T-SPLOST: The Stealth Tax

The average family in Fulton or DeKalb spends $350 per year on sales taxes for MARTA. We are being asked to double it to $700. Is this a good deal?

In 1971 Fulton and DeKalb counties voted to tax themselves a 1 percent sales tax to fund “rapid transit”, and MARTA was formed. 

Throughout the following 41 years, literally millions of people have moved into the area, each arriving to find that their purchases carried this tax. Most have never questioned it; instead they simply consider it a cost of living in Fulton or DeKalb counties.

Let’s focus for a moment on the current reality. If your family is middle-to-upper income, which defines the majority of people in the non-downtown parts of the region, you will spend approximately $35,000 per year on retail purchases.

The 1 percent MARTA tax directly costs you $350 per year before you take the first ride.

Even with this massive subsidy, MARTA cannot operate at break even and has fallen over $1 billion behind on its maintenance. Its ridership, never a high percentage of commuters, has fallen to less than 5 percent of the areas it serves. It is doing absolutely nothing to relieve congestion on our highways.

We are now being asked to vote for an additional 1 percent tax to fund even more “rapid transit” construction that will do even less to relieve congestion. 

For the average family, that now means you will be paying $700 per year to fund rail transit. Is this a good deal? I think not.

Do we wish to become a high-tax region like New York or San Francisco? Do we wish to deter people from moving here?

The Transportation Investment Act T-SPLOST vote, if successful, will raise our taxes region-wide by almost $7 billion. The project list directs over half of this money into rail transit projects. These projects are not fully funded and there is nothing in the budget for ongoing maintenance. It is a tax trap that will continue for the indefinite future. It also will absorb money that could alternatively be used to fund road projects that could relieve congestion.

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Mike Lowry March 15, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Actually, the State of Oregon is currently conducting a trial to tax everyone based on mileage driven rather than gas tax. Georgia should be doing the same thing. The challenge isn't technical, it's political. As for HOT lanes, they are a gross distortion of user fees. They simply enable a wealthier class of commuters to exclusively use resources that we all have paid for. From a transportation standpoint, they do nothing to relieve congestion but are simply a behavior-modification exercise.
Kate March 15, 2012 at 02:49 PM
The underlying problem in metro Atlanta metro is that NOBODY can only use rail. Rail doesn't go close enough to individual neighborhoods or destinations. This isn't New York, Chicago or D.C. It isn't laid out that way, and at this stage never will be. If MARTA built a rail line to, say, Northpoint Mall, how are you going to get on that train? 99% of riders will have to drive to it, except for a few condo or apartment dwellers right nearby. And even they will have to drive almost everywhere else (try taking a train to the grocery store or Home Depot, or your job or a friend's house in Marietta or Lawrenceville). I love transit - in theory. But in Atlanta, widespread transit use isn't going to happen because the metro area design doesn't permit it. Why would we keep spending billions of of taxpayer dollars to build and operate something that can never be a viable frequent transportation mode for most people?
Jake Lilley March 15, 2012 at 02:57 PM
I like the idea of a mileage tax, but the problem is that it does not directly associate the fee with the use of a given road. For example, if I travel in a multi-state area, then to which state should I pay the mileage tax and to which roads should the funds be applied? To properly assess payment for the use of a road through a mileage tax, you would need to employ GPS tracking that records which roads you drove on. Of course, then we get into a whole set of privacy issues, so a mileage tax is problematic. Therefore, I still favor a system of toll-based user fees for funding roads. However, I am NOT in favor of using a toll system as a form of DOUBLE TAXATION. If we are to adopt a toll system as our source of funding, then drop the other taxes that are already being used to pay for the roads. 1.) Eliminate the indirect tax system (i.e. SPLOSTS and gas tax) and raise the tolls to pay for roads. 2.) Pay for rail transit through rail fare 3.) Privatize the bus system. If they can operate on fare sales, then great - they will be providing a service that is in demand to people who are willing to pay for it. If they cannot operate on fare sales then don't ask non-bus riders to foot the bill.
JAH April 23, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Kate, thank you for bringing sanity to this discussion. Atlanta's development does not support rapid transit, and that is a simple fact. In fact, any city that developed after the advent of the automobile will most likely not contain a development pattern that supports transit. Transit needs density to sustain itself. Auto based development is just the opposite. The most grating aspect of this tax proposal is that 50+% is for transit, and a significant portion of that 50+% is for operations - not construction for traffic relief, but operations. And "construction for traffic relief" is a misnomer, since it is not proven at all (especially in Atlanta) that transit relieves traffic one iota.
patrick May 27, 2012 at 01:35 AM
While trying to drive around Roswell today, I was thinking how I shouldn't subsidize the road, the bridges, the police and fire personnel that deliver daily, the utilities, the soldiers we honored, the hospital personnel who get here from other areas...and how we should just cut ourselves off from the "region" and keep everything here in our bubble. Participate.


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