For the next three weeks, expect to see Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington on television -- a lot.
Yes for Public Safety, a campaign committee formed in support of a 1 percent Local Option Sales Tax on the July 15 ballot, has made a major television advertising purchase. The ads, which feature Wetherington and members of Columbus Council, started airing Monday on network and cable television, said Yes for Public Safety adviser Frank Myers.
The ads will continue until the election.
“It was a significant purchase,” Myers said, but he declined to say how much the group is spending. That information will be made public prior to the election. The committee is required by state law to release contributors and expenditures by June 30.
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The ads will appear on news programs and other shows watched by people who tend to vote, Myers said.
Five of the ads are on the organization’s Web site , http://www.yesforpublicsafety.com. There are additional ads that have yet to be posted on the Web site, Myers said.
Wetherington, a former Columbus Police chief, is a key pitchman in the ads. There ads have two main themes:
The sales tax in Columbus is currently 7 percent. By the end of the year, 2 percent -- a 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax for the city and a 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for the Muscogee County School District -- will expire.
If the city’s LOST passes, the sales tax will be 6 percent on Jan. 1, 2009. There is a 4 percent state sales tax and the city would have 2 percent.
“Hopefully, people will realize and understand that under no circumstances is this a tax increase,” Myers said. “It will not go over what people are paying now.”
One of the reasons for Yes for Public Safety being so specific in its advertising message is the wording voters will read when they cast their ballots next month.
“Shall the retail sales and use tax levied within the special district within Muscogee County b e increased from 1 percent to 2 percent?” the ballot question reads.
The Yes for Public Safety Web site addresses the ballot question.
The words in the mayor’s message may change slightly from ad to ad, but Wetherington sticks with the theme — the city will not be increasing taxes.
Two of the ads on the Web site feature Columbus councilors. Eight of the 10 councilors have speaking roles. The only two who do not are Mike Baker and Gary Allen. The ads emphasize that the entire council supports the proposed tax, which could generate as much as $36 million annually. The mayor and council have promised that 70 percent of the revenue will go to public safety for 100 new policemen, an addition to the Muscogee County jail and 66 new deputies to staff the jail. The remaining 30 percent will go to road and infrastructure improvements, Wetherington has said.
There has been one committee formed to campaign against the sales tax. Be Smart, Vote No L.O.S.T. was formed by Council public agenda regulars Paul Olson and Bert Coker, who qualified Monday to run for council against incumbent Skip Henderson for the citywide post.
The committee has not raised money to mount a television or media campaign of its own.
“We didn’t have to last time and we defeated it,” Olson said.
A similar 1 percent sales tax failed, 60 to 40 percent, on November 2, 2004. That was before Wetherington was elected mayor.
One political watchdog group, Common Cause/ Columbus, is expected to make its recommendation on the proposed tax later this week, chairman Sam Rawls said. The Columbus chapter was formed in October.
“Right now, we are reluctant to do anything,” Rawls said. “We are so new, we don’t want to be perceived as negative. If we suddenly get real strong against something, that is going to be perceived as negative.”