Rep. Carson tries again for split penny sales tax

by Jon Gillooly

State Rep. John Carson hopes to overcome opposition in the coming session to his bill that would allow local governments to levy a sales tax of less than 1 cent on the dollar.             

The proposal, which has the support of county Chairman Tim Lee and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, stalled in the last session with opposition from the Georgia Municipal Association, a lobbyist group for cities. 

During the last session, Carson said a couple of GMA lobbyists told him that GMA’s executive council opposed his bill. 

“I said, ‘Guys, your executive council is made up of 28 mayors. That’s your constituents. My constituents are 50,000 taxpayers. I stand with the taxpayers,’” Carson said. 

State law requires all SPLOSTs to be 1 percent, or 1 cent on the dollar, but Carson’s bill would allow for a fraction of that amount to be collected. The bill would allow the county to collect a SPLOST in increments as small as 1/20th of a penny. 

Carson said he made a concession to GMA this time around. 

“Fairly or not, they believe that counties would gear this to just pay for county-level projects and have nothing left over for cities,” Carson said, during the annual legislative breakfast with the Cobb Board of Commissioners and Cobb Legislative Delegation on Monday. 

Included in his bill is language requiring a county that intends to call for a fractional SPLOST referendum to have signed intergovernmental agreements with the municipalities in that county.

Carson said the bill is important because Cobb collects more than it needs with a 1 percent sales tax. 

“If we have trouble finding a way to spend 1 percent on capital — I know we could easily spend it on operating budget — if we’re having trouble finding a way to spend 1 percent now (in a sluggish economy), we’re going to be really in trouble trying to find a way to spend 1 percent of our economic tax base in, say 2018, so I think this is absolutely vital,” Carson said. 

The bill would reduce the number of days from which a vote can be taken on a SPLOST to when the tax can be initiated. Now it’s an 80-day span. The bill would shrink it to 45 days. 

“What that will do is allow a SPLOST referendum to be handled in July in a primary or in a general election in November and still meet that 45-day requirement from the date of certification of results to the first day the tax is imposed,” Carson said. 

Lee said the idea for the fractional SPLOST came out of discussions over the last county SPLOST that was passed by voters in March 2011. That four-year tax, which is set to expire Dec. 31, 2015, is expected to collect $492 million. With the existing SPLOST set to expire in two years, Lee said it was important Carson’s bill gets signed into law soon. 

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. 

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Rep Carson tries again for split penny sales tax