published Friday, August 26th, 2011

Leaders relieved at transport tax decision

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    David Pennington, the mayor of Dalton, Ga., stands inside of the City Hall facility.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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DALTON, Ga.—Local leaders say they are relieved state legislators did not vote to move a transportation tax vote until next year's general election -- but for different reasons.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington strongly opposes the tax and thinks the vote will be less likely to pass in the July primaries, when it now is scheduled to be held.

Whitfield County Chairman Mike Babb, who says the 15-county area needs the money raised from the tax for infrastructure, noted the deal to change the vote date likely would have included a requirement that all sales tax referendums be held on primary elections. That would have jeopardized the vote on the 1 percent sales tax that Whitfield County commissioners plan to hold this November.

"It would have prevented us from having a SPLOST tax vote except during a major election," Babb said.

The deal to move the tax vote -- allowing 12 regions around the state to ask voters whether to hike their sales tax by 1 cent to pay for transportation projects -- collapsed late Wednesday evening. Tea party advocates, who oppose the tax, fought to have it remain on the July ballot.

The vote is expected to be easier to defeat during the July primaries, with a turnout of mostly Republican voters expected.

Gov. Nathan Deal had asked that legislators consider moving the tax vote during their special redistricting session. He issued a statement on Wednesday that he had reached a joint decision with House and Senate leadership to suspend moving the date.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Deal told reporters if the Legislature wants to consider moving the date when it reconvenes next year it can, but Deal said he won't play a leading role in the effort.

Earlier, Deal had said moving the date from the July 2012 primary to the general election was important to allow more Georgians to participate in the vote.

Last week, Pennington received some statewide attention after declaring at an Atlanta news conference that the tax "could be the largest tax increase in Georgia history: $1.6 billion a year."

PolitiFact Georgia evaluated the claim and declared the statement true this week after consulting with economic experts. According to their information, previous increases in sales tax brought in less than $1 billion a year.

In its statement PolitiFact noted, "It is possible, if all 12 regions pass the tax, that it could collect more than $1 billion a year, which would be the largest tax increase that we could find. The key will be whether voters in the Atlanta region approve it. Since Pennington said it 'could' be the largest tax increase, we believe he gets to drive through the safe lane on his claim."

Despite not moving the vote, Pennington said legislators need to go one step further and not hold the referendum. Passing the tax in Northwest Georgia would be especially bad, he said, where counties compete with Tennessee for business and economic development. Tennessee has a higher sales tax, but no income tax.

"The problem in Georgia is not an infrastructure shortage, it is a jobs shortage," Pennington said. "We need tax reform, not additional sales tax."

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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