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Let’s Rethink SPLOST

The current SPLOST will collect $314 million over 11 years. We approved it in November 2019. A few months later, everything changed. It is reasonable to reconsider whether some of its large projects still meet our needs.

Two of the largest items on the SPLOST were the most controversial. The Facilities Space Modernization Project to renovate the courthouse and build a new judicial center will cost $78 million, and the Classic Center Arena Project will cost $34 million. Together they make up over one-third of the SPLOST budget.

SPLOST guidelines allow for the discontinuation of projects that have become “impractical, unserviceable, unrealistic, or otherwise not in the best interest of the county or municipality.” The commission can adopt an ordinance of infeasibility and put it before the voters.

We have a new district attorney and an agenda of criminal justice reform, and many court functions have been successfully moved online due to COVID. Is spending $78 million on a judicial center still a good idea? And the Classic Center Arena now looks like an expensive luxury, whose uncertain promise of trickle-down prosperity is less appealing than the direct benefits that other projects provide.

Removing these two items would shorten the SPLOST by several years. We could invest earlier in projects that meet our changing needs. And we would ensure funding for other projects in the current SPLOST—such as the one that will bring broadband internet to homes, now an urgent necessity—if revenues do not match projections.

We should also change the process by which SPLOST projects are chosen. It should be a product of truly participatory budgeting, earmarked for grassroots projects. There are many of these in the current SPLOST, but the Facilities Space Modernization Project and the Classic Center Arena Project are not among them.

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