The Transportation Leadership Coalition, a collection of tea-party groups, argues that Kemp should not have consulted with the regional roundtables of local elected officials on the wording of a “preamble” before the actual question since they picked the projects and have a vested interest in passage of the tax.
“We find the fact that our government is taking marching orders on how to word a ballot from a special-interest group very disturbing,” said Julianne Thompson of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots.
“The roundtables may be made up of some elected and appointed officials, but they do not answer to the taxpayers as ‘Regional Roundtables.’ This verbiage is manipulated specifically to influence the vote in a certain direction, and that is electioneering,” she said Wednesday.
Kemp denies any attempt to mislead voters. He notes that the law passed three years ago required the roundtables to select projects for their regions on the basis of whether they would improve traffic and safety or create jobs.
The preamble on the ballot says “Provides for local transportation projects to create jobs, improve roads and safety with citizen oversight.”
“In light of the involvement of each regional roundtable, I reached out to those groups for input on the preamble,” he said in a statement released by his office.
The one-sentence explanation on the ballot that he added merely explains those project criteria, he argues.
Conservative blogger Bill Simon of Political Vine went so far as to accuse Kemp of violating the law by not consulting with the attorney general and the Legislature’s legal counsel on the wording. Attorney General Sam Olens’ spokeswoman said Wednesday that he was not involved in the drafting.
However, state law only requires Kemp to consult others for state constitutional amendments, not ballot questions like the transportation sales tax. And since the tax vote is by region rather than statewide, the ultimate authority belongs to local elections officials, according to Georgia election law 21-2-285(f).
Thompson said the coalition is still weighing its legal options. Election lawyers say privately that a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice is unlikely to succeed since there are no federal laws about the wording of ballot questions. Any state court lawsuit would probably depend on whether the tax passes since its defeat would make a court fight to stop it unnecessary.
Kemp concedes that the wording never was going to please everyone.
“I recognize that reasonable people can disagree on this matter,” he said.