Northwest Georgia voters sent a clear message Tuesday that they were against a 1 percent sales tax increase that would have funded billions of dollars of transportation projects.
Nearly 70 percent of voters rejected the transportation special purpose local option sales tax across the 15-county district in Tuesday's primary election, with some local voters saying their reason was they didn't want another tax increase.
"I'm against it because I think we pay enough in taxes," Ringgold resident Stephanie Harvey said.
Most regions across Georgia voted down TSPLOST by a wide majority, opting out of the 10-year tax increase. In local counties in the Northwest Georgia region, Catoosa and Walker voted against the sales tax by 60 percent and Whitfield 70 percent, but Dade voted for the tax by 51 percent.
Local leaders who criticize the sales tax say it's a good decision in the long run because it could have hurt the economy and discourage other local sales tax referendums that affect local counties more directly.
"We rely heavily on our own SPLOST for capitol fund projects," said Catoosa County Commission Chairman Keith Greene.
Supporters of the sales tax worry the projects such as repairing or rebuilding bridges in Walker County won't be completed now that the tax has been voted down.
"We won't be able to get near the work done," Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn said.
If the sales tax had passed, the 15-county district would have gained $1.4 billion to be divided -- 75 percent going to the proposed projects and 25 percent to counties and cities for other transportation-related work.
Transportation officials say this means the projects slated for each county either won't be completed or will be on a slower waiting list.
Officials say it doesn't matter how many districts vote against the sales tax, it will go into effect in the areas that vote for the increase.
In districts that rejected the sales tax, only some of the projects that were approved still will be completed, Georgia Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Todd Long said. But he couldn't give any criteria on how that decision would be made.
"Some of them just never get done, some of them will be done [but] take longer," Long said.
The districts that voted down TSPLOST now will have to match 30 percent on future state road projects paid for by the local maintenance and improvement grant.
Ringgold voter Pat Maples said she supported the proposed tax because everyone is taxed the same, unlike a property tax increase.
But Ringgold voter Kelly Bowman said state and local governments should be resourceful with the funds they have and not ask taxpayers to bear more of the burden.
"They ought to be able to work with what they have," he said.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.