By Saba Long
Last week, national journalists unapologetically exposed Georgia and metro region’s dirty laundry. A mere few inches of snow crippled the state and the ninth largest metro area in the union. Frustrations and anger were displayed. And the blame-laying commenced.
An hour before the snow began to fall, I walked (a reliable form of transportation in a snow storm) to a Capitol press conference. Friends and foes of the 2012 transportