If we were on the Chinese calendar, 2011 might be called the “Year of the Tax.”
The year began with an opportunity to reduce our sales tax by nearly 17 percent, but instead we chose—by a 90-vote margin—to continue the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, ostensibly for “low taxes and no debt.”
The 1-percent SPLOST was touted as a vehicle that would make our community more livable and more attractive to businesses. We were told that if the SPLOST didn’t pass, senior centers would be closed, library hours would be shortened, services would be cut, property taxes would go up and blah, blah, blah.
Well, it passed, and despite its passage, senior centers have been closed, library hours have been shortened, services have been cut and, as I predicted in a March 2011 article in the local newspaper, we are now facing an increase in our property taxes.
That increase hinges on the Cobb County Board of Commissioner’s vote regarding the proposed millage rate hike tonight.
OK, so we get another tax increase. It’s only $111 on a $200,000 home (the commission’s figures, not mine). But that’ll be the end of it, right? Wrong!
The tax and spenders are on a roll. Even before the commission has voted on the millage rate increase, a number of special interest groups are pushing for the TSPLOST, a brand new transportation tax that will cost you yet another penny on every dollar you spend.
Doesn’t sound like much until you realize that if you spend $30,000 per year, you will pay an additional $300 for the new tax.
The new tax supposedly will improve transportation in Cobb County, but according to current plans, $1.2 billion will be spent on a light rail line that will connect Cumberland Mall with the Atlanta Arts Center. The annual cost of operation is expected to be about $9.2 million. Don’t believe it.
If Cobb Community Transit is any example, it will cost considerably more than that. Let’s face it: Light rail in the United States does not have a stellar record of solvency.
It would be tough to find even one such system that doesn’t require a taxpayer subsidy to operate. You can be sure that if TSPLOST is passed by voters in the 2012 election, property taxes will again need to be increased to pay for operation and maintenance of the new infrastructure it brings.
Now, if that isn’t enough to think about (and it is), we have yet another tax vote coming up in 2013. That would be SPLOST IV, the continuation of the education tax.
Obviously, the education of our children is of utmost importance, but SPLOST is supposed to be a “temporary” tax to do those things that are not normally covered in the general budget. That’s why it’s called a “special purpose” tax.
However, Cobb School Board Chair Alison Bartlett says that SPLOST IV will be used primarily to maintain existing infrastructure. Does maintenance sound like a special purpose to you? And if it is used for maintenance, that implies permanency, since maintenance, by its nature, must be ongoing.
Over the past decade, when times were good, Cobb County has built more infrastructure than taxpayers can afford to maintain, and that trend is continuing with no regard for current economic conditions or the plight of those who are on the brink of bankruptcy and foreclosure.
What will it take for Cobb County’s citizens and leadership to realize that this must stop, at least until the economy improves? We need to take a breather. When the economy returns to pre-recession levels, we’ll have much greater latitude to restore non-mandated services.
Let’s hope that when we do, we will remember this economic downturn and adjust our infrastructure planning to that which we can afford to maintain, even in leaner times.
The upcoming election year is one with a lot at stake. Perhaps through our votes, we can achieve a smaller, more efficient government and make 2012, not a year of the tax, but a Year of the Taxpayer.