Congressional line in the sand: Metro Atlanta’s proposed transportation sales tax may be bolstered by fewer federal dollars

By David Pendered

Metro Atlanta’s plans to use federal funding in addition to revenues from the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation were thrown into jeopardy Friday.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee said he will not compromise on the spending plan he submitted last month, according to a report in the Aug. 6 edition of The Wall Street Journal. Click here to see the story. The budget proposal would cut current spending levels by about a third, according to some reports.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said he will fight as vigorously for the proposed cuts in the transportation budget as he did against certain spending in the battle that shut down the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mica was at the center of the battle over FAA funding. In the bill signed into law Friday by President Obama, Republicans won the elimination of about $16.5 million in air service subsidies to 13 rural communities, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Mica is pressing for a six-year highway bill, according to The Wall Street Journal. He intends to ensure that federal spending does not exceed about $34 billion a year, which is the amount collected through the federal gasoline tax.

“I’m going to use every lever possible, on the FAA bill, on the highway bill, on the Coast Guard bill—whatever it takes to get long-term authorization,” Rep. Mica is quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal. “I’m hoping similar controversy [to the FAA debate] can be avoided, but again my responsibility is to pass a long-term bill.”

Congressional Democrats are arguing for a two-year extension of the nation’s existing transportation budget. That plan expires Sept. 30.

If the nation’s transportation budget is adopted as proposed, Georgia could see a 35 percent decrease in the amount it receives for transportation infrastructure, according to one report.

In terms of what that could mean for road and transit improvements being considered in metro Atlanta, an unspecified amount of federal funds may have been included in the cost estimates of transit projects that were tentatively approved Aug. 4 by the Executive Committee of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable.

The $3 billion price tag of those projects did not include a revenue source when they were projected onto a screen during the meeting.

But the committee’s planning staff is well aware of the uncertain future of federal funding of road and transit projects. Here’s a snippet of a white paper that’s posted on the roundtable’s website:

“Any decision about leveraging federal funds to ‘complete’ a project allocated [sales tax] funds must be strategic and carries a significant degree of risk. Failure to deliver a project due to a reliance on future federal funds which fail to materialize is a distinct possibility.”

Click here to read the white paper.

The committee is slated to reconvene Aug. 9 to consider adopting a list of roads that could be paid for with the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation. The committee’s schedule is to adopt a final list on Aug. 11, in advance of the Aug. 15 deadline.

The list voters will see on the ballot is due to be approved in October. The referendum is scheduled for July 2012.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    It’s high time that we recognize that we must fund our transportation needs, and not depend on future Federal handouts that will be few and far between. Every Federal handout comes with strings attached, and is often tied to projects that don’t provide the maximum benefit to Georgians. We will be much better served by building the projects that benefit us and ignoring what makes Federal officials, legislators and bureaucrats happy.

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  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Heck, Washington is finally deciding to do some way past due budget cutting so nobody can really complain, besides either we cut the budget and do without or keep spending and have the budget cut us and descend into some kind of Mad Max Post-apocalyptic nightmare, which this society and much of the Western world seems to be on the verge of because of fiscal stupidity.

    Transportation infrastructure improvements are going to have to be funded mostly through user fees, if we want to drive on that shiny new road or ride on that shiny new rail line, the people who use it are going to have to bear more of the cost, that’s just the way it is, especially as the Federal Government teeters on the edge of financial collapse.Report

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  3. DougAlexander says:

    say this for Mica – he understands two things: that the Dems and the President had the opportunity to put their stamp on this bill by passing it in the first two years of the Obama admin and they blew it by not being willing to push on multiple fronts, and that the GOP has seen in the debt limit fracas exactly how much the Dems are willing to stand and fight, which isn’t much, apparently.Report

    Reply

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