Government resources must not be used to campaign for SPLOST.
The state of Georgia requires a ballot question on any special purpose local option sales tax because lawmakers have long held it should be up to the public whether it will pay additional taxes to fund local capital projects.
City council and county commission can only decide to call for the referendum and create a list of projects to be funded by the tax if approved.
After that, it is up to the voters.
While elected city or county officials can use their personal time, money or social media account to campaign and exercise their First Amendment right, they cannot use city or county resources to campaign for or against a sales tax referendum.
Using city- or county-owned copy machines, letterhead, stamps, envelopes, websites, social media or even pushing for the tax in a government meeting are all out of bounds. While local government can publish a project list and explain the terms of the proposed tax, any such literature or posting must be limited to those basic facts and not attempt to persuade voters.
Cloaked terminology, such as a “continuation” of the existing 1-cent tax is tantamount to campaigning and promoting the referendum.
There is no such thing as a “continuation” of SPLOST.
When voters approve a special purpose local option sales tax, the tax is for a definite period.
If local leaders put another SPLOST question on the ballot for voters to decide, that is a new, and different, tax.
The Georgia Municipal Association has clearly explained that only the projects specifically listed on the SPLOST referendum are eligible to be funded through SPLOST revenue.
So, what voters are approving is a specific SPLOST, for a specific period of time to fund a specific project list.
The law requires each local government receiving SPLOST proceeds to keep a record of each project funded by SPLOST. Each entity should make those records available, so the public can know the tax was used for the specific purposes they voted for and not for any other reason.
When a new SPLOST is placed on the ballot, it is for a different list of projects for a different period of time. It is not a continuation of anything.
When local leaders call the next proposed tax on the upcoming ballot a “continuation,” that is a ruse.
If a new tax was not on the ballot or if voters reject the new tax then the current additional 1-cent sales tax expires.
It is that simple.
Furthermore, according to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, if civic group, business, cause group, activists or a mainstream organization such as a chamber of commerce decides to either support or campaign against SPLOST, it is required to register with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission and comply with campaign finance laws.
Again, city or county resources cannot be used to campaign for or against SPLOST.
Elected officials must distinguish between what they say and do as a private person and what they say and do in their public capacity.
While public education is essential, it is up to the people — not the local government — to decide whether to accept or reject this new tax.