Wednesday, October 13, 2010

(Yet) Another Reason to Vote NO

I was reviewing the claims on the “pro” SPLOST 2011 site put up by the citizens committee appointed by the mayor and commission to develop the initial project list and budget.  The first two of those claims immediately caught my attention.

1.  Visitors will pay for half of SPLOST 2011

Because of our unique location and heritage − and, of course, the University of Georgia − Athens is a hub for visitors from all across Georgia, and beyond, who come for shopping, sports, and a wide range of services. Since 1985, over $314 million has been collected in Clarke County … one SPLOST penny at a time. About half – over $150 million – from non-residents for improvement and growth of our community.

The alternative for raising money for any of the SPLOST projects is to raise property taxes.

I dealt with this one in a letter to the editor years ago.  Wrote I, in part, back in November 2001:

The contention that 40 percent of the money raised by the renewed SPLOST will be paid by people who live outside of Clarke County may be entirely accurate; it is also entirely meaningless. The logic of the argument is that Clarke County residents will get 100 percent of the SPLOST's value, while only paying 60 percent of its cost. If Clarke County were the only county with the extra 1-percent sales tax, the argument may have merit. However, according to the Georgia Department of Revenue's Web site, all five of the counties adjoining Clarke County also levy the extra 1-percent sales tax. Eight of the other 12 counties which, along with Clarke County, comprise the 11th congressional district levy the additional 1-percent sales tax. In fact, 109 of Georgia's 159 counties levy the additional sales tax.

This is where the logic of the argument fails. While the residents of surrounding counties may pay a certain percentage of our SPLOST, I dare say that we pay a similar percentage of theirs. Of course, the voters in all of these counties were led to believe that someone else would be paying a considerable portion of their SPLOST. In other words, they would be getting something for nothing. It is a fiscal impossibility for the various counties' SPLOSTs to pay out more money than is paid into them. Thus, there is no free lunch to be had here. We all end up paying higher taxes; the money merely gets filtered through different county bureaucracies.

The specifics may have changed, but the argument is still valid.  Note that the 40% figure tossed out back then has now risen to 50%, a figure I do not believe for a minute.  This tail end of the first claim segues nicely into the second one.

2.  Property taxes will be saved

Athens-Clarke County has the smallest land mass of Georgia’s 159 counties, but is the fourteenth largest county in population. Yet 47% of its land value is exempt from taxation. This means that, if we did not have SPLOST, all capital projects would have to be totally funded with our property tax dollars, putting an unfair burden on property owners and their renters to the benefit of visitors and commuters. For example, if just the new jail fell on residents − instead of SPLOST − property tax on a $150,000 home could increase over $70 a year.

As noted yesterday, this one hasn’t worked out as promised, either (see here, here and here).

Pointedly, no corroboration whatsoever is given for either of these claims.  As usual, we’re just supposed to take the claims of advocates of bigger, more expensive government at face value.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You were on the right track with your careful history of the sales taxes (SPLOST, ELOST, etc.). Advocating a defeat of this SPLOST though is something of a waste of space and effort: It'll probably pass anyway, and taking sides is counter-productive if you want to spur public understanding of the process and its evolution.
My own criticisms of SPLOST is that it undercuts the critical review process associated with government spending, and turns the M&C into excited teenagers shopping at Phipp's with dad's credit card. Better oversight WOULD occur, for instance, if they had to raise property taxes to pay for a project. Along these lines, I think SPLOST, in these times, represents not wise government; but irresponsible government. (The way the backdoor tax increase or the storm water fee is irresponsible -- and liable to cause mistrust.)
It's hard to fathom how many no votes will materialize. I don't think ACC is yet across the threshhold where it can effectively drive a yes vote for SPLOST. Let's wait and see how the 'yes vote' folks campaign and advertise. Other communities, though, such as Augusta, Columbus, and the Atlanta area have already arrived at that destination.

James said...

While I appreciate the compliment, I must disagree with your proposed course of action.

Even though I fully expect the SPLOST ballot resolution to pass, I will continue to lobby for its defeat. The stakes are simply too high; if this passes, we will be stuck with a $200 million (by the time interest is taken into account), almost decade-long travesty. We will not have the opportunity to revise the process or educatate anyone about anything again until the 2020s.

I'm sorry, but I will continue to do everything I can to defeat this.