This is exactly why I am sponsoring legislation that will allow Georgia’s counties to collect a sales tax at less than one cent. Imagine each time you went to the supermarket to pickup just a few household items for your family, you were instead required to purchase a total of $100 worth of stuff. You would be forced to buy items that were either unneeded or more expensive, possibly both. Our families don’t operate like this, and neither should our government.
Georgia law allows counties to propose a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) for assessing and collecting a one-cent sales tax in the county. Usually lasting four, five or six years and sometimes shared with cities, the funds collected are used for capital projects such as constructing roads and other infrastructure, local government buildings, and jails. However, a SPLOST is required to be 1 percent without any flexibility for a lower rate.
While working on this issue in the 2013 General Assembly session, I introduced House Bill 153, which allows counties to propose a fractional SPLOST percentage, meaning less than one cent. Since some counties and cities have well-developed infrastructure, the 1 percent rate can raise more revenue than necessary to fund critically needed capital projects.
For example, a 1 percent SPLOST in some counties can raise much more than is required for essential infrastructure projects. And because these funds must be spent on capital projects, some counties and cities could create “non-essential projects” to ensure all the revenue is spent.
These non-essential projects could also require additional maintenance funds, which must come from the county’s general budget, whose funds would be better directed at other important functions like public safety. It’s important to note that this legislation allows an option for a lower rate on future SPLOST referendums and is not a new or additional SPLOST.
Some suggest just shortening the SPLOST’s duration, but this leads to changing sales tax rates more frequently, not to mention that a consistent, lower sales tax rate can lead to more revenue when economic development is factored in later years. According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, at least 22 of the 37 states that have local option sales taxes allow a fractional rate.
And let’s not forget Georgia already charges a fractional percentage for the gasoline excise tax — 7.5 cents per gallon. If counties chose to reduce their SPLOST rate by, for example, a half of 1 percent, this could easily save the average Georgia family $80 to $100 a year.
This bill is co-sponsored by numerous legislators from both parties, and is supported by various county commissioners, the Georgia Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity, several large business associations and numerous taxpayer associations around the state. This group may seem like strange friends after the summer 2012 T-SPLOST vote, but we are united behind this fiscally responsible legislation.
I believe this is a necessary tool that would encourage local governments to focus on essential projects while lessening the burden on taxpayers like you and me. Fractional SPLOST: it makes cents and it makes sense.
John Carson represents the citizens of District 46, which includes portions of Cherokee and Cobb counties. He was elected into the House of Representatives in 2011, and serves as the vice chairman on the intragovernmental coordination committee and secretary on the energy, utilities and telecommunications committee. He also serves on the insurance and ways and means committees. Carson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.