Georgia now has state funding for transit, though Legislature to revisit the measureTransit systems in Georgia have a new source of funding, though the Legislature is to revisit the issue because of a glitch in the approval process for a source of funding. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan
By David Pendered
Georgia now has its first statewide funding for transit. The money – as much as $50 million a year – is to be distributed among the state’s transit agencies under provisions that are to be developed.
Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed into law a new tax on ground transportation – taxis; shared rides, such as Uber and Lyft; limousines; and transportation-referral services. The money may be spent on transit infrastructure, but not transit operating expenses.
Kemp cited a major caveat – he intends to call a special session of the Legislature to vote again on passage of House Bill 105. The governor cited in a statement a glitch in the way the bill was passed, not the content of the bill that also provides a tax break to farmers who received federal relief for loss inflicted in 2018 by Hurricane Michael.
The state auditor provided the Georgia Senate with the following revenue projections for the transit tax. The forecasts include a high and low projection for a series of fiscal years that start July 1 of the year preceding the budget year:
- 2021: High – $45 million; Low – $24.1 million;
- 2022: High – $47.9 million; Low – $25.7 million;
- 2023: High – $50.6 million; Low – $27.1 million;
- 2024: High – $53.4 million; Low – $28.7 million;
- 2025: High – $56.4 million; Low – $30.2 million.
These figures were cited in a fiscal note dated March 2. The projections were made before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a recession that kept many of those still employed working at home, and grounded air travel that contributes to taxi and limo service at Atlanta’s airport, the world’s busiest passenger airport.
The money is to be spent on transit infrastructure, which is defined as a “capital project to establish, enhance, maintain or improve transit.” As such, the money cannot help pay to operate transit service.
The transit providers eligible to receive funding include the Georgia Department of Transportation; the Atlanta-region Transit Link; and systems around the state that receive federal transit formula funding.
Major transit systems serve Augusta, Columbus and Savannah. The universe of smaller transit systems across the state that received federal transit funding through the CARES Act serve riders in 72 rural counties, three rural municipalities, five regional rural districts, and seven small urban areas, according to a GDOT statement.
Regarding the governor’s plan to convene a special legislative session to revisit HB 105, Kemp said technical concerns about the bill have been raised and determined to be “legitimate questions.” The concerns do not involve the content of the bill; rather, the concerns involves the manner in which it was passed, according to Kemp’s statement:
- “When House Bill 105 was amended, it appears an incorrect legislative counsel number (i.e., tracking number) was assigned to the draft. Whereas this error is not necessarily a fatal flaw, this bill is far too important to our state to leave room for a legal challenge on its legitimacy.”
HB 105 does more than provide transit funding. When the original version of the bill was submitted, on Jan. 19, 2019, it intended to provide tax exemptions to farmers for federal relief funds they received related to losses inflicted in October 2018 by Hurricane Michael. The Senate held the bill until this year, added the provision for transit funding, and both chambers voted to pass the bill in the final week of a session disrupted by COVID-19.
Kemp’s statement regarding his signing of the bill observes:
- “Although I will sign House Bill 105 today, I do so with serious concern that if the bill is ever challenged, the measure may not withstand judicial scrutiny, resulting in the unraveling of the tax structures it created. Our farmers, especially, cannot afford further economic hardship.
- “In the coming weeks, I will issue a proclamation calling for a special session of the General Assembly to pass the Hurricane Michael tax exemption and other relevant portions of House Bill 105 again to ensure our farm families are protected. Such special session may also be timely to address other budgetary and oversight issues.”