Where is the HELL NO option?

This was originally published on Peach Pundit.

As the 2010 midterm elections drew to a close, Cobb County residents were in the midst of another political battle waged over the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) expiring at the end of this year. With what started as a six-year $750 million project list, the Cobb County Commissioners soon found that many fiscally conservative voices in the Georgia Tea Party, the Libertarian Party of Cobb County (of which I am the vice-chair), the Georgia Taxpayers Alliance, and now the local chapter of Americans for Prosperity, as part of a coalition led by the Cobb County Taxpayers Association would not stand for a bloated wish list of projects to be paid for from our pockets. There are a variety of reasons that I oppose the 2011 SPLOST, but I’ll focus on my top three for the purposes of brevity.

The first thing I took issue with was the choice of a special election in March of 2011 at a cost to the taxpayers of approximately $400,000. The current SPLOST began in 2006 after a September 2005 special election with a mere 114 vote victory margin. There are some concerns over the nearly 300 blank ballots cast in an election where it was literally the only thing on the ballot, but I’ll let those more adept at discussing that issue have at it. The expiring SPLOST concludes on December 31st, a date that was known before its passage back in 2005. To me, it appears a lack of planning and possibly some political shenanigans kept the issue from the November 2010 ballot, a mere four and a half months earlier than March 15, 2011. Rather than face an engaged electorate far more likely to turn out to also vote for U.S.Senate, Governor and the like, the delay until March cost the taxpayers of Cobb an additional $400,000 to hold a special election and ensured a far lower voter turnout than the 214,422 ballots cast November 2nd..

Aside from the $400,000 price tag of a special election, the project list before my fellow Cobb County voters was flush with items that struck me as “wants,” rather than “needs.” Rather than assessing the actual needs of the citizens of the county and its municipalities and addressing those with a “zero-based” approach, it looks like the county leadership estimated the revenue they could generate from a “just a penny” tax and stuffed the budget with projects to reach that estimate. At the Commission meetings in late November and December, we brought our “wants vs. needs” position to the Cobb County Commission, and they scrambled to reduce the original proposal from six years at $750 million to four years at $492 million. In just two weeks, they were able to trim one-third of this bloated wish list to its present form, however the current project list remains a list of wants, rather than a list of actual needs. While I doubt that a broad consensus could be reached about a list filled only with necessities, I still find too many items that are unnecessary, regardless of the economic conditions we face.

Finally, rather than raise the index for property taxes or make serious, long-lasting budgetary cuts to the services the county provides to match the lack of growth and the recent economic slump in Cobb, the County leadership chose to defer the routine maintenance over the last few years that they now claim is in such disrepair that we “need” to vote for the SPLOST to fund necessary maintenance for infrastructure, like roads and bridges. Even in the debate hosted by the Marietta-Cobb’s League of Women Voters on February 23rd, Citizens for Cobb’s Future’s Chair, Rose Wing admitted (as a point of persuasion for some unknown reason) that the roads that Cobb County maintains are 98.5% dependent on SPLOST funds for repair, maintenance and upkeep. The new construction, expansions, and renovations of the project list now allows Cobb County a litany of opportunities to maintain even more buildings, structures, and amenities, in addition to those they have proven to be unable to properly maintain without the assistance of what is a “temporary” tax intended to fund special projects that has now become a slush fund to keep growing the size and scope of local government.

When I moved to Cobb County in 2008, it was for a variety of reasons, but first among them was the low property and sales taxes. At the time, before many of the aforementioned issues came to light, I found Cobb to be one of the most fiscally responsible counties in metro Atlanta, but it appears that perception is maintained through a variety of tricks that involve political and financial smoke and mirrors.

I urge my fellow Cobb Countians to not just vote NO on March 15th, but to look for the “HELL NO” option.