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Half of Georgia’s counties now pay transportation sales taxes

Conventional wisdom is that the 2012 vote on a special local sales tax (TSPLOST) for metro transportation in Atlanta was a disaster. Officials elected in 10 metropolitan counties put together $ 7.2 billion in road and transit projects, then asked voters to approve a sales tax to pay for them. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the plan – sparking warnings that the region had blown its best chance of tackling its world-class traffic congestion.

But over the years since then, TSPLOSTS has proven to be a success story in much of Georgia.

In the same year, voters in the Atlanta subway shot down their plan, three other regions approved TSPLOST’s electoral measures. And since then, local funding for transportation projects across the state has increased.

The latest evidence: This month, voters from five counties – Calhoun, Lee, Miller, Oglethorpe and Terrell – approved TSPLOSTS in single county to pay for transportation improvements. Three other counties – Baldwin, Carroll and Habersham – refused similar taxes.

But among the county’s regional and individual election measures, 81 of Georgia’s 159 counties are now covered by TSPLOSTS, according to Kathleen Bowen of the Georgia Association’s County Commissioners, who tracked votes on transportation.

Here is a map showing which counties have adopted regional or single-county TSPLOSTS (or both):

A bit of history: In 2010, the General Assembly approved legislation allowing TSPLOST regional votes across the state. In 2015, it followed up by allowing individual counties to seek voter approval for transportation sales taxes: Fulton County became the first to spend a year later (although the proceeds weren’t as much as expected) .

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The three regions that approved transportation sales taxes in 2012 – River Valley, Heart of Georgia Altamaha and Central Savannah River Area – raised a total of $ 696 million for road improvements in 2017. According to Bowen, most of these funds was destined for road reconstruction.

This pales in comparison to state funding: Georgia’s Department of Transportation has a budget of $ 1.9 billion this year, largely for the maintenance and construction of roads and bridges. But advocates claim that additional sales taxes can create a big deal in local transportation needs. A recent analysis by consultant Deloitte Development concluded that a 1% sales tax in all rural Georgia counties and small metropolitan areas could produce $ 706 million per year for transportation projects.

Bowen’s map shows that 11 other Georgia counties are considering TSPLOST measures. As this month’s results show, voters can approve some and defeat others. But it is clear that “TSPLOST” is not a dirty word in much of Georgia, despite its rocky beginnings in 2012.