The conventional wisdom is that the 2012 vote on a metro Atlanta transportation special local option sales tax (TSPLOST) was a debacle. Elected officials in 10 metro counties cobbled together $7.2 billion list of road and transit projects, then asked voters to approve a penny sales tax to pay for them. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the plan – prompting warnings the region had blown its best chance to address its world-class traffic congestion.
But in the years since then, TSPLOSTS have proven to be a success story in much of Georgia.
The same year metro Atlanta voters shot down their plan, three other regions approved TSPLOST ballot measures. And since then, local funding for transportation projects across the state has been picking up steam.
The latest evidence: This month voters in five counties – Calhoun, Lee, Miller, Oglethorpe and Terrell – approved single-county TSPLOSTS to pay for transportation improvements. Three other counties – Baldwin, Carroll and Habersham – rejected similar taxes.
But between regional and individual county ballot measures, 81 of Georgia’s 159 counties are now covered by TSPLOSTS, according to Kathleen Bowen of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, who has tracked the transportation votes.
Here’s a map that shows which counties have adopted either regional or single-county TSPLOSTS (or both):
A little history: In 2010, the General Assembly approved legislation allowing regional TSPLOST votes across the state. In 2015, it followed up by allowing individual counties to seek voter approval for transportation sales taxes – Fulton County became the first to pass one a year later (though proceeds have not been as much as projected).
The three regions that approved transportation sales taxes in 2012 – River Valley, Heart of Georgia Altamaha and the Central Savannah River Area – raised a combined $696 million for road improvements through 2017. Most of that money went to road resurfacing, according to Bowen.
That pales compared to state funding – the Georgia Department of Transportation has a $1.9 billion budget this year, much of it for road and bridge maintenance and construction. But advocates say the additional sales taxes can make a big dent in local transportation needs. A recent analysis by consultant Deloitte Development concluded a 1 percent sales tax in all of Georgia’s rural counties and small metro areas could yield $706 million annually for transportation projects.
Bowen’s map shows 11 other Georgia counties are considering TSPLOST measures. As this month’s results show, voters may approve some and defeat others. But it’s clear “TSPLOST” is not a dirty word across much of Georgia – despite its rocky beginnings in 2012.