SPLOST reform legislation, which sought to improve the state law authorizing a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, will be held until the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly. Bills sponsored by state Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) and state Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) would have reformed the SPLOST process, but did not make enough progress in the recently concluded legislative session to become law.
Carson’s HB 153 would permit a tax rate of less than one percent and shorten the time between a SPLOST vote and the start of the collection of the tax.
A tax imposed under the current SPLOST law has to be levied at the rate of one percent, but some communities don’t need this much tax revenue to provide for special projects. For this reason, SPLOST project lists are often loaded with unnecessary projects, resulting in the waste of taxpayers’ money. Carson’s bill would allow a city or a county to propose a SPLOST for less than one percent to encourage greater fiscal responsibility.
After a SPLOST vote has been held, under the current law, a local government must wait 80 days before the collection of the tax may begin. This means that a tax that needs to implemented in January cannot be voted on in November when most of the voters go the polls. This practice has forced local officials to schedule costly special elections when few voters turn out to vote. Many voters may not even realize a vote is taking place when elections are held in March, for instance, such as the recent education SPLOST vote in Cobb County. The voter turnout was less than 10 percent. HB 153 shortens the implementation time frame to 45 days. With this change, a SPLOST vote could be held in November and implemented in January. Ideally, Cobb County would schedule a SPLOST vote on even-numbered years when an election for president or governor is taking place. Then the largest possible segment of the community can make their voice heard on whether they should be taxed or not.
Sen. Hill’s SB 99 is very similar to HB 153. While it also allows for imposition of less than once percent for a SPLOST, it does not shorten the implementation time of the tax. The intent of SB 99 was to deal with one reform at a time, the chief one being to allow a rate of less than one percent in SPLOST levees.
SB 99 passed the Senate with a vote of 47-1, but the House did not take any significant action on the bill.
Rep. Carson is continuing to work on SPLOST reform in the House, and citizens need to contact their representatives and senators to voice their support for these measures to bring greater fiscal responsibility to local government in Georgia.