Vote NO on SPLOST 2020

This year’s SPLOST vote is a complicated one, with a mix of good and bad on the ballot. A4E’s Board of Directors voted not to take a stance on the vote but instead to provide education to the public. A4E member Irami Osei-Frimpong is a doctoral candidate and graduate teaching assistant in philosophy who lives in Athens, Georgia, and is advocating for the anti-SPLOST side. You can read the pro-SPLOST take here.

Vote “No” on the upcoming Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). If we nix the bill, we can have a shot at a better list of SPLOST projects on the ballot just over a year later. What I’m asking for is a little bit of patience before we commit 10 years of resources to projects that weren’t designed for or by Athens’ broader working-class community. I am not against SPLOSTs as a matter of principle. The sales tax aims to transform HOPE scholarship money laundered through UGA students into a durable material and cultural infrastructure for the county. It’s not a perfect scheme, and the arguments that all sales taxes are regressive for people who don’t have an Amazon Prime membership has merits. However you judge SPLOSTs on principle, I’m arguing that the county commission got rolled on this particular SPLOST. This SPLOST is the result of how new commissioners who are scared to wield power and are not quite as savvy as they think they are, were besieged by veteran lobbyists who are very good at wielding power and are extraordinarily good at manipulating commissioners. Our electeds got spun. It’s not their fault. But it is now our problem.

First off, we don’t need a 10- or 11-year SPLOST. To be clear: a five-year SPLOST would still yield over $130 million, and a shorter SPLOST would be a smaller target for vultures, while bringing in more citizen input and experience into the project fulfilling process. We aren’t Kreskin. We shouldn’t be forced to anticipate our infrastructure needs in one shot a decade. ACC has a history of shorter SPLOSTs, and the powers that lobbied for the long SPLOST did not have the working-class community in mind. Second, the current ACC commission wasn’t even in office when the deadline for adding projects to this SPLOST passed, much less inoculated against veteran lobbyists rushing to get their list on the ballot.

The list of this SPLOST is calibrated to tantalize, make you forget your discipline and principle using a handful of worthy projects to ornament what is largely the result of graft. The Eastside Library and internet extension are necessary bits of community infrastructure. They are also added onto the SPLOST package to distract from the $77 million judicial center (a.k.a., Space Modernization Project). And I have all sorts of questions about how the Classic Center extracted $34 million for their arena.

If you vote “No” on this SPLOST, it gives our county a chance to take a whack at it later, with a more seasoned county commission and electorate putting together a better list of projects. We can get a shorter SPLOST that still includes the Eastside Library and internet extension, but we can also secure a worker center to serve as a hub for laborers to organize. While an arena may provide unsteady catering jobs that pay $10 to $12 an hour, what Athens needs to build a working class that is not a working-poverty class is a labor culture that will raise the salary floor and combat the scourge of full-time working poverty in Athens. For this quality of economic culture, labors need a staging ground, much in the same way the Athens Chamber of Commerce has a staging ground with which to organize how to suppress wages. Also, we’ve built an entire center dedicated to tennis, but no place to practice cello. It would be nice if we had a classical music center not affiliated with UGA where students could take private lessons with teachers, rent rooms, participate in small chamber music groups as a part of leisure services and even have a little recital hall.

As it stands, the 2020 SPLOST was designed by 2015 lobbyists, and if we vote “No,” we can pull together a package that reflects the material and cultural needs of our community, instead of subsidizing the demands of a handful of connected lobbyists.  

[This article has been edited from an earlier version that contained some inaccuracies.]

Advance voting on the SPLOST issue, which is the only thing on the ballot in Athens (Watkinsville has several local elections, as does Winterville), runs from October 14 to November 1 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on October 30) at the Board of Elections office at 155 E. Washington Street in downtown Athens. There is also advance voting October 30 through November 1 at City Hall, in conference room 103, on the lower level, at Athens Regional Library at 2025 Baxter Street and at the Miriam Moore Community Center at 410 McKinley Drive. Hours vary by site. Election Day is November 5. You can find out more information about advance voting or your polling place on the Board of Elections’ website. The last day to register to vote in this election is today (Monday, October 7, 2019).

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