Cui bono?

I recently saw a pro-TSPLOST bumper sticker on a truck. I thought “that’s odd, why would average Joe Citizen be so impassioned about infrastructure policy that they would feel the need to advertise it on their vehicle.” Then as I passed the truck the reason became all too clear: a bright blue logo signified that this truck was owned by a road construction firm. Yes my friends, that company is a “rent seeker.” Rent seeking is that process that distinguishes the market entrepreneur (one who must compete in the free market for paying customers) from the political entrepreneur (one who gains an advantage over his competitors by lobbying the government to pass laws favorable to his line of work, such as regulations, licensing laws, or outright government purchasing.) The construction company in question sees the potential $18 billion that will be raised and they want their share of that pie.  If you want to evaluate the merits of any newly proposed program, simply ask “cui bono” (to whose benefit). If the answer comes back in the form of concentrated benefits (construction firms and those selling right of way) and diffuse costs (“it’s only a penny!”) spread among the taxpayers, then chances are it is a political boondoggle that will accomplish little at a greatly inflated cost and should be promptly voted down.

The TSPLOST is being sold to the public the same way every new government expenditure is sold to the citizenry: through FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). The fear of what will happen if we don’t pass it (roads will crumble, bridges will fall, kittens and babies will be slaughtered!) comes first, then uncertainty surrounding our future (how else can we build and maintain roads?) and ultimately the third leg of doubt is brought to bear (there’s no way anything else can work). The tenuous justifications for “regional” projects are laughably juvenile in their simplicity. The Project Sheets for the Constrained Project list were apparently assembled from the “TSPLOST” template found in Microsoft Word; only the titles and locations have changed. Miraculously all the projects “could assist in having a positive impact on the economic vitality for this region”, “improve access to jobs”, and “improve travel times for drivers.” Sounds grand, however these descriptions were used to describe the two projects for Morgan county: a 1 mile driveway (Stanton Springs parkway) extension and widening of a lightly travelled rural highway (441 south of I-20). Someone please explain to me how widening a road will enhance access to jobs? Is there some impenetrable Great Wall of Georgia that these new wider roads are going to get us around?  The sad part is that for Morgan county the two projects aren’t even fully funded by TSPLOST. The county will come up $24 million short after 10 years (see spreadsheet). Naturally we’ll need to extend the TSPLOST for ANOTHER 10 years when it comes time for renewal in 2022 else we will have to raise property taxes to make up for the shortfall.

Which raises a final point. It has been suggested TSPLOST will save money through reduced property taxes, however that math does not work. It was stated that county officials “hope” to lower taxes by 1 mil. Using the median home value in Morgan county (US Census) of $169,400 we find that would be savings of about $67. Using the median household income in Morgan county (same source) of $46,000 and the fact that people on average spend about 36% of income on sales taxable goods (food will be taxed under TSPLOST), that translates into an increased sales tax burden of about $165 per year or a net increase of $100 on average. Everyone that would like to reach into their pocket at Christmas and hand over $100 to the government, please raise your hand. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Property tax savings is a red herring. For the overwhelming majority of residents there will be a net increase in taxes. Who benefits? The public or the politically well connected?

On July 31, vote NO on TSPLOST.