2012 elections preview: Georgia to hold its first ever statewide referendum tomorrow
By: Eric Veram
ATLANTA, Georgia: Voters who show up at the polls for tomorrow's primary election in Georgia will see more than just the names of those running for public office. Although various local ballot measures will be on the ballot, there is one question that is being put before voters statewide, Referendum 1.
This statewide referendum, reportedly the first ever in state history, is the Transportation Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax, commonly known as T-SPLOST, and is a ballot question asking the voters in each of 12 regional districts to approve funding for transportation projects within the region. This referendum was triggered by the signing into law of Georgia House Bill 277 by former Governor Sonny Perdue on June 2, 2010. This law divided the state in 12 special tax districts, each of which was then required to create a list of potential transportation projects. This referendum asks the citizens of each district to approve a 1 percent increase of sales tax in order to fund those projects. Though the entire state votes on July 31, each district is only voting for itself and tax sales tax will not be raised in those districts that vote the measure down.
Support and opposition
The measure has received the support of several high ranking political figures within the state, including: Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has also campaigned extensively in support of the measure and, according to reports, Connect Georgia has raised between $2.5 million and $3 million for its efforts to pass the referendum.
The referendum is not without its detractors however. State Tea Party members have expressed their opposition to the raising of taxes and Douglas Callaway, executive director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, said of the measure, "At some point, we have to respect local elected officials. In their community, in their region, they know what’s best. They know what the public wants." Perhaps most interesting is the opposition the plan has received from the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. The environmental group's main argument is not against the referendum itself but rather the various project lists submitted by each of the tax districts. The Sierra Club argues that the various projects are too weighted toward cars as opposed to transit.
What will appear on the ballot
The following text was taken from a sample ballot for Cobb County. Similar text will appear on ballot throughout the state with slight alterations regarding region and county.
Atlanta Regional District T-SPLOST
Provides for local transportation projects to create jobs and reduce traffic congestion with citizen oversight.
Shall Cobb 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?
[ ] YES [ ] NO
- KSFM-5 TV, "Ga. gov says he will propose bond package for transportation; backs statewide sales tax vote", January 14, 2010
- Atlanta Business Chronicle, "Perdue inks transportation funding measure," June 2, 2010
- Ledger-enquirer, "Sales tax referendum backers say suggested tax increase vital to future," February 6, 2012
- Rome News-Tribune, "Georgia Chamber supports July T-SPLOST vote," March 6, 2012
- Athens Banner-Herald, "Transit advocates urge 'no' vote on tax," May 5, 2012
- Sample ballot from Cobb county