DeKalb voters approve half a billion in vague promises

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DeKalb County CEO Mike Thurmond, surrounded by mayors and government officials, speaks about ballot measures to increase sales taxes and cut property taxes during a press conference at the DeKalb Roads and Drainage Division on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

Our ancestors loved liberty and hated taxes.

In 1773, they stormed the docks and cast crates of tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxation without representation.

I’d have gotten along with those guys. If I had a time machine I’d undoubtedly drop in and introduce the “high five” and “fist bump” a few centuries early.

Tuesday, DeKalb County voters tossed more than half a billion dollars in additional sales tax revenue at politicians in exchange for vague promises.

After reading the ballot babble, I figured the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax proposal, which increases the local sales tax by one percent for six years, was doomed.

Seventy percent of my neighbors thought otherwise.

I’m not saying we got this one wrong, but volunteering to pay government more is like telling a burglar where you keep the valuables.

Over six years, the new tax is expected to generate more than $600 million. An estimated $388 million will go to DeKalb and $249 million or so will be divided among the county’s 12 cities.

Politicians have promised to use the money to repair roads, improve sidewalks, create bike paths and teach your children to fly.

Will it work? Will the extra cash prove a pothole panacea?

In 2023, I predict we’ll still complain about roads and the number of contractors who’ve written checks to political campaigns will exceed that of new bike paths.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I like smooth roads, fancy sidewalks and flying children, but an eight percent sales tax borders on larceny.

It’s also bad for business. Want to make a major purchase? Why not visit Cobb County, which manages to have the Silver Comet Trail, superior schools and paved streets with only a six percent sales tax. In fact, four cents goes to the state, so Cobb only retains two cents, half of what DeKalb now requires.

Politicians don’t know much, but they do know property owners have a better memory than the random fellow paying a few more pennies every time he sees a cash register.

Substantially increasing the millage rate to pay for things voters want requires a courage rarely found in politics. It also requires fully explaining expenditures.

Why risk angering a voter when you can dupe the masses into voluntarily taxing themselves?

To make it even more cowardly, politicians tied this SPLOST to another promise — reduced property taxes.

Will you pay less in six years than you do today? If you still believe that in 2023, I have a house I’m willing to sell you.

It’ll be interesting to see what $600 million buys. We’ll likely be able to point at a new fire station or senior center, but, like bike paths and sidewalks, those will require maintenance too. In six years, we’ll be asked to tax ourselves all over again.

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps streets of gold will soon exist on a heavenly Memorial Drive.

Or maybe it’s not a coincidence the metro areas with the highest sales tax rates, Atlanta and DeKalb, keep federal agents investigating government corruption so busy.


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