in elected office wonder why average Georgians don’t trust any level of government. We try to sound sincere and factual when presenting a proposal to citizens. Then we go and do something so outrageous that we should wonder how anyone gets re-elected. Such is the situation with the arbitrary renewal of the highway toll on Georgia 400.
Recently our Governor, State Road and Tollway Authority) and Department of Transportation gathered and made the decision to charge tolls for another 10 years for those who drive on Georgia 400. As background, 20 years ago when the toll was first placed on the stretch of Ga. 400 between Interstates 85 and 285, Georgians were promised that once the road was paid for, the toll would disappear. Unfortunately for key members of state government, 20 years came and went and the toll was scheduled to expire in June 2011. But government’s appetite for more revenue never expires and so senior state officials decided there were "pie in the sky" projects that we could fund if that toll just stayed in place another 10 years. It would be more land of milk and honey if we just take a few more dollars from those who pay our way.
Everyone should understand that we already have several ways to fund highway projects in Georgia. Unlike almost any other state, we adjust our gas tax every year to ensure we don’t have a high gas price and low tax. We also ensure that those who support Georgia government with their hard-earned income pay for highway improvements through their sales and income taxes. During the 2010 session, the legislature passed and the governor signed a new ability for regions of the state to levy an additional 1 cent sales tax for highway improvements. And even as you read this column, the state is changing HOV lanes on various interstates to HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes to get their hands even deeper into your pockets.
We live in a time when jobs are precious and incomes are down. The recession/depression we have suffered through for several years shows no signs of easing due to awful fiscal policies in Washington and a state government that has no financial reserves as a result. Yet cash-hungry governments at all levels continue to believe we can be taxed/tolled into prosperity if we just grab a few more dollars. Government being all wise and knowledgeable certainly can spend your money better than you can. At least that is what many believe who sit in positions of authority.
What are the lessons to be learned from this situation? First, there is no such thing as a temporary tax or toll. Once revenue begins streaming into any government’s bank account, those in power will find a way to ensure it never ends. Second, most tax and spend programs never bring in the tax revenue that officials predict (hope for). Our "super speeder" increase in speeding fines is the most current example. Third, when a person running for or occupying an office tells you something, hold them to it or find someone else to vote for. Finally, look very hard at Amendment 2 on your ballot this year. The state is asking for yet another $10 tax to somehow fund trauma care south of Macon. This is a tax on a mandatory item that you will have no choice on buying, your automobile tag. It’s your money, think back on all the promises made to you by government and then make a wise decision. I will.
State Senator John Douglas represents Newton, Rockdale, Walton and two other counties in the 17th district of the Georgia Senate. He is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee and will leave office at the end of this year after six years in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his website, www.senatorjohndouglas.com, or by telephone, (404) 656-0503.