The controversial Georgia road tax known as T-SPLOST was decisively shot down in the state on Tuesday in a referendum during the state primaries, in a big win for the Tea Party.
So why do we care about a Georgia road tax? The bill would have hiked the state sales tax, but met serious opposition from Tea Party politicians and grassroots groups. What’s more, the Tea Party had bi-partisan support. Liberal organizations like the NAACP and the Sierra Club joined forces with the far right group to shoot down the tax, which had been proposed by mainstream Republican state officials. The Tea Party T-SPLOST win shows that the far-right anti-tax (Tea Party = Taxed Enough Already Party) conservative group is still able to find considerable allies in the political arena, and is still a force to be reckoned with, especially in the lead-up to the November general election.
What is T-SPLOST? In Georgia, a special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) can be levied by any county, for the purpose of funding the building and maintenance of parks, schools, roads, and other public facilities. The T-SPLOST was a transportation bill which would raise sales taxes by 1 cent in order to raise $8.5 billion in traffic improvements. The 10-county project list would fund 157 transportation projects across the state and funnel 52% of the money to transit and 48% to improve the state's roads, but it has not come without its critics.
Supporters said that the tax raise would significantly boost the quality of life in Georgia, which currently ranks 48th in the nation in transportation spending per capita, and fourth in total hours the average commuter spends on the road each day. Moreover, they said that 70 percent of the region's existing, scheduled transportation funding for the next 30 years will be spent on maintaining the existing network, which leaves little room for expansion.
The metropolitan area has some of the worst traffic in the U.S. The region's political and business leaders are pushing for a 1-cent increase in the sales tax to pay for billions of dollars in highway improvements and other transportation projects. A dozen regions across Georgia voted independently on the tax increase, which could have generated more than $18 billion statewide for transportation projects over the next decade. Gov. Nathan Deal and other pro-business Republicans supporting the tax increase were at odds with Tea Party leaders, who called the tax frivolous during times of economic hardship. They also contended that the tax would hurt Georgia’s struggling small businesses. The Tea Party was joined by a slew of opposition — everyone from the Sierra Club, which claimed the tax would hurt the environment, and the NAACP, which argued that minorities would be disenfranchised in T-SPLOST.
Throughout Georgia, the tax was shot down by huge percentages, and the Tea Party immediately claimed giant-killer status, capitalizing on their re-emerging political clout.
The tea party and other T-SPLOST opponents didn't need much money to defeat the one-penny sales tax. According to the most recent campaign finance reports and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, they had raised only about $15,000. That was a pittance compared to the $8 million in the hands of the proponents, which included Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.