Local proponents of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, say the sales tax will not only help upgrade roads but also create jobs. Opponents argue that much of the money collected locally will be spent elsewhere.
The question of whether to pass the tax will be on ballots in Catoosa, and across Georgia, in the July 31 general primary.
Under the TSPLOST plan, Catoosa is included in the 15-county northwest Georgia region. There are 12 regions across Georgia. The northwest Georgia region includes Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Walker and Whitfield.
If a majority of voters approve the tax in the 15-county region, it will be implemented, even if voters in Catoosa or other individual counties do not approve it.
Fort Oglethorpe mayor Lynn Long fears the tax will slow commuting shoppers from nearby Tennessee. “People shop by habit. We love these shoppers and want them to love us,” Long said.
Ringgold mayor Joe Barger is also against the tax: “It will generate far more taxes than it will benefits.”
At the county level, District 3 commissioner Jim Cutler said, “I will probably not vote for it, as not all the money will go to Catoosa County.”
District 1 commissioner Jeff Long isn’t taking sides. “It is up to the taxpayers,” he said, calling it a “Catch-22” because without it there will be a lot fewer road improvements.
County commission chairman Keith Greene is against the tax. He said TSPLOST may hurt the local economy.
“As a consumer, an additional one-percent tax may make Georgia less attractive to shoppers commuting and therefore not worth the trip from Tennessee or Alabama.
“The region becomes less attractive for economic development. TSPLOST will affect fuel and energy costs, which make it more difficult to attract new businesses.
“TSPLOST is another level of bureaucracy. Catoosa County currently has local control with SPLOST, which will be more efficient than TSPLOST.”
State Rep. Jay Neal of LaFayette said recently he has not made up his mind on the tax. At a recent candidates forum sponsored by the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, Neal said he was “leaning” toward “no” and had not early-voted yet because he’s “still wrestling with this one.”
Perhaps some of the strongest rhetoric against the tax comes from Dalton mayor David Pennington.
“The test of true leadership is the trust and respect it inspires,” Pennington said. “(TSPLOST) does not pass this test.
“Those we elected to lead lacked the courage to devise a fair and cost-effective funding mechanism for state transportation projects,” said Pennington, a local Tea Party member. “Rather, like a salesman who lacks confidence in his product, they are using harsh financial penalties to scare us into voting for the largest tax increase in Georgia's history.”
Opponents of the tax argue that elected officials were told they must place TSPLOST on the ballot or face a 30 percent penalty in state funding for local transportation projects. If TSPLOST is not approved, the state will impose a 20 percent penalty in state funding for local projects, they point out.
“That's not leadership — that's coercion!” Pennington said.
“The final coercive move puts every county at the mercy of its region,” he said.
Pennington also takes offense with the preamble to the referendum, added by Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp. “Even the preamble — 'Provides for local transportation projects to create jobs, improve roads and safety with citizen oversight' — is a blatant sales pitch for a 'yes' vote. By strong-arming voters and damaging the integrity of our ballot our elected leaders do us a serious disservice.”