Opinion Columns & Blogs

Extra sales tax in Macon-Bibb is a bad idea — no matter which way you look at it

I have good and bad news if you are one of the beleaguered residents of Macon-Bibb County who are angry and frustrated over the property tax increases that seem to have become an annual tradition there.

The good news is your local representatives are working hard to avoid hitting you up with another property tax increase next year.

The bad news is they want to hike the county sales tax instead.

The additional 1-cent sales tax that is being proposed by some officials as a way to address the county’s revenue woes is referred to as an OLOST, which stands for Other Local Option Sales Tax.

You probably recognize those last four letters because you already pay or have been asked to vote on other types of “local option” sales taxes such as the ELOST for education, the SPLOST for “special projects,” and the T-SPLOST for transportation projects.

Leaders are dropping all pretense that these tax programs are for some special purpose with the OLOST, though.

“Other” is the most meaningless, generic title one can apply to anything. It basically translates in this case to mean, “We’re not even going to pretend this is for anything out of the ordinary. We just want another way to take your money.”

State law mandates that if an OLOST is implemented, 100 percent of the funds it generates must be used to roll back property taxes by an equivalent amount.

But some members of the Macon-Bibb commission would like to get that law changed to allow for a 50-50 split. They’d like to use only half of the new revenue generated by the sales tax increase to roll back property taxes and keep the other half to spend as they see fit.

Even if they can’t get the law changed, Macon-Bibb still would get a nice one-time bump in revenue if officials manage to get the OLOST approved. That’s because the sales tax increase would go into effect at the beginning of the year, but the property tax rollback wouldn’t happen until the following year.

So they would be able to soak county residents for property taxes at their current rate while also hitting them with the increased sales tax for a full year.

It’s worth pointing out that a hike in sales taxes would be especially bad news for Macon’s poorest residents. Sales taxes are one of the most regressive ways a government can generate revenue for itself.

Shifting more of the tax burden from property to sales taxes in Macon-Bibb would effect a transfer of wealth from lower income residents to more affluent ones. I expect that would be fine with some residents who are tired of the property tax increases, especially since they may feel it is lower-income people who tend to benefit the most from county services.

Voters will have the final say on whether an OLOST will be implemented. The new tax will have to be approved in the state legislature first, then a referendum can be held to let county residents make the final decision.

Expect your legislators to use the threat of future property tax increases as a way to encourage (i.e., frighten) voters into supporting the sales tax hike. It’s a tried and true strategy for officials to sell these LOST programs to voters — make a tax increase seem like a given and frame the 1-cent sales tax as the least painful alternative.