The measure, which was designed to raise more than $1.48 billion over 10 years for a series of transportation projects in a 15-county area of northwest Georgia, was soundly defeated by voters by more than 2-1 in a special election.
Commission Chairman David Austin chaired the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission’s Regional Transportation Roundtable — a group of county and city elected officials from the 15 counties which devised the list of projects in the area, including Paulding County.
“The Legislature abandoned us,” Austin said. “Our own delegation turned their backs on us.”
He said District 31 State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, did little to support the initiative and District 17 State Rep. Howard Maxwell, R-Dallas, “was on the fence” about his support. Heath and Maxwell voted for the bill in 2010 which set the vote this year for the 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects.
Gov. Nathan Deal publicly supported the plan and House Speaker David Ralston has said he supported the method by which the projects were chosen.
“The Legislature never did anything,” Austin said. “I thought they abandoned the governor and the Speaker of the House.”
Roundtable member Boyd Austin, mayor of Dallas, disagreed about Maxwell’s involvement, saying he believed the lawmaker advocated for the plan at some appearances.
However, he said the Legislature “hadn’t done anything for transportation in Georgia for the last 10 years.” Their lack of support for the TSPLOST could affect transportation of such goods as textiles and agricultural products to and from the heavily used seaport of Savannah, he said.
The TSPLOST placed the burden on local officials, rather than state officials, for seeking public support for funding transportation, he said.
“They have abdicated their responsibility,” he said. “They didn’t have the guts to do something on their own.”
When it appeared the TSPLOST did not have enough public support, legislators who had supported it then began publicly opposing it, the mayor said.
“They ran from it like scalded dogs,” Boyd Austin said. “They took the political way out rather than taking leadership.”
However, Heath said in an e-mail, “I have consistently opposed raising taxes. I believe that one should live within their means.”
“Local officials lobbied the Legislature hard for more money,” he said. “I voted against the [TSPLOST] measure many times and reluctantly voted for it in the end, giving voters the chance to express whether they wanted to pay more.
“Everyone likes to talk about local control. We gave local officials the opportunity to devise a list of projects they thought would be worth investing an extra 1 percent sales tax into. They obviously failed miserably,” he said.
“To say I turned my back on [local officials] because I didn¹t support the list of projects with few regional transportation solutions and minimal long-term vision sounds a little whiny,” Heath said.
Maxwell, who was in Chicago at the National Conference of State Legislatures convention, said in an email he supported the TSPLOST initiative publicly before such groups as the Paulding County Builders Association in early May.
“I also contacted the Paulding County Chamber on several occasions offering to help in any way I could to get the message out regarding TSPLOST,” he said,
He said he was unable to attend the TSPLOST forum organized by the chamber last month because of a prior commitment.
“Mr. [David] Austin was correct in his statement regarding my voting for TSPLOST in 2010. I did vote for it; but, beyond that he appears to be misinformed, again.”
David Austin noted the law which set up the TSPLOST provides that counties that rejected it provide 30 percent of the cost of future state road projects.
Paulding projects in the TSPLOST included widening of Macland Road from Powder Springs to Dallas, and a badly needed traffic control center, are no longer planned. A project to improve Ga. Hwy. 92 between Douglasville and Hiram will proceed, however, because it already was planned before the TSPLOST was created in legislation in 2010.
“A little relief will come when the East Hiram Parkway is done,” he said, in reference to the county road designed to bypass the congested retail area along U.S. Hwy. 278 in Hiram.
A positive vote also would have given local governments some discretionary funds. Paulding was going to use part of its money to rebuild some bridges — some of which are 70 years old, Austin said.