This story comes to mind in considering the way the leaders of the Cumberland and Town Center community improvement districts are approaching next year’s vote on a 10-county super special purpose option local sales tax for transportation, known as TSPLOST.
The two CIDs have agreed to pony up a total of $500,000 to educate voters about the proposed one percent sales tax. Mind you, the CIDs say they are not trying to influence or sway voters one way or the other even though these groups undoubtedly favor the TSPLOST.
The idea is to have a “neutral” educational component in the mix of pro and con, according to Mason Zimmerman, chairman of the Town Center CID and member of the Cumberland CID board. That’s the approach even though the self-taxing organizations could legally donate to the group supporting the TSPLOST, says Lynn Rainey, attorney for the CIDs.
Rainey said the CIDs “should act more like a government in supporting education of the public as to the matters they are being asked to decide.” These groups have a major advantage in that their spending is tax deductible but if a private resident wants to run ads for or against the tax, the cost is not tax deductible.
The CIDs are not defying any court order and nobody’s suing over this issue. They say they just want to inform people. It’s legal. But at the same time, this approach allows the groups to spend huge amounts of money to put out information that is bound to be favorable to the proposed TSPLOST.
That’s obvious in a remark by developer Bob Voyles, finance committee chairman of Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network (MAVEN) which is handling the education campaign. He said, “The effort that was done in Denver to pass their SPLOST that resulted in construction of their light rail system and highway improvements in that area is very similar to this makeup.”
As Voyles indicated, the education campaign is going to be very expensive. MAVEN plans to raise about $2 million including $1 million for ads, $500,000 for staff and consultants, $300,000 for research and $200,000 for offices and communications. Voyles said another half-dozen CIDs will be asked to donate to the education effort as will universities and the larger hospitals in the area.
In addition to the millions to be pumped into “educating” voters, a pro-SPLOST advocacy group, Citizens for Transportation Mobility, wants to raise at least $4 million to outright sell the controversial tax to voters.
That’s the ticket. Just let the supporters make their case and ask the voters to vote for the tax — straight from the shoulder. Be up front about it. It worked for the panhandler.