Originally created 08/21/05

The vision thing

Maybe they should take the "special" out of "special purpose local option sales tax."

In essense, they already have.

Oh, sure, they've thrown the public library into the latest proposal, and the badly needed exhibition center. But the once-special sales tax, which might have changed the skyline and transformed the culture of Augusta, is now a much-reduced $160 million tax going mostly to replace the pitiable jail at 401 Walton Way; rescue the sheriff's department from the same sewage-mold-and-rainwater-infested building; and build a less ambitious courthouse than earlier planned.

These things are not of a "special purpose." They are what government is supposed to be doing as a matter of routine.

Yes, there's something special in the $20 million for an exhibition center that would attract business to the city and increase both economic activity and tax revenues. And the library - well, it's hoped the $14.7 million for the library will win the electoral support of the library's friends in November.

Still, extending the county's current 1-cent SPLOST, which expires at the end of the year, could have done so much more - a performing arts center, a sports and entertainment arena and more.

Such things were on last November's ballot, which failed. Again, on June 21, voters rejected general obligation bonds that would have built the arena and courthouse - which would have freed up the SPLOST for other special projects. Didn't happen.

It is particularly saddening to see the performing arts center get locked out; at least the sports arena had its own vote in June. This community is simply too big, too diverse and too culturally rich not to have a first-class performing arts center, especially one that could dress up the riverfront downtown.

"We were shut out," says performing arts center proponent Lowell Greenbaum.

The result is that the community is treading water.

It seems voters - who soundly rejected the commission's last two tax initiatives - sent a message that they want a more modest SPLOST proposal this time around. And that many of them have no confidence in the local government.

But you also have to wonder if the commission has become too gun-shy for our own good.

Thus, our Catch 22: Our leaders aren't selling a bold vision for Augusta, and apparently we wouldn't buy it if they did.

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