Voters in northwest Georgia will have the responsibility to decide if a one-penny sales tax is necessary to create jobs, construct safer roads, and ensure local control when the TSPLOST question is placed on the July 31 ballot. That said, I herein want to present you with the facts.
In 2011, local elected officials from the 15-county northwest Georgia region began a process of selecting road projects for inclusion on the upcoming transportation referendum. Each county and municipal government submit-ted a list of road projects that were of the highest importance to their community. A regional roundtable, consisting of the chair of each county board of commissioners, and a mayor from each county, collaborated with the Georgia Department of Transportation and selected road projects for the final regional list.
These road projects would be constructed using proceeds from a proposed penny tax over a 10-year period. The one-penny sales tax will not be applied to motor fuel sales. If the projected revenue is raised sooner than 10 years, the sales tax will end. By law, the 10-year tax cannot be extended unless approved by the voters. Tax revenues raised in the region must stay in the region, meaning that these revenues can only be spent on the specific project list and on local transportation projects selected by our local county and municipal governments. A list of the re-gional projects and other information can be obtained at connectgeorgia2012.com.
In northwest Georgia, the penny sales tax is projected to raise $1.487 billion and create as many as 13,583 con-struction jobs, 6,430 jobs in industries that supply materials and services needed for construction projects, and an estimated 20,161 “spin-off” jobs that the construction-related workers will spend in our region over the next 10-year project period. Seventy-five percent of the funds raised by the penny tax will only fund approved projects on the regional list. Twenty-five percent of the tax revenue will be distributed by formula to counties and municipalities for local transportation projects. As the law mandates, all sales tax raised in northwest Georgia must be spent in the region. These funds cannot be used to fund projects in any other parts of Georgia.
Accountability is assured in several ways. Once the penny sales tax is collected, the State Financing and Invest-ment Commission will keep it in a trust fund specifically for northwest Georgia. The Georgia Department of Trans-portation will manage the delivery of road projects. An annual audit will be conducted by an independent auditing firm selected by the State Financing and Investment Commission. Each year a non-technical report will be pub-lished on a website which shows for each project the original cost, the current estimated cost, amounts spent in prior years, and the amount spent in the current year for each project. A five-person citizens review panel for northwest Georgia will be appointed and will be charged with review of the administration of the transportation in-vestment list.
Existing funding levels for transportation, both state and federal, are insufficient to meet Georgia’s needs today and into the future. This has a negative impact on our ability to attract new business and jobs to the area. Our transportation system is used by everyone to travel to and from work, shop for goods and services, travel to and from medical appointments, and travel for recreation and leisure. And to do this, more often than not, people travel outside of their county boundaries. Over the decades, our national, state and local leaders have shown the wisdom to invest in the transportation system we benefit from today.
As your executive director of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, I cannot, nor will I, tell you how to vote on this referendum. But it is clearly my responsibility to truthfully inform our region’s citizens on economic development plans in which we are involved.
Thank you for your most thoughtful consideration of these facts.
William R. Steiner, executive director, Northwest Georgia Regional Commission