UPDATED — Regional SPLOST vote still to be next summer

UPDATED for print, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011 — Despite the wishes of Gov. Nathan Deal, the referendum on a proposed 10-year, 1 percent regional transportation sales tax will not be moved to a November vote.

Instead the referendum will stay on the July primary ballot, which may give an edge to the prospects of defeating the tax. The November vote stood to have drawn more Democrats who might favor the tax.

Instead, with the vote staying in July, Republicans might dominate the ballot because Democrats have less incentive to turn out since incumbent President Barack Obama is a certain shoo-in for the Democratic nomination. The Democrat Party Primary is unlikely to have even a few big, contested races, a scenario that is expected to depress Democrat voter turnout during the summer.

Deal last week abandoned his quest to move the sales tax vote to November, but he still believes moving the vote is necessary “to allow as many taxpayers as possible to participate in this important decision.”

Deal in a news release last week chalked up his withdrawal on the matter not to an immovable legislature, but to the lengthy amount of time it would have taken to secure consensus on the matter.

State Tea Party activists played a large role in usurping Deal’s plan to move the vote, taking a strong stand against switching the referendum. The Tea Party then offered a “compromise” that it would accept moving the referendum if the state passed a law that would require all future sales tax votes, including those for local governments, be held in the November general elections.

Sales tax votes often are held in off-years and many times are the only item on the special election ballot, a strategy guaranteed to keep voter turnout low. Opponents often charge that the strategy is intended to ensure passage of the tax measures.

For the referendum, Fayette County is included in the 10-county metro Atlanta region. The vote will be tallied on a regionwide basis, meaning that the referendum’s fate will be decided based on the aggregate (combined) vote of all 10 counties.

That leaves the possibility that the tax could be voted down in Fayette County, but it will be enacted here and region-wide if the total 10-county vote authorizes it.

Critics of the tax have claimed that Fayette County will end up donating a large amount of money to be spent on transportation projects in Atlanta. But the latest list of projects to be built in Fayette County, added to the funds that the county and its cities will get back from the tax, is within several million of the $190 million estimated amount that Fayette will pay into the tax over the 10-year period.

The latest project list also targets improvements for a key choke point for many west Fayette commuters that’s just across the Fayette-Fulton county line: the Interstate 85/Ga. Highway 74 interchange.

A public meeting on the sales tax projects planned for Fayette County is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 20 from 6-8 p.m. at the Fayette County Stonewall government complex in downtown Fayetteville.

The transportation project list, which will be finalized by Oct. 15, is being prepared by a 21-member regional transportation roundtable, and Fayette County has two representatives on the board: County Commission Chairman Herb Frady and Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele.

Opponents of the $7 billion tax claim it would be “the largest tax increase in Georgia history.”

Supporters of the tax, however, say metro Atlanta needs the road and transit projects to remain economically competitive with other regions in the country.

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