Split-Penny SPLOSTs: Legislators should keep trying to change law
December 21, 2013 11:00 PM | 953 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes, better known these days as “SPLOSTS,” were set up to help local governments and school systems pay for brick-and-mortar needs, not salaries or new programs or for routine maintenance. But what used to seem “special” doesn’t seem so special anymore, not with SPLOSTs being employed to a degree few envisioned when they were conceived back in the 1980s.

Filet mignon doesn’t seem quite so special if that’s all one eats three times a day every day — especially when you’re having to pay for it.

The result is what has often been described as “SPLOST fatigue,” with voters growing disenchanted with repeatedly being asked to approve a SPLOST referendum seemingly every year or so. And a glance at the poll results shows that even successful SPLOSTs lately have passed only by hair’s-breadth margins.

As we’ve noted here before, one way of lessening that fatigue and maintaining the viability of SPLOSTs as a funding tool would be for the state to legalize “fractional,” i.e. “split-penny” SPLOSTs. County governments and school systems could each levy a SPLOST of less than 1 percent; or they could join forces to charge a combined 1 percent, i.e., a “shared” SPLOST. The current proposal would allow jurisdictions to collect SPLOST revenue in increments as small as 1/20th of a penny.

What tends to happen now is school boards and commissions pump up the scope of their SPLOST project lists to match the size of the expected revenue stream. If fractional SPLOSTs were legal, the pressure would be on those bodies to downsize their lists to include only the items that were badly needed. That in turn would make the SPLOST referendums easier to justify to voters.

State Rep. John Carson (R-east Cobb) led the effort last year to persuade the Legislature to change the law regarding SPLOSTs, but it ran into opposition from the Georgia Municipal Association, the lobbying group for the state’s cities. Many of its members fear that county governments would hog the SPLOST revenue under such a proposal and refuse to share any of it with the cities. So Carson has updated his bill to require counties calling for a split-penny SPLOST to first sign an intergovernmental agreement with the cities in that county.

Carson’s updated bill also would reduce the timeframe needed between the SPLOST referendum date and the implementation date for the tax from 80 days to 45.

“What that will do is allow a SPLOST referendum to be handled in July in a primary or in a general election in November and still meet that 45-day requirement from the date of certification of results to the first day the tax is imposed,” Carson said.

Even if the Legislature approves Carson’s bill in the coming session, the state Constitution would have to be amended, so we’re not talking about split-penny SPLOSTs as a quick-fix for local funding questions. But it is a concept very worth pursuing, and it is an issue that local legislators should continue to make a priority.
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