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Our Views: Benefits of TSPLOST worth the extra penny

      With improving transportation around the state a priority for many years, the state legislature passed the Transportation Investment Act of 2010. The act created the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) proposal that residents in 12 regions across the state will vote on as part of the July 31 primary.
       Bulloch County is in the Coastal Region along with Chatham, Screven, Effingham and six other counties. Each region is voting on the sales tax issue separately, so it's possible, even likely, it will pass in some regions and fail in others.
       For continued economic development in our community and the potential of consistent job creation, we believe it's important for TSPLOST to win approval in the Coastal Region.
       Transportation needs in the state are paid for with a combination of federal, state and local funding. Most funds come from gasoline taxes.
       In Bulloch and around Georgia, local governments pay for their own projects through sales taxes and their own general funds.
       It's hard to believe, but gasoline taxes have not gone up in many years. The federal gas tax has stayed at 18.4 cents a gallon since the early 1990s. Georgia's excise tax on gasoline, set at 7.5 cents per gallon, hasn't changed since the early 1970s.
       In 1989, the state added a 4 percent sales tax to gasoline that is calculated twice a year based on the price of gas at the time. Of the 4 percent, 3 percent goes to the Georgia Department of Transportation, and 1 percent goes to the state's general fund.
       Nobody is going to argue the DOT is always the best steward of our tax dollars. Also, though accounting figures show DOT spending on a per-mile basis is fairly equitable around the state, the perception is that metro Atlanta road projects are funded on the back of the rest of Georgia.
       Well, the law that created TSPLOST explicitly requires that all sales tax money raised within a region must stay within the region where it was raised.
       And Bulloch County stands to reap a large portion of the sales taxes collected. In fact, the formula to be used to calculate the portion of tax dollars each county in the region receives will give Bulloch 15 percent of the funding despite having only 10 percent of the population. The most stunning estimate gives Bulloch County a return of $2.82 for every $1 of sales taxes paid in the county. That's a phenomenal return on investment.
      We also believe the four projects that will be completed with the funds make sense to improve transportation corridors in our community and make roads safer.
       1. Widening Georgia Highway 67 from Statesboro to Interstate 16 has been needed for many years. It will make commuter travel to and from Savannah much easier, make transporting goods into and out of the area easier and perhaps act as a beacon for attracting more business development to create more jobs.
       2. In combination with Screven County, widening U.S. Highway 301 from Statesboro to 6 miles south of Sylvania will improve travel and commerce all the way to South Carolina.
       3. As Georgia Southern University continues to grow and apartments continue being built, plans to add bike and pedestrian improvements to Highway 301 from Tillman Road to the Bypass probably will save a few lives.
       4. Finally, the completion of the Bypass from U.S. Highway 80 West to Highway 301 North will allow easier access around downtown Statesboro.
       The four projects are expected to be started within the next three years if TSPLOST passes in the Coastal Region and will make up about 75 percent of the money. It will be managed by the DOT with local oversight. The remaining 25 percent is considered local discretionary funding that will be managed completely here in Bulloch County for local road projects.
       There is no guarantee that significantly improving roads in Bulloch County and the Coastal Region will spur economic activity and create jobs to bring down Bulloch's 9.7 percent unemployment rate. But we believe we have a much better chance to do just that if TSPLOST passes on July 31.
       Times are still tough, and we don't underestimate that the addition of one penny to our sales tax will have a negative effect on some of our poorer residents and those on fixed incomes. However, the positive impact of a superior road and transportation system will benefit everyone in our community and is worth the extra penny in sales tax.
       The Statesboro Herald supports a "Yes" vote on the TSPLOST referendum.

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