Move SPLOST votes to general elections

The special purpose local option sales tax, commonly referred to as SPLOST, is a 1-cent optional tax voted on by registered voters of individual Georgia counties often to support various countywide maintenance and improvement projects.

Since 1981, there have been 13 countywide SPLOST referendums on Cobb County ballots alone, with the Cobb County Board of Commissioners currently considering the date of the 2011 SPLOST referendum, labeled “Preserving our Future.”

Although several groups strenuously object to the proposed tax during such dire economic times, I believe the real problem with Cobb County SPLOST referendums, and others like it, occurs because the minority is given the right to impose a tax for the majority when these referendums are placed on non-general election ballots.

Only four of 13 past SPLOST votes occurred in a general election period with 49 to 70.5 percent participation by registered voters, according to data from the Cobb County Board of Elections. Average participation was 56.63 percent, constituting a majority that approved the tax 50 percent of the time.

In contrast, nine of 13 past SPLOST votes occurred in non-general election periods with 9.61 to 23 percent participation by registered voters. Average participation was 14.98 percent, constituting a minority that approved the tax approximately half the time.

Further research revealed in 2009, Cobb’s population was 714,692. During the Sept. 16, 2008, SPLOST vote, 375,542 of those individuals were registered to vote. It is imperative elected officials only offer SPLOST votes during general elections. This practice will ensure the passage of these referendums best represents whether or not residents want to pay optional taxes for the benefits offered. These same trends likely occur in other Georgia counties and those residents deserve the same.

It is disturbing that our elected officials support allowing any minority the power to decide a tax for the majority of their constituents, especially when many of them may misunderstand the 1-cent tax as simply a “penny per person.”

Instead, this tax is a 1 percent sales tax on most goods and services leading to an additional $300 annual tax for a family that spends $30,000 annually on goods and services. Of course, this is an after-tax payment since state and federal income taxes have already been paid.

For some families, this is a month’s worth of groceries or several tanks of gas. Many of us go to the polls and vote for passage if our own family can afford to pay. But the passage of an optional tax during troubling economic times is not just about me.

What a great opportunity to take a stand for others in our communities who want the self-respect of providing for themselves instead of being forced to pay an optional tax. There is also an added benefit to offering SPLOST on a general election ballot. The Marietta Daily Journal has reported the possible March SPLOST vote would cost Cobb “upwards of $400,000.”

Unfortunately, Georgia counties will likely continue to waste needed funds on special SPLOST elections until state legislators stop this practice.

Elected officials have the responsibility to evaluate each individual county’s past voting trends comparing voter participation in general and non-general elections.

Until then, the best way to ensure SPLOST votes are most representative of the affected population in any county is to only offer SPLOST referendums on November general election ballots and avoiding off-election years.

Clearly, strong voter participation during past November general elections indicates voters see options on those ballots as potentially life-changing and, as a result, this practice will minimize the power of any minority to tax the majority.

Tammy Rohner lives in Cobb County.