In about three weeks, Georgia voters will weigh in on a referendum that will have profound impacts on their wallets, their roads, local jobs and regional transportation.
It’s called the “Transportation Investment Act of 2010 referendum,” “TSPLOST” and the “penny tax.”
If the referendum passes, it would enact a 1 percent sales tax throughout the 10-county region that would cover nine regional transportation projects in Bryan County and would direct money for transportation projects back to local municipal governments.
It may sound to some like a tough pill to swallow. Opponents say this item is just another burdensome tax and that we should not buy it. But the federal government, a traditional source of transportation funds, has wrangled over spending so much that state officials do not anticipate much more federal money to come their way.
As a matter of fact, we’ve seen this loss of state revenue play out in reduced funding for public schools. Neither the state nor federal government is likely to provide funds for these greatly needed transportation projects for the foreseeable future.
This TSPLOST legislation includes a locally controlled solution — all money raised within the Coastal Region will stay within the region. Local elected officials had a hand in selecting regional projects. That list includes a new interchange at I-95 and Belfast Keller Road; interchange improvements at I-95 and Highway 17; interchange improvements at I-95 and Highway 144; the widening of Highway 144 from Timber Trail Road to Belfast River Road; interchange improvements at I-16 and Highway 280; and more.
And one of the little-mentioned aspects of the law is that local shares of maintenance to state roads would increase from 10 percent to 30 percent if the referendum does not pass — an increase that would likely be carried to property owners in the form of ad valorem taxes. At least this option presents a concrete list of projects to be completed and provides a timeline for doing so.
It also is likely to have a stimulative effect, as these projects would provide jobs for civil engineers, construction workers and those who supply materials. Local hotels, stores and restaurants would benefit if workers came in from elsewhere to complete the projects. And industrial experts say if the tax passes in this region but not in others, it will give us an advantage drawing new businesses because our roads will be in the best shape.
Opponents may argue that the tax is regressive and has potential to hurt those in lower income brackets. They say those with less income travel less and use roads less frequently, so it would not be fair to tax their purchases as well.
But all consumers benefit from a transportation system that includes international shipping through points of entry like the Port of Savannah, trucking along I-95 and the state highways that connect small towns.
We all have a share in the transportation pie.
While no one wants more tax levied against households already hurting in a struggling economy, the TSPLOST referendum presents a pay-as-you-go, locally controlled option that would ensure the completion of these vital projects.
Voting “yes” for the TSPLOST referendum will ensure we have the infrastructure we will need in the decades ahead.