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By Willoughby Mariano April 18, 2012

Flier casts transportation funding plan as never-ending tax

A flier about a vote to raise money for metro Atlanta roads and transit says the plan would create a tax that may never die.

The anonymous handout appeared at an April 4 Fayette County Commission workshop, where an Atlanta Regional Commission planner spoke about the transportation special local option sales tax, otherwise known as T-SPLOST.

If voters approve it July 31, it will raise an estimated $7.2 billion to build a slate of transportation projects. (The referendum comes with a regional list of projects that total $6.14 billion. In addition, about $1 billion will be sent back to the counties and towns where it was raised.)

The flier listed what it said were 10 transportation facts. This one topped the list:

"This 1% tax is scheduled for a minimum of 10 years with additional renewals authorized," it said.

ARC representatives kept the handout. A spokeswoman sent a copy to PolitiFact Georgia when we requested it.

The sentence is a little muddled, but its meaning was clear to PolitiFact Georgia reporters and others who read it: T-SPLOST will last "a minimum" of 10 years, and has been approved to last longer than that.

We wondered whether the tax will rise up like a zombie from "The Walking Dead," ready to terrorize metro Atlantans for decades to come.

Some fiscal conservatives are fighting the T-SPLOST because they think the government already spends too much money and will use these tax dollars on the wrong projects. Supporters say it will help untangle traffic in a region that’s become notorious for it.

Transportation fees that don’t expire are a sore point in metro Atlanta. A toll to finance the building of Ga. 400 was set to expire in 2010, but the State Road and Tollway Authority Board voted to extend it for 10 more years.

Gov. Nathan Deal was running for office back then. He promised to revoke the toll by the end of 2011. He didn’t, and earned a Promise Broken on our Deal-O-Meter.

Now back to our fact check. We tried to track down the flier’s authors, but came up empty-handed.

The handout cited Georgia Statute 48-8-245 (b)2 as the source of information on the tax’s expiration, or lack of one. The statute was written as part of Georgia’s Transportation Investment Act of 2010.

The Transportation Investment Act created a process that lets voters decide by region whether to raise taxes to upgrade transportation infrastructure.  

We read the law and found it does not say what the flier claimed. To the contrary, it lets the proposed tax expire before 10 years are up.

Statute 48-8-245 (b) says the tax ends on the earliest of two dates: after 10 years, or if the state revenue commissioner determines the tax has reached its funding goal. For metro Atlanta, that goal is $7.2 billion, or $8.5 billion over 10 years in today's dollars, according to a June 2011 story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Whether the region reaches its goal ahead of time depends on the economy and how much consumers spend.

Voters must approve any extensions.

Tea Party Patriots national coordinator Debbie Dooley, whose group was not involved in the creation of the handout, said voters might feel that they must continue the tax. The new infrastructure may need costly maintenance. Some projects may go over budget.

Politicians won’t want to give these tax dollars back, Dooley predicted.

"They’ll be back with their hands out in 10 years," she said.

Still, the flier needs to be revised to say that voters will decide whether to renew the tax, Dooley said.

We agree. T-SPLOST may indeed survive its 10-year life span, but a zombie tax would be a creature of voters’ own making.

The anonymous flier earns a False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

"You Decide" flier, handed out at a Fayette County Commission workshop, April 4, 2012

The Citizen, "ARC makes pitch about regional transportation sales tax," April 11, 2012

Georgia Statute 48-8-245, accessed via Lexis-Nexis, April 12, 2012

Atlanta Regional Commission, "Following the Money," Sept. 12, 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Region must ax 73% of projects from transportation wish list," June 15, 2011

Telephone interview, Debbie Dooley, Tea Party Patriots, national coordinator, April 13, 2012

Email interview, Kenneth Heaghney, state fiscal economist, state of Georgia, April 14, 2012

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Flier casts transportation funding plan as never-ending tax

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