Now that 2011 is almost behind us, this is a good time to reflect on what we have accomplished on behalf of Cobb Taxpayers, where we fell short, and lessons learned going forward. First and foremost is the 2011 SPLOST, which passed by a mere 90 votes out of 43,000 cast. The fact that the vote was that close after being outspent by 100 to one by SPLOST proponents is an amazing accomplishment, and puts the spending interests on notice that they will face determined, well organized, and passionate opposition when they inevitably go before the voters to perpetuate the SPLOST four years from now. In fact, it is fair to say that if we had only been out spent 50 to one, the outcome would have been different, which means the majority of Cobb voters were opposed to the SPLOST, but that we simply didn’t have the resources to mobilize our supporters to the same extent as the spending interests.
Moreover, as a result of that campaign, we are now working with the state legislature to change the laws pertaining to SPLOST advocacy, so that we can compete on a more level playing field. Please see “Upcoming Issues” in this issue of CTA Report for a further description of the CTA agenda going forward.
One victory which CTA and its coalition partners can take credit for (and which actually occurred in late 2010) was reducing the 2011 SPLOST from a six year, to a five year, and finally to a four year proposal. This eliminated approximately $200 million in wasteful and unnecessary projects. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the spending interests will come back at us in four years to enact yet another SPLOST. If they succeed, then taxpayers will receive no tax relief, thereby perpetuating what is threatening to become a perpetual tax. However, as we outline in “Upcoming Issues”, we are working to change the rules of the game so that that outcome does not have to be inevitable.
CTA also fought the good fight to oppose the millage rate tax increase that was enacted this past summer by the Cobb Board of Commissioners. If only one more commissioner had voted against it it would have been defeated. So once again our efforts came close to achieving our objectives. These “close calls” have earned us the respect and credibility of elected officials, candidates for public office, the media and the general public, who are eager to know what we think, and why we take the positions that we do. Over time, this will yield positive results for the taxpayer, so long as we remain persistent and consistent.
And as regrettable (and unnecessary) as the millage rate increase was, it does provide CTA an excellent argument against future SPLOSTs, because we will not be shy in reminding voters that SPLOST proponents, under the auspices of Citizens for Cobb’s Future, promised voters that if they voted for it, then that would prevent a property tax increase. Let’s not forget the words on their lawn signs and mailers: “Keep taxes low. Vote Yes.” That slogan had about the same leaky logic as if one were to say: “Reduce traffic accidents. Drink more beer.”
New Name and Domain Address
In order to make our organization’s name more user friendly and easy to remember for you and the media, we have shortened our name from the Cobb County Taxpayers Association to the Cobb Taxpayers Association. Hence the acronym CTA Report for this newsletter. Also, our website domain address has changed from the SPLOST specific www.votenomarch15.com to www.cobbtaxpayer.com However, those who log onto the old address will be automatically routed to the new one, and the content from the old will transfer to the new.
During the July 2012 primaries, there will be yet another tax increase on the ballot, commonly known as the transportation SPLOST, or T-SPLOST. It will involve a ten year, one percent sales tax increase levied on 10 counties in the Atlanta metro region, including Cobb,. It is supposed to raise $8-10 billion for transportation infrastructure with a substantial portion going towards massive subsidies for underutilized mass transit projects which will do little or nothing to relieve traffic congestion, but which will go a long way towards picking your pocket for the next ten years. This will be a disaster for Cobb taxpayers, and CTA will be out front in opposition. Representatives from tea parties throughout the state are in the process of building a regional coalition to oppose the T-SPLOST, and CTA has joined this coalition, where we will focus our efforts on getting out the vote in Cobb.
In this regard, CTA is drawing upon research conducted by The Reason Foundation – a California based free-market think tank – to develop market based solutions to traffic congestion in metro Atlanta which will not result in a tax increase. CTA realizes that being opposed to the T-SPLOST just because it is a tax increase will not win the day. We must provide viable alternatives that will work.
SPLOST Legislative Reform
CTA is working with state legislators to make changes in state law concerning the SPLOST. As currently configured, the law gives undue advantages to SPLOST proponents, making it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to defeat SPLOST referendums. To better level the playing field, CTA is in the process of identifying legislators to introduce and co-sponsor reform measures which will include the following:
- Require SPLOST referendums be placed on the ballot only during and in conjunction with a general election. This will solve the problem of SPLOST elections being captured by narrow special interests, and increase voter turnout (and thus greater voter accountability and transparency). It will also save taxpayers the expense of special elections.
- Prohibit taxpayer funded entities from contributing to SPLOST advocacy organizations. This outrageous practice was visited upon Cobb when two Community Improvement Districts (CTAs) contributed $150,000 to the pro-SPLOST Citizens for Cobb’s Future; ostensibly for the purpose of “educating” the voters.
