Will Davis

Editor’s note: A version of this column has been published in 2012, 2016 and 2019, all the previous times that Monroe County has asked voters to increase our sales taxes.

The vote to increase the Monroe County sales tax on Nov. 3 is the dog that is not barking.

A dog not barking is an event notable for the silence about it. And there has been radio silence about Monroe County asking its voters for the fourth time in eight years to raise its sales taxes from 7 to 8 percent. Why do county commissioners keep asking us to raise our taxes? Simple. Because we keep saying no, and they won’t take no for an answer.

Yes for the fourth time since 2012, the county is seeking your permission to get into your wallets. Why? To pave more roads. They call it a T-SPLOST, or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

State lawmakers tried this first in 2012, selling it as a regional approach to transportation whereby counties would get together and share tax revenues for area projects. Voters across the state soundly defeated it. Georgians know that government already confiscates way too much money from families. 

In 2016 Monroe County tried again, this time with promises that more money would stay at the local level. Again, Monroe County voters wisely defeated the tax increase by a significant margin.

Last fall, only 52 weeks ago, Monroe County voters again rejected the tax, this time only 52 to 48 percent.

Commissioners smelled the scent of money, and here we are again. But you may notice they are saying very little about the road tax. There have been no civic club speeches to rally support. There have been no educational campaigns hoping to curry voter favor. Perhaps commissioners are hoping with the Trump v. Biden race and senate races getting all the ink, they can quietly get voters to approve it. Maybe they hope exhausted citizens will get to the end of their ballots and say, “whatever”. But I hope not.

Elected officials like to call this the penny tax to minimize its impact on local families. But think about this: the median household income in Monroe County is $50,666. It is true some things are exempt from sales taxes: Rent or mortgage payments and most groceries. But that’s it. Let’s conservatively assume that only half that income, $25,000, is spent buying taxable things each year. Under that example, this tax increase would cost the average family $250 per year. And they want to impose it for five years. So that’s $1,250 taken away from your family. That leaves families without funds to pay for things like field trips, or new clothes, or medical care for their children.

And then consider that once these sales taxes are imposed, they are rarely, if ever, repealed. The Georgia legislature first allowed school systems and county governments to impose 1 percent sales taxes in 1985, and Monroe County families have coughed up millions ever since. 

In the past, elected officials have sold this transportation tax increase as a way to keep paving roads with local money, with the promise of matching dollars from the state. That was the carrot. But county officials have also suggested that if voters do not pony up, an increase in property taxes may be required to pay for road improvements. This is called the stick. I say call their bluff.

I don’t deny Monroe County roads could use improvement. But more important are Monroe County families and their budgets. Every dollar siphoned out of local families for government diminishes our ability to meet their own needs. 

Commissioners have often argued that Plant Scherer and I-75 motorists, and not local families, pay much of the sales taxes. But with Plant Scherer soon to close one of its four units, that will be increasingly untrue. And a pandemic and nationwide shutdown that have caused untold economic damage to our families is no time to raise taxes.

Monroe County is a conservative county. We understand that the family and the individual come first. Government comes second. When government is already hitting families with property taxes, sales taxes, death taxes, income taxes and every other kind of tax, then Nov. 3 is a good time for Monroe County taxpayers to tell their elected officials for a fourth time: “No mas!”

And maybe this time, they’ll listen.