By Saba Long
As the General Assembly gears up for 2015 legislative session, transportation appears to once again be the star of the show.
On Monday, Dec. 8, a Republican Georgia State Representative posed the following question on his Facebook page: “Would you be willing to pay additional amounts per gallon of fuel for road and infrastructure build? If so, how much? 5 cents? 2 cents?”
Most of the 80 plus comments posted were emphatic “no’s” weaved into an anti-tax, wasteful spending sentiment. Some called for a revenue neutral solution, which would require reducing the budget of another state department. Even better, a Kickstarter-like campaign. Others threatened to boot any tax-raising Republicans out of office.
But, the government is too bloated.
Not so fast. While the state has racked up headlines for job growth and business expansion, we’re still climbing out of the Great Recession.
According to a 2015 state budget report from the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI), state revenues are projected to increase for the fifth consecutive year in 2015, but on an inflation-adjusted and per-capita basis, they will still trail 2007 levels.
Revenues are growing just fast enough to avoid new budget cuts. Growth has become commonplace in recent years, but not nearly fast enough to restore government services most important to return the economy to its pre-recession strength.
The state has made evident cuts in departmental budgets. While fewer numbers on the spreadsheet were necessary – and perhaps overdue, they can be damaging – to public employees and ultimately, to the public at large.
I am paying too much in taxes.
Again, the GPBI study refutes this common argument. The chart indicates revenue as a share of income has actually declined since the 1990s.
So, what is this legislature to do?
In an op-ed this week, real estate developer Mark Toro recalled Henry Ford’s famous statement about public fear. “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” the inventor remarked.
Anti-spending Georgians seem to think the answer to our traffic problem is more budget cuts.
Georgia legislatures are scrambling to find the most politically palatable way of addressing the burning building that is transportation infrastructure spending.
Early reports indicate a gas tax increase is on the table.
Great, it’s long overdue. But, we ought to consider other options as well; particularly considering strong support for pro-autonomous vehicles will lead to a potential boon for Georgia’s already popular electric vehicle market.
California is seriously considering adopting a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fee; Oregon will bring VMT online in summer 2015, after a successful pilot and providing comfortable tracking options for its residents.
Georgia, too, could pursue a pilot to deem the merits of VMT, rather than going for a knee-jerk “no.”
And, what about the “fourth penny” that currently goes into the state’s general fund? Some states are moving to a “transportation lockbox” to ensure funds collected from transportation levies only fund transportation projects.
Republicans have an incredible opportunity today to be the party that got Georgia moving again. For the sake of my commute – and yours – please don’t blow it.