- Allow for fractional SPLOSTS of a half-cent or less. This will not only reduce the tax burden, but will force counties to focus on needs vs. wants, and avoid the practice of loading up on frivolous projects just for the purpose of matching revenue expectations., And finally;
- Require that any additional revenue from the SPLOST that is collected above projections be used for property tax relief or set aside as a rainy day fund. This money should not be allowed to go into the general fund or rolled over to finance projects in a future SPLOST. Representative Ed Seltzer (R-Acworth) has introduced HB 38 which attempts to address this issue. While CTA has not endorsed the bill, we are reviewing it and are in the process of providing input.
If these measures are passed in whole or in part within the next four years, there is a good chance that the outcome of the next Cobb SPLOST vote could be dramatically different.
Marietta High School Theater
CTA has recently taken the position to oppose a measure which would raise $7 million in a general obligation bond during the March 6 presidential primary ballot to build a 900 seat theater on the campus of the Marietta High School. In a December 13th letter to the Marietta Daily Journal, CTA president Lance Lamberton wrote: “…to build such such a grandiose facility when the school district is awash in red ink is the height of fiscal irresponsibility.” For a complete copy of the letter, see “CTA In the News” below.
CTA will, resources permitting, launch a grass-roots campaign to defeat this profligate waste of taxpayer money, and will keep you posted on our activities.
Citizens Oversight Committee
In December 2010 the County Board of Commissioners established a Citizens Oversight Committee, (COC) which is charged with coming up with recommendations to reduce the costs of operating county government, and provide more efficient ways to deliver county services. The COC has a tentative date of January 10, 2012 to present its final report to the Board of Commissioners. CTA is in the process of trying to obtain an advance copy of the report so we can provide comment on the findings.
CTA In the News
Thanks to CTA’s consistent advocacy on behalf of Cobb taxpayers, and our principled opposition to wasteful government spending, CTA has become the “go to” source for information and opinion by Atlanta’s print, electronic and internet media, thereby giving you, our members and supporters, a voice concerning local tax and spending issues, and amplifying your voice and concerns to several thousand of your fellow citizens. The following is a sample of some of the media attention we have recently garnered:
- During the 7pm 11 Alive local news broadcast, which aired on December 8th, 11 Alive New Reporter, Paul Crawley, did an excellent piece on the expense and potential cost over-runs related to building a new theater for the Marietta High School. At the end of the piece, CTA was prominently mentioned with the following quote: “Administrators would be well advised to shelve this project.” To see the video and text of this piece, log onto 11alive.com and insert Marietta High School in the search field.
- On the first page of the metro section of the December 8th edition of the AJC, an article appeared raising questions about Community Improvements Districts which are spurring legislative review, including questions directly raised by CTA. CTA president Lance Lamberton was quoted as saying, “The CIDs are taxpayer funded entities. So in essence, taxpayer money was going for advocacy.”
- A letter-to-editor by CTA president Lance Lamberton was published in the December 13th edition of the MDJ which was highly critical of the proposed bond referendum to pay for a 900 seat theater on the Marietta High School campus. To see the letter, go to the following link
- In the front page lead article of the December 18th edition of the AJC entitled “$1 billion project halted” CTA vice president, Brett Bittner, commented on the state’s decision to halt its toll project on I-75/I-575. Bittner said: “The people who would be affected by it in this area haven’t been given the full explanation of what would happen. Overall the idea is a good one, but the implementation has been poor.”
Bittner Named CTA Vice President
In October 2010, Marietta native Brett Bittner, agreed to serve as a CTA advisory board member. Since that time, he has played a strong supporting role in our battle against the SPLOST and other issues of concern to Cobb taxpayers. So in October of this year, CTA president Lance Lamberton asked him to serve as vice president, and Brett gladly accepted the offer. In this role Brett will play an integral part in developing and executing the CTA’s taxpayer agenda, and will be a spokesman for the organization.
“Brett has earned the confidence of taxpayers throughout the county,” said Lamberton. “His knowledge of the legislative process, combined with his excellent judgment, interpersonal skills and coolness under fire makes him the perfect choice for this position.”
Contributions to CTA Needed
While CTA is not currently involved in a major campaign like this year’s SPLOST, we still do need funds to carry on our agenda going into the next year, such as office supplies, postage, travel expenses to meet with elected officials and coalition partners, and more specifically, to launch a communications effort to defeat the Marietta High School Theater Bond referendum. To contribute, you can go online to our website at www.cobbtaxpayer.com and click on to our paypal account, or send a check to:
Cobb Taxpayers Association
3704 Tate Place
Austell, GA 30106
Either way, your contribution will be gratefully appreciated and will be put to good use on behalf of you, the taxpayer of Cobb County.
Finally, please accept our best wishes for a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, and thank you for your continued support.
- Lance Lamberton, President
- Brett Bittner, Vice President
- David Staples, Board Advisor
- Phil Bailey, Treasurer and Board Advisor