purposes.”

The SPLOST allocations to cultural agencies are “purely charitable.”

The Georgia Municipal Association seems to agree. An August 2012 Legal Report from the GMA spells out precisely the types of projects you can target for SPLOST funding. There are a lot.
One type is “a capital outlay project consisting of a cultural, recreational or historic facility, or a facility for some combination of these purposes.”

The report mentions nothing forbidding SPLOST funding from going toward charities or nonprofits. If it were illegal, why haven’t we seen a torrent of legal challenges?

No, SPLOST is not packed with so-called “pet projects.” The selection of outside agencies for consideration under the tax plan took place after more than a year of completely public, out-in-the-open discussions with several local charities.

And before you think local nonprofits are being showered with a ton of free money, bear in mind that each agency has to come up with 25 percent in matching funds. If they can’t pony up the 25 percent, they don’t see a penny of this penny tax.

Here’s another canard: Since SPLOSTs, by law, can’t overlap, the proposed SPLOST VII is illegal because collections on SPLOST VI still would be collected when VII went into effect.

That’s simply not true. SPLOST VII is legally considered an extension of the previous SPLOST, so there is no overlap.

SPLOST opponents also would have you think that the May 20 proposal doesn’t include enough infrastructure spending.

Not enough? Does anyone remember the 2012 transportation SPLOST – $841 million for the Augusta region alone? Throw in the attendant federal funds and you’re talking about more than $1 billion of construction over the next decade.

One of the best features of the TSPLOST is that it gives conventional SPLOST packages the flexibility to concentrate on a broader spectrum of quality-of-life projects.

And in the end, isn’t it what this is all about? Our quality of life?

And isn’t a better quality of life worth a penny?

You couldn’t make a better investment if you spent 10 lifetimes playing the stock market.

Please vote “yes” for SPLOST VII on May 20. It will be good for all of us, in many ways.

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