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Georgia won’t use gas tax for transit — though some lawmakers want it to

Maggie Lee
MARTA's Civic Center station and the highway that runs under it.
A different kind of flyover: MARTA’s Civic Center station sits atop the Downtown Connector. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Maggie Lee

Georgia’s gasoline sales tax raises nearly $2 billion a year for roads and bridges, and nothing for buses and trains. A pair of state lawmakers have filed bills to ask voters to change that.

And other lawmakers put the brakes on the idea immediately.

“Our roadways are literally choking us,” said state Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, whose district includes Spaghetti Junction.

She was speaking to a state Senate committee, and she handed out a Georgia Department of Transportation sketch of multiple sets of flyover lanes planned for the top end Perimeter.

Or, “Spaghetti Junction on steroids,” as Harrell called it, saying it’s not what the people of her district want.

“But this is all the Georgia Department of Transportation can give them,” she said.

That’s because GDOT’s main source of state funding is a 4% sales tax on gasoline, which must be spent on roads and bridges.

That is, unless Georgia voters authorize a change to the state constitution, allowing the gas tax to be spent on other things.

Harrell’s House Resolution 654 asks voters to do just that, as does House Resolution 910 by state Rep. Josh McLaurin, D-Sandy Springs.

Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch wants her constituents to have the choice of bus rapid transit instead of sitting in traffic. But all that infrastructure isn’t cheap.

All communities are suffering from crumbling infrastructure, Deutsch said, speaking in favor of Harrell’s bill.

“How we’re going to pay for it all is frightening question, but the quality of life of residents in metro Atlanta in particular is declining because we have to spend more time in our cars,” Deutsch said.

The rejection was as polite as it was clear from a few Senate Transportation Committee members, including Chairman Brandon Beach.

“We’re already behind on funding and roads and bridges,” said Beach, R-Alpharetta.

“I keep telling people, we’re going to have another 2.5 million people coming here in the next 20 years. We’re going to have to fund even more roads and bridges,” Beach said.

The Senate Transportation Committee adjourned Tuesday without taking action on the legislation.

Harrell herself knows it won’t pass. Not this year, anyway.

“I appreciate the opportunity to begin this dialogue, to begin this discussion,” Harrell said. “It is a discussion that we absolutely have to have, because at this point Georgia’s constitution is holding us back as a state. And it is crippling people’s quality of life.”

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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