By David Pendered
Congress and the Obama administration have made it clear that Georgians will vote July 31 on the proposed transportation sales tax with no clue as to how much money the federal government may pay to support the projects.
This news is significant in metro Atlanta. The 10-county region is counting on the federal government to pay nearly 12 percent of the total $7.1 billion cost (in today’s dollars) of the road and transit projects to be built if voters approve a 1 percent sales tax for transportation.
Without the federal funding, it seems unlikely that all projects will be completed. Neither a contingency plan, nor a priority list of projects, was part of the recommendation from the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, the group of 21 elected officials that created the construction list.
Last week’s events in Washington appeared to continue the gridlock that has prevented Congress from passing a comprehensive federal transportation bill since 2009.
The conflict crystallized April 18. The day began with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicting that Congress will not pass a long-term highway bill before the presidential election. LaHood’s comment was followed by a House vote for a measure with provisions the White House already had promised to veto:
- The House passed a resolution backed by Speaker John Boehner that will send the transportation funding issue to a House-Senate conference committee. House Resolution 4348 also extends the current transportation funding bill through September, three months longer than the date in the Senate’s stop-gap measure that was approved last month.
- HR 4348 includes amendments that call for the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline; for the continued use of the Highway Trust Fund to maintain harbors; and for states to regulate the disposal of hazardous coal ash in materials such as paving for roads – a move its sponsor said was designed to take the disposal issue out of the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Here are two comments that illustrate the partisan divide that was evident during the April 18 House debate, which was presided over by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Newnan):
- “What’s going on here is political,” Rep. Steve Cohan (D-Memphis) said during his protest of the Keystone oil amendment;
- “There’s a lot of disappointment on the other side of the aisle, because this contains no earmarks, tax increases, or signs of bigger government,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park, Fl.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was interviewed at the same event where LaHood spoke – the launch of the news website PoliticoPro Transportation, which is to be a high-velocity report on policy issues including transportation. Reed was interviewed in his capacity as a big-city mayor and chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Committee on Transportation.
Reed called for special dispensation from the federal government for communities that tackle big transportation projects – such as the one contemplated in metro Atlanta.
“I believe any city or region in America that makes a decision not to wait for help, makes the decision to … do the hard things, ought to go to the head of the line with regard to the deployment of federal dollars,” Reed said. “There ought to be a pool of resources, certainly an investment bank … to make sure that communities that try to solve their own problems get federal help faster than those that decide not to.”