The Atlanta City Council has voted to put a transportation special purpose local option sales tax – or TSPLOST – referendum on the November ballot, asking for an 0.4 percent increase for street, sidewalk and trail projects. If approved by voters, it would raise anywhere from $250 to $300 million over the next five years.

In June, the city council approved a half-penny sales tax referendum for MARTA expansion projects. If voters approve both referendums, it would push the city’s sales tax from 8 to 8.9 percent – the highest in the metro area. Local retailers have expressed their concerns the increased sales tax will hurt business and drive consumers elsewhere.

Before the voters make a choice, the TSPLOST must first pass muster with the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. Under newly-passed Senate Bill 369, the county must sign off on Atlanta’s TSPLOST before it goes on the ballot.

Amendment language added to the resolution during the July 18 council meeting has some council members wondering if the county will reject the request.

While state law calls for a list of projects to be attached to the referendum, some council members were concerned about not being able to amend the list in the future if projects needed to be changed. Councilmember Michael Julian Bond added a disclaimer that the city has the ability to change the projects as deemed necessary.

Councilmember Alex Wan said he was concerned that disclaimer would put doubt in the minds of voters – a sentiment echoed by Councilmember Mary Norwood.

“I am concerned that could send a message to voters that you can’t trust the list [of projects], you can’t trust things will be done, things will be shifted and moved around,” Norwood said.

Ultimately, the council voted to approve the resolution for the referendum with Councilmember Felicia Moore being the lone holdout. “I think this is regressive tax and I won’t support it,” she said. “If you start using a sales tax method to fund projects, we won’t ever stop.”

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.