While campaigning against a regional transportation sales tax, Houston County couple Walt and Becky Wood say many people they encounter are unaware that it's up for a vote this month.
Officials on the 11-county roundtable that voted last year to place the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, on the May 22 ballot are hoping its fate plays out differently than in 2012 when it was voted down.
In 2012, there was a larger contingent of vocal opposition to the T-SPLOST than against this year's referendum. Five years ago, leaders of the NAACP and the Citizens Against T-SPLOST, a group led by former Houston County Commission Chairman Ned Sanders, played a role in the tax's downfall.
The tax is expected to bring in about $637 million over a 10-year period throughout a region that includes Houston, Macon-Bibb, Monroe, Jones, Crawford, Putnam, Twiggs, Peach, Baldwin, Wilkinson and Pulaski counties.
In total, 55 projects are on the T-SPLOST list, which would get 75 percent of the revenue to work with. The remaining 25 percent, roughly $159 million, would be divided up by local governments for officials there to decide how best to use on transportation investments.
Proponents of the tax have said it's a critical way to improve the road infrastructure throughout Middle Georgia with an eye toward a regional approach, which could help attract more industries to the area.
Walt Wood said he opposes sales tax jumping to 8 percent in Houston County if the T-SPLOST is approved. But there are other problems he sees with the T-SPLOST list of projects and how it was approved through the roundtable comprised of local officials from the 11 counties.
The 1-cent on the dollar tax is essentially a 14 percent increase, which puts more of a burden on people who already have tough decisions to make when buying groceries and medicine, Wood said.
"Our commissioners voted back in 2015 to pass a resolution to not put this on our ballots this year," he said. "When it went back to the (roundtable), our county plus three others were overrode, so it passed with a vote of 7-4. I have a problem with that. I don’t elect anyone from another county, and they have no accountability to me."
The full list of T-SPLOST projects is available on the Middle Georgia Regional Commission’s website.
Some of the highest estimated cost projects are:
- Macon-Bibb County: $30 million for a Sardis Church Road extension to Interstate 16;
- Houston County: $36.7 million for widening and operational improvements along Watson Boulevard from U.S. 41 to Carl Vinson Parkway;
- Baldwin County: $11 million for a Log Cabin Road widening;
- Crawford County: $6 million for passing lanes on U.S. 80 east; and
- Jones County: $6 million for Henderson Road resurfacing.
Houston County Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said he can't discuss publicly whether he supports the T-SPLOST but said anytime there's a potential tax increase many residents' radars go up.
"If you're asking them to vote for a new tax, it better be a program that is overwhelmingly embraced by our people," he said.