Discord over transportation funding proposal has a familiar ring

By David Pendered

Georgia’s continuing debate over transportation funding shows that it may be possible to displease a lot of the people most of the time.

I-20 East, east of I-285

Georgia lawmakers are seeking about $1 billion a year to improve mobility, including congested areas such this section of I-20 near I-285. . File/Credit: David Pendered

The current proposal, House Bill 170, has triggered so much comment that it’s already grown from eight pages to 14 pages. This much revision in a bill is uncommon, especially in a bill that has only been aired at two subcommittee meetings, most recently on Monday.

Only five years ago, intense debate unfolded over the transportation funding proposal of that era. Lawmakers dickered over House Bill 277 from before it was formally introduced, on Feb. 2, 2009, until the House and Senate adopted a compromise bill on April 21, 2010. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue waited until June 2 to sign it into law.

The history of the 2010 bill, along with the revisions already made to the current bill, suggests how starkly HB 170 may morph as it moves through the legislative process.

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia predicted as much when it adopted a posture of wait-and-see:

  • “ACCG has intentionally not taken a position on the bill as we continue to work on solutions to county concerns. We recognized from the start that the first version of the bill would undergo modifications. ACCG does not anticipate having the ACCG Policy Council take a position on this bill until the bill moves from the subcommittee to the full committee.”
TIA regions

Road construction continues in three regions where voters in 2012 approved a 1 percent sales tax for transportation. Credit: GDOT

On the other hand, the Georgia Municipal Association didn’t hesitate to come out flatly against HB 170. “Oppose,” is the position stated on GMA’s website. GMA produced estimates of the bill’s financial impacts on local governments and schools that has been widely cited by local officials as they criticize HB 170.

In some ways, the scene is a flashback to 2010, and the years leading up to passage of a bill that enabled the 2012 referenda on a 1 percent transportation sales tax. State lawmakers who balked at voting to raise taxes agreed to put the question to voters on whether to implement a transportation sales tax in 12 regions.

At that time, Georgia was part of an emerging trend in several states to put transportation taxes to a vote. ACCG produced a report in 2009 that concluded:

  • “Referenda-based measures are growing in popularity and lawmakers are veering away from the traditional funding sources of statewide motor fuel tax or fee increases. In lieu, more states are enabling local governments and existing or newly-defined regions to develop their own revenue-generating solutions.”
Columns, Northwest Corridor North of I-285

Georgia turned to public private partnerships to build major projects, including one that’s to ease congestion in Cobb and Cherokee counties. File/Credit: GDOT

Regional sales taxes appealed to a majority of voters in other states. Of 13 referenda, nine passed and four failed. The results in Georgia were a complete reverse.

Voters in only three of Georgia’s 12 regions approved the proposed 1 percent sales tax.

Those three districts approved funding for $1.8 billion to spend on 871 transportation projects. Almost $271 million has been collected since tax collection started Jan. 1, 2013. Projects are underway including three that had groundbreakings this year:

  • On Friday, a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled in Talbot County for the resurfacing of Pobiddy Road, near the Flint River bridge;
  • On Feb. 6, near Plant Hatch, a groundbreaking was held for the new $27.5 million Joseph Simmons Alexander, Sr. Bridge over the Altamaha River on U.S. 1;
  • On Jan. 8, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Laurens County for a new bridge over the Oconee River.

 

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.

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