- Local News
--By Rep. Mike Dudgeon on --
I am voting no for the TSPLOST on Tuesday. So many people have asked for my thoughts that I wanted to put out a public column.
The TSPLOST would implement a 1% new sales tax over 10 years to fund dedicated regional transportation project lists. If the voters in an entire region pass it, they will get the extra tax and implement their project list. Forsyth County is in the Mountains region that includes Hall, Dawson, Lumpkin, and the other NE Georgia mountain counties. Fulton is part of the Atlanta region, so the two counties may share different fates. These lists are already done, “locked in”, and contrary to what you may have heard the selection process was designed to give local authorities much more input than just the DOT or Atlanta. You can see the lists here (Forsyth: http://www.it3.ga.gov/Documents/FinalList/GAMtns-FinalInvestmentList.pdf, Fulton http://www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com/documents/final_report.pdf)
For Forsyth County, our project list is outstanding and has nothing to do with MARTA. It includes widening Georgia 400 to SR20, and widening many of the crowded two lane roads that are bottlenecks today. In fact, it is almost too good of a list. In my opinion the TSPLOST involves too much money. The projections are $1.2 billion over 10 years in new tax revenue in the Forsyth region and $7 billion in the Atlanta region. Although I agree we need more funding in transportation, in my opinion it is too much to ask to raise our general sales tax by 1%. I also am personally getting a bit weary of all the “pennies” and votes. If sales taxes go up, income taxes need to go down as that will drive economic growth. With the current economic situation and uncertainty, now is not the time to add yet another 1% to our tax load. It is not a penny – it is estimated to be between $2,000 and $3,500 per person over the course of the tax.
Even though I live in Forsyth County, I spend a good bit of my time in Fulton and it is now part of my new district in Johns Creek. If I voted there, it would be an even stronger no. Approximately half of the Atlanta region list is transit, with the lion’s share of that being light rail / MARTA expansion. Atlanta is one of the least dense and spread out cities in the world and commute patterns are very complex. Light rail just cannot go to enough places to make it the answer for the metro area. Rail’s huge cost per mile would be much better spent with a large network of bus routes and lanes that could cover much more area, or simply put into roads. Further, light rail / MARTA today requires additional subsidies to even operate, forgetting capital costs.
There have been those who have criticized my legislative colleagues for passing HB277 in 2010 which created the TSPLOST process and votes. I do not think they deserve criticism. I was not in the legislature at the time, but I appreciate the extremely difficult needle they were trying to thread. The citizens of Georgia really do not want new taxes, and don’t trust the DOT or Atlanta. However, they also realize traffic congestion is a huge quality of life problem and want road improvements. Georgia is close to the very bottom in transportation spending per capita, despite our being a high growth state. During that session several plans were floated and shot down, and what came out was a compromise that could get support from legislators across the state and gave as much control as they could figure out to local officials outside the DOT. Those legislators certainly did not vote for a tax increase, they voted to let voters decide in a similar manner that has been accepted for years with the SPLOST process. Only a handful of republicans voted no. I think many have now realized the outcome was more flawed, but that is with two years of hindsight.
However, I will be returning to the legislature so I will need to be part of “Plan B” if TSPLOST fails in several regions across the state. How do you deal with funding now? That will be a huge topic in 2013 when we reconvene. I am committed to finding plan Bs that work for Georgia but do not make such a huge commitment on new money. It is hard to be exact, but if TSPLOST passed statewide it would more or less double our transportation spending. We need to shoot for less than that. Some ideas I have include looking at the gasoline tax, shifting some other state capital spending, DOT reforms, and letting ad-hoc group of counties get together to vote their own extra taxes with fractional cents as an option. Trust of the DOT and its process must be addressed for credibility with the public. There is no easy answer, but it will be on my highest priority list next year.
*Representative Dudgeon currently represents district 24, which includes most of South and West Forsyth, and parts of Lake Lanier in Forsyth County. He is running for reelection in newly created district 25, which covers South Forsyth and parts of Johns Creek in Fulton County.*