Current law requires all SPLOSTs to be 1 percent, or 1 cent on the dollar, but state Rep. John Carson’s bill would allow for a fraction of that amount to be collected.
The tax could be cut in such denominations as a fourth of a penny, half penny or three-fourths, with collectors rounding up.
Carson, a Republican who lives in northeast Cobb, said the pressure against his bill from groups like the Georgia Municipal Association was too great.
“They believe that if we split the penny, then your hard right conservative groups are going to push these small counties that are strapped for revenues to begin with. They think these hard right conservative groups are going to say, ‘No, you don’t need a full penny. You need a half a penny,” Carson said.
But Carson said if a county government wants to call for a 1 percent sales tax referendum rather than a 0.5 percent one, then they can do so.
“But here’s the problem with that,” Carson said. “They don’t want that option to exist because they don’t want the political pressure that it might create upon them.”
Opposing the bill because they’re intimidated by political pressure is a weak excuse, Carson said.
“My constituents in Cobb County spend probably $50 million to $60 million more per year on a SPLOST than we need to, and just because a fractional penny creates political pressure for elected leaders, that’s really not a very good excuse,” he said. “If these local elected government officials don’t want political pressure, they’re in the wrong business.”
Carson’s bill was unanimously approved by the House Ways and Means Subcommittee for Sales Tax, but it failed to be brought for a vote before the full Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Mickey Channell (R-Greensboro), the owner of a real estate holding company, Channell Enterprises.
Because the bill did not pass out of the House by Crossover Day on March 7, it’s likely dead for the rest of the year.
Bills must cross out of the House or Senate by the 30th day of the legislative session to have a shot at becoming law. While there are alternatives to getting around this rule, such as attaching the bill onto another piece of legislation, those cases are the exception.
Carson said he hopes the bill will be passed next year.
“I’m not disappointed because I consider it a win how much support I was able to establish in my own caucus, not to mention it had bipartisan support as well,” Carson said. “So I’m fairly positive we’ll be able to do something sooner rather than later, not for this session though.”
Cobb Chamber Chairman Greg Morgan expressed disappointment that the bill didn’t pass.
“The key to it is it doesn’t harm anyone,” Morgan said. “It just gives you more flexibility. It just makes sense to have that flexibility. What it really does is it makes it a needs-based tax. You substantiate the need and go for the full penny or the fractional penny, but it’s based upon the projected needs.”
The bill only applies to county and city government SPLOSTs. To consider changing the education SPLOST from a full 1 percent to a fraction of a percent would require a constitutional amendment.
SPLOST referendums have been very close in Cobb County. The 2005 county SPLOST passed 19,947 to 19,833, while the 2011 referendum passed 21,552 to 21,462.
Voters will decide whether to renew a 1 percent education SPLOST in a special election Tuesday. Carson said he has not taken a position on favoring or opposing that tax increase.