TSPLOST denial penalty: What now? Coweta braces for what's nextBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Now that the transportation sales tax has been soundly defeated in nine of Georgia’s 12 planning regions, the punishment for not approving the tax has come under scrutiny.
Opponents of the tax, known as TSPLOST for Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, as well as several legislators, have called for the repeal of the penalty, which was written into the law in hopes of improving the tax’s chances of passage.
The LMIG program is fairly new, and most local governments don’t have a lot of experience with it. It is a combination of the old Local Assistance Road Program, which helped local governments with repaving of roads, and state aid.
The standard match for LMIG is 10 percent, and that’s what regions that approved the tax will continue to pay.
But for those that rejected the sales tax, including Coweta, the match will become 30 percent.
Anti-tax advocates have called on Gov. Nathan Deal to keep the penalty from going into effect, and to give the Georgia General Assembly time to change or repeal the law when the 2013 session begins in January.
Deal’s office responded by saying the governor couldn’t repeal the law.
“The governor swore to uphold the laws and constitution of the state of Georgia. There is no provision allowing him to suspend a law such as this through executive order, outside of some emergency scenario,” the governor’s staff said in a statement.
Whether the penalty is removed now or after the session starts probably won’t matter too much.
“We aren’t likely to disburse any LMIG funds, or collect any match, until there is some resolution to all the current questions,” said David Spear, press secretary for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“The law seems a little unclear to us as to when we are supposed to put these elements in place,” Spear said. “Right now, our reading of it is the 30 percent provision goes into effect immediately and the 10 percent provision on Jan. 1,” when the TSPLOST tax begins being collected in those three regions. “There traditionally has been no matching funds requirement for the old LARP program. The TSPLOST legislation created the matches,” he said.
“Of course we’re aware of the debate building on the 30 percent issue,” Spear said. “While it clearly is the law right now, we understand there may be challenges and/or legislative changes proposed. It is not our intention to rush into implementation before we have a clearer sense of where this issue is headed.”
The increased match will affect Coweta and its municipalities by varying degrees.
Coweta typically gets about $900,000 a year in LMIG funds, said Wayne Kennedy, Coweta director of development and engineering. The required match on that amount would go from $90,000 to $270,000. But Coweta typically supplies more than that amount for projects anyway.
“We have been very fortunate that we have had dollars to far exceed either amount when issuing contracts utilizing their dollars,” Kennedy said.
“We have not been notified as to the status or if the match will equal 30 percent” for future projects, he said. “It is not going to affect our project list either way.”
The city of Newnan made its most recent request for LMIG funding on March 29, said Newnan City Manager Cleatus Philips. “But we have not heard from GDOT yet on this submittal.”
Philips said he’s not aware of any official correspondence from GDOT on matching requirements, “so I do not know how that will be administered going forward.”
The city’s last paving project under LMIG repaved approximately 2.34 miles, Philips said. The total cost of the project was $178,352, with $127,887 coming from the state. That equates to a 28.3 percent match from the city.
The city’s LMIG funds haven’t exceeded $200,000 per year, said Newnan Public Information Officer Gina Snider.
Senoia “uses LMIG to help offset the local dollars spent on transportation projects in the city,” said Senoia City Administrator Richard Ferry. “However, Senoia receives very little money from the LMIG program.”
In a typical year, Senoia gets about $30,000, he said. “Rather than banking that amount each year, we have been doing smaller resurfacing/patching jobs,” Ferry said. “Unfortunately, even the small jobs become so expensive that the local match far eclipses the required 10 percent.”
Senoia’s last LMIG project was a $100,000 resurfacing job. Senoia funded about 70 percent of it.
The city’s one pending LMIG project is a patching and resurfacing job expected to cost about $55,000. “If trends hold, we will get about $30,000,” Ferry said. “The city match on this project will be about 45 percent.”
Though the city’s match on smaller projects has often been above 30 percent anyway, “I suspect if the city pursues larger projects there will be a significant delay in order to collect the capital for the increased match,” Ferry said.
Grantville City Manager Johnny Williams said Grantville typically receives between $20,000 and $25,000 a year in LMIG funds. The city’s required match would go from $2,500 to $7,500, based on $25,000 in LMIG funds a year.
Several legislators, including Rep. Matt Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, have called for legislative action to repeal the penalty — or even the entire law that created the TSPLOST — the Transportation Investment Act of 2010.
New State Representative elect Robert Stokely, R-Sharpsburg, favors total repeal.
“The TSPLOST is a bad law through and through,” Stokely said. “The voters have repudiated it overwhelmingly. The state should repeal the entire law.”
“The law is unconstitutional for a number of reasons, including the penalty for local match,” Stokely said.
“If the state legislature wants to up taxes for transportation then it should have the courage to do that rather than forcing local citizens to do it.”
“TSPLOST was a horrible idea and the voters statewide have rejected the concept of increased taxes and this particular tax,” Stokely said.