At 4:31 PM on August 31st, the special session of the Georgia state legislature that began three weeks earlier came to an end.
Called by an executive order of Governor Nathan Deal, the special session was necessary to redraw house, senate and congressional district maps as required every ten years after the census is performed.
Gov. Deal included in the items to be considered during the special session not only the redrawing of district maps, but also ratification of the suspension of the state gas tax increase, local legislation “of an urgent matter,” and changing the date of the regional transportation tax (T-SPLOST).
Now that they have been passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, the district maps will next be submitted for pre- clearance to make certain that they comply with the Voting Rights Act that the state of Georgia still has to follow.
Ratification of the suspension of the state gas tax increase was completed quickly with little opposition.
As always, local legislation can take on a life of its own, and certainly this was the case again as the Henry County delegation traded accusations of discrimination and back door politics before finally approving their new district maps.
The final item on our agenda, changing the date of the T-SPLOST vote from the July primaries to the general election on November 6 of next year, became so controversial that it was abandoned and not acted on during the special session.
Changing the T-SPLOST date became a political football, pitting the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party against the chambers of commerce with the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) playing a leading role in the political drama.
Proponents of changing the date of the T-SPLOST, including the chambers of commerce, believed that it would stand a better chance of passing with a higher voter turnout in November, particularly among Democratic voters. With President Barak Obama the presumed Democratic nominee, turnout for the July Democratic primary would be potentially low while turnout for the Republican primary would be higher since they will be choosing a candidate at that time.
Tea Partiers, who generally represent the Republican Party’s more conservative anti-tax wing, fought ferociously against having the date changed setting up what turned out to be a political heavyweight match.
A deal was thought to have been reached between the two sides when some Republican legislators agreed to support the changing of the T-SPLOST vote in exchange for a provision that all future referendums on local option sales tax issues would be held during general elections.
At this point GMA, representing the cities, and ACCG, representing the counties, became involved. While they may have been in agreement with moving the date of the T-SPLOST vote to improve its chances of passage, they were opposed to moving all SPLOST votes to the general elections knowing that most future referendums would have a more difficult time of passing.
The impasse between the two sides could not be resolved and the issue was therefore abandoned.
Many, including myself, feel that the idea behind changing all referendums to general elections when voter turnout is higher is a good one.
Because sales taxes are broad based taxes that everyone pays, we should have as many people as possible making the decisions.
Historically, less than 15 percent of the registered voters turn out for most SPLOST votes held at times other than the general election when the turnout is 52 percent or higher. Chambers of commerce, GMA and ACCG are aware of this and were not willing to sacrifice future SLOST votes for moving the T-SPLOST.
With the issue of moving the T-SPLOST dead for now, Tea Partiers are claiming a victory.
However, with a chance to have all future SPLOST votes changed to the general election when more people will participate, one has to wonder who the real victor is here.
After all, it’s one thing to win the battle and another to win the war.