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The push for another layer of government

Cal Beverly's picture

On the opposite page, Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal, lays out his vision of the state’s most pressing need: More money for “transportation infrastructure.”

Peachtree City state Rep. Matt Ramsey also weighs in across the page on the need for less “backward looking” and more attention to those things that might improve the economy of our area. More about that later.

I agree with Gov. Deal about the need for upkeep and improvement of some parts of our transportation infrastructure. I disagree with his means to get there.

In fact, if Gov. Deal’s vision is fully implemented, we Georgians will have added yet another layer of government to tax us at the expense of true democratic and republican (little “d” and little “r”) representation.

If you remember, “taxation without representation” had something to do with the original Boston Tea Party back when men wore wigs for special occasions.

How could what the governor wants be so dire, so fraught with ominous implications? one might ask. I’m glad you asked.

Listen to the governor’s own words about this $16-to-$19 billion tax increase: “Local officials and citizens – those most knowledgeable about local needs – put together the lists. ... In other words, local decision makers determined local transportation needs and will receive 100 percent of the new revenues in their region to address those needs.”

Well, that’s not quite accurate and certainly not the whole story.

What really happened in House Bill 277, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010: The Georgia General Assembly, abetted by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, abrogated its constitutional duty to stand accountable to its constituents on an up-or-down bill to levy a statewide tax for this supposedly critical infrastructure.

Instead, our stalwart representatives and senators — the majority of whom list themselves as being Republican Party members — punted their taxing responsibility by creating a carrot-and-stick (little carrot, lots of big sticks) new taxing entity, the 12 regional planning districts across the state.

Instead of voters deciding by majority vote on taxing themselves within a city or a county — Georgia’s historic political boundaries — the General Assembly has created a unique regional taxing structure that is uniquely un-representative.

Thanks to then-Gov. Perdue, new Gov. Deal and the brave-new-world legislators, all the voters in the 10-county metropolitan Atlanta region are lumped together for the 2012 one-cent sales tax referendum. Ditto for the other 11 planning regions around the state.

And a majority vote of this newly created 10-county entity will carry the day for or against the sales tax across all 10 counties, despite some entire counties within that regional possibly having voted against the imposition of the tax.

So now we have a new taxing structure — new voting boundaries created out of thin air — without any accompanying representation.

It no longer matters that, say, Fayette County voters 4-to-1 passionately do not want a new sales tax on top of all the other taxes we pay. Our votes are lumped in with this new political subdivision of 10 counties, and several of those counties have much larger voting contingents who covet our Fayette money to pay for projects dear to the hearts of, say, the DeKalb County Commission.

For me, that would be bad enough to say, “Wait a minute!”

But it gets worse.

That same HB277 — voted for by our own Republican legislators — also contains this gem: “Creates a Transit Governance Study Commission which shall prepare a preliminary report on the feasibility of combining all of the regional public transportation entities into an integrated regional body. Commission also has role of prioritization of transit projects.”

Gov. Deal as of this past September appointed the Transit Governance Task Force — the end result of that study commission — and then pointed to the next step.

“The metro Atlanta region has a multitude of transit agencies that work independently of each other,” Gov. Deal is quoted as saying. “The study committee found that commuters, transit stakeholders and the general public would benefit from oversight, streamlining and coordination of the individual transit systems in the metro Atlanta region. This represents the next step in the process, where we move toward drafting legislation that can make a real difference.”

There’s the ominous part: “... drafting legislation that can make a real difference.”

Most of the same legislators who gifted us with a regional sales taxing entity and a fourth level of government (city, county, state and now regional) will be around for the 2012 session, taking orders for difference-making legislation.

Historically, Democrats have not been averse to the growth of existing governments, particularly the federal kind, while Republicans of the classic variety have tended toward the view that less government is generally a desirable state of affairs.

In this current case, both Democrats and Republicans have joined together in an “ends justifies means” approach to the extent that a whole new layer of taxing government has been created, without — I might add — worrying their pretty little heads much about the lack of elected representation at this new layer of regional governance.

And this is supposed to be “progress”?

Does that bother anybody besides me?

Please, somebody make a coherent, reasoned argument that a non-representative regional government — higher than county but lower than state — is a good thing for our democratic-republican (little d, little r) form of government.

[Cal Beverly has been the editor and publisher of The Citizen since its founding in 1993.]

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