Newton County’s SPLOST is set for the next six years, but the sales tax debate isn’t going anywhere as the state prepares to overhaul transportation funding by paying for projects through an additional 1 percent sales tax.
The legislature passed the Transportation Investment Act in 2010, which creates a series of regional transportation-only SPLOSTs, or T-SPLOSTs, throughout the state. The law will completely transform how transportation money is collected and spent in Georgia, but the T-SPLOSTs will only be implemented if voters approve them.
Newton County is part of the Northeast Georgia Region along with Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton counties.
All counties are finalizing their list of regional road projects to submit to a regional roundtable committee by March 30. After going through several more stages, each region will present its final list of projects to voters during the general primary, said Chairman Kathy Morgan. The majority of voters in the entire region must pass the list for a T-SPLOST to be implemented.
Money for transportation has been slim in Georgia for years because of declining tax revenues and debt payments that are reaching hundreds of million of dollars as a result of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s aggressive road program during the early part of the decade, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Morgan.
Morgan said under the current program Newton and other counties aren’t guaranteed any funding from the state, though she and staff constantly lobby for funding.
The T-SPLOST for Newton County’s region is expected to collect around $78 million a year. Of that, 25 percent will be divided among the counties and used for any local projects of choice. Newton County would get about $2.2 million, which is nearly double the amount of money devoted to roads by the county’s yearly budget.
The 75 percent majority will go toward the regional project list. Regional projects would mainly consist of highways, major thoroughfares and public transit projects. Newton County has 131.3 miles of state highways in its border.
Although the money will be collected locally, Morgan said it’s going to essentially replace state transportation funding; therefore, passing the T-SPLOSTs is crucial.
If passed by voters, the T-SPLOST would increase the state sales tax rate to 8 percent across most of the state. However, Beth Brown, communications director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said Georgia would still have a lower sales tax and overall tax burden than many states.
"This is a great chance to invest in transportation, which we haven’t always done," Brown said.
According to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, Georgia had the 19th lowest tax burden in the U.S., by collecting an average of 9.1 percent of taxpayers’ income.
Charles Bullock, University of Georgia political science professor, said the T-SPLOST lists will have to be crafted carefully to garner region-wide support.
"You have to put together a Christmas tree list, have something for every county," he said.