In the past, when I have commented on SPLOST votes, Ive stated that since the special purpose sales taxes never seem to go away once they get approved our sales tax rate was likely to be at 7 percent forever. I should have known better.
I was underestimating the burning desire to spend other peoples money that few politicians seem to be able to control. In July, we will get the opportunity to add another penny tax to every dollar we spend to fund a brand new regional SPLOST that would fund transportation projects in Houston, Bibb, and nine other midstate counties. That would raise our sales tax to 8 percent, but Im not about to say I expect it will be 8 percent forever if voters approve the measure. I wouldnt be shocked if they find good reason to raise it to nine or 10 cents on the dollar someday. After all, whats an extra dime on every dollar you spend, right? You probably have a change jar at home thats just chock full of dimes you arent using.
Prospects for the T-SPLOST passage may be a little cloudy though, especially where I live in Houston County. We just renewed our countys SPLOST that is targeted for capital improvements, and in this go-around there werent many road improvement projects included on the list of projects it covers because the previous SPLOST supposedly got us pretty well positioned in that department.
And yet, just a few months later, were being asked to jack up our taxes for transportation improvements. What gives? Well, this is not just a Houston County tax, it is a regional tax, which means taxpayers in Houston County would be paying for projects that would benefit surrounding areas. As a matter of fact, it appears wed be getting the short end of the T-SPLOST stick.
Of the over one billion dollars the T-SPLOST would be expected to generate over 10 years, Bibb County would gobble up over $500 million of that, while Houston would reap less than $150 million. The rest would go to nine counties that many of us probably never set foot in.
But it might be worth it since all of this money would be dedicated specifically to improving transportation to encourage new business growth throughout the region, right? Well, thats only true if you think that building sidewalks and bike trails are going to attract new businesses to the area, because projects like that have been thrown into the mix of things this tax would fund.
Another point to consider is that many of us in Houston County (me included) are employed at Robins Air Force Base. Federal government workers are currently under a pay freeze, and there has been talk of extending it beyond its supposed two-year duration.
There have also been proposals floating around in Congress (coming from supposedly defense-friendly Republicans, no less) to do things like freeze our step increases, eliminate locality pay, and cut back the federal work force by 10 percent.
And lest we forget, there are huge automatic cuts slated to be made to the defense budget in 2013 if Congress doesnt find a way to avoid them. No one knows what will happen if that doomsday scenario comes to pass, but its safe to say we might look on the last few years as the good times compared to what could be coming down the road very soon. People who work on base or depend on the base for their income have been losing ground economically the past few years and that may get worse in the near future. It does not seem to me like its a good time for us to absorb a major tax increase so that we can build sidewalks and buy buses for Bibb County.
I just wish there was a third option on the ballot, in addition to Approve or Disapprove. Id like an option that reads: You have to be out of your ever-loving mind -- NO MORE TAX INCREASES!
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com.