Hot Doc : Is TSPLOST right for us?

KNOW YOUR VOTE! On July 31st 2012 the state of Georgia will be voting on a new 1% tax that will be used to support infrastructure throughout the state of Georgia.  The Transportation Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (TSPLOST) will have a huge impact on our lives over the next decade and beyond.  It is imperative that you understand it before you vote so that as a citizen you can make an informed decision.  Find out more information from the Georgia Southern University Government Documents Eagle Source Page or from Georgia Southern University alum Samuel Russell’s article below:

Ten Years Down the Road by Samuel Russell



There is an important election coming up on July 31st. The primary for state and local officials and general election questions such as “Should the Georgia Constitution be amended to allow the state to override locally-elected school boards’ decisions when it comes to the creation of charter schools in your county or city?”  “Should Georgia reduce sales taxes on Made in Georgia products so as to support the growth of small businesses in our state?” or even “Should Georgia have casino gambling with funds going to education?”
One issue of statewide importance that will be on the ballot is the TSPLOST (Transportation Special Projects Local Options Sales Tax) referendum which was authorized to be voted on by Georgians in the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) of 2010, also known as HB 277.  But what do you know about it? Have you even heard of it? If it passes it will affect almost everything you purchase for the next decade. The purpose for this article is to provide you with a simple understanding the TSPLOST referendum and what it means for you, Bulloch County, the coastal region, and the state of Georgia.
The ballot will read:

“Provides for local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion with citizen oversight.

Shall Bulloch County’s transportation system and the transportation network in this region and the state be improved by providing for a 1 percent special district transportation sales and use tax for the purpose of transportation projects and programs for a period of ten years?”

According to ConnectGeorgia2012.com, a website by the Georgia Transportation Alliance, “Despite our fast-growing population, Georgia spends less per capita on transportation than almost any other state. This is beginning to make our state less attractive to employers and negatively impact our quality of life. Across the state, bridges are falling apart, roads are unpaved and in disrepair, and truck traffic clogs community streets. The states we compete with for new jobs have taken transportation seriously, investing in it while Georgia has stalled.”
To implement this new tax, Georgia has been divided into “12 special tax district regions based on existing Regional Commission boundaries,” according to information provided by the Bulloch County Elections and Voter Registration website. Statesboro is part of the coastal region which includes Camden, Glynn, McIntosh, Long, Liberty, Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Screven, & Bulloch counties. What this means is that even if one county were to vote against it, but it passes throughout the region the county, or counties, that voted against it will still be bound to their region and pay the tax.
Items that are exempted from being taxed, as stated in 48-8-241 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A),  are “the sale or use of any type of fuel used for off-road heavy-duty, off-road farm or agricultural equipment, or locomotives; the sale or use of jet fuel to or by a qualifying airline at a qualifying airport; the sale or use of fuel that is used for propulsion of motor vehicles on the public highways; the sale or use of energy used in the manufacturing or processing of tangible goods primarily for resale; motor fuel (gasoline, fuel oils, compressed petroleum gas, and special fuel); the tax…shall only be levied on the first $5000 of any transaction involving the sale or lease of a motor vehicle.” Everything else will be taxed including “the sale of food and beverages”.
Throughout the state TSPLOST will go to fund projects such as “Roadway Capital (New Roads and Bridges; Expansions), Roadway & Bridge Maintenance (Asset Management), Safety and traffic Operations (Intersections, Signal, Signs), Freight & Logistics (Truck/Rail), Aviation (Airports), Bicycle and Pedestrian (Sidewalks and Bike Trails), Transit Capital (Buses, Trains, Ferries), & Transit Operations & Maintenance (CAT, Liberty Transit, Coastal Regional Coaches, et al.).”
The major projects in Bulloch County include the widening of SR 67, widening US 301, Statesboro North Bypass, & Bike Pedestrian Improvements along US 301.  All of the local projects are estimated to bring in $282.2 mil. in total improvements to Bulloch County.  If passed TSPLOST revenue through the TIA could “create over 43,000 jobs in the region, [and] over 6,000 jobs in [Bulloch] county.”
The Coastal Region is projected to raise approximately $1.608 bil., the second largest in the state of Georgia. According to the information provided on the Bulloch County website about the TSPLOST Referendum “Bulloch County gets the second highest investment amount in the region behind Chatham County and more local discretionary (25%) funds than Bibb, Muscogee and Richmond County.” Also according to information from Bulloch County Elections and Voter Registration website, “For every one dollar in sales taxes paid in Bulloch County, Bulloch County will get $2.82 back.”
Twenty-five percent of the TSPLOST revenue will be distributed to local governments in which the tax is imposed if the district is not “coterminous with a Metropolitan Planning Organization.”  An MPO is “the policy board of an organization created and designated to carry out the metropolitan transportation planning process.” If a special district is wholly contained within a single MPO then they will only receive 15% of the proceeds.  Bulloch County will be receiving 25% of the proceeds collected in this area from TSPLOST if it passes
The other seventy-five percent of the TSPLOST revenue “shall be used within the special district receiving proceeds of the tax exclusively for the projects on the approved investment list for such district” according to O.C.G.A. 48-8-249. Project lists for each district are available from the Georgia Department of Transportation.
A Citizens Review Panel has been created and charged with “review of the administration of the projects and programs included on the approved investment list.” The CRP is to consist of “three citizen members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and two citizen members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.” Members of the panel must be members of the special district that they will represent. It is their responsibility to “annually review the specific public benefits identified in the investment list to ascertain the degree to which such benefits have been attained.” The reports that the panel are charged with creating, and delivered to the General Assembly, will be available for public inspection on a website “developed by the state revenue commissioner to be used exclusively for matters related to the special district transportation sales and use tax,” as stated in C.O.G.A. 48-8-245 subsection (c) paragraph (3).
At the end of the ten year period, or “at the end of the calendar quarter during which the state revenue commissioner determines that the tax has raised revenues sufficient to provide to the special district net proceeds equal to or greater than the amount specified as the estimated amount of net proceeds to be raised by the special district transportation tax,” the “tax shall cease to be imposed.” This does give TSPLOST a sunset clause.
The revenue collected from TSPLOST “shall be exclusively administered and collected by the state revenue commissioner [currently Douglas J. MacGinnitie] for the use and benefit of the special district imposing the tax,” or, for our purposes, the Coastal Region. O.C.G.A. 48-8-250 states that each year by December 15, the state revenue commissioner is required to publish “a simple, nontechnical report which shows for each project in the investment list approved by the director the original estimated cost, the current estimated cost if it is not the original estimated cost, amounts expended in prior years, and amounts expended in the current year with respect to each such project.” “The report shall also include a statement of what corrective action the commissioner of transportation and the executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority intend to implement with respect to each project which is underfunded or behind schedule and a statement of any surplus funds which have not been expended for a project.”
More information on specific legislation pertaining to this article can be obtained through Lori Gwinett, the Government Documents Librarian at Henderson Library of Georgia Southern University.  Her email is lgwinett@georgiasouthern.edu.  There is also information provided by Bulloch County Elections and Voter Registration website, savannahga.gov, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and numerous others.

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