City calls delay of TSPLOST extension ‘intentional’ to allow for financial recovery

ATLANTA — An investigation by Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found that the city of Atlanta won’t collect more than $30 million in sales taxes next year because the question of extending the tax is not on next month’s city elections ballot.

After we started asking questions, the Bottoms’ Administration announced Thursday that the move is intentional to give more time for the economy to recover and to have it on a ballot next May when the turnout is likely to be higher.

At issue is a special sales tax for transportation projects, called a TSPLOST, which voters approved by a two to one margin five years ago.

To keep the roughly $5 million a year flowing without an interruption, voters needed to approve an extension next month, but that is not going to happen.

The soon-to-expire tax was expected to bring in some $300 million over five years when collections of the .4% tax began (4 cents on a $10 purchase began April 1, 2017.)

About $75 million was promised for the so-called Complete Streets projects. The Beltline was also earmarked for some of the money.

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But now the cash flow to support those changes will be interrupted for at least six months next year because city hall didn’t get the question on the ballot for voters next months.

Veteran City Councilman Howard Shook told Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher that he just started hearing about the interruption a couple of days ago, and he’d not heard the administration offer a good reason for the delay.

But his primary complaint is administration officials have not provided a full list of projects it intends to pursue if the council and voters agree to another five years of the tax.

“I’m certainly not going to vote to approve to give them hundreds of millions of dollars without knowing what we’re going to spend it on. We’ve been asking for it for weeks and it’s starting to get extremely irritating,” Shook said.

“Clearly the administration dropped the ball. We can’t afford to lose much needed revenue to meet the critical needs of our infrastructure due to a missed deadline,” City Council president Felicia Moore, who’s running for mayor, said in a statement texted to Channel 2.

A city spokesperson sent a statement saying: “There was no missed deadline. The decision was intentional.”

The spokesperson said turnout in the election next year will likely be higher when voters go to the polls statewide on May 24 and the delay allows more time for financial recovery from the pandemic.

“I don’t think it’s good, but I don’t think it’s bad either. It gives us an opportunity to get more citizen input,” said City Councilman Andre Dickens, who is also running for mayor.

Even Shook agrees in part with the mayor’s view.

“I don’t think it’s lost money. It’s delayed money,” Shook said.

The current tax expires at the end of March. The earliest the money could start flowing again is Oct. 1 of next year, delaying receipt of $30-$35 million.

Based on information from another metro government, we estimate that would pay for 25 to 29 miles of sidewalks, or resurface 75 to 88 miles of major thoroughfares, or 120 to 140 miles of local roads.

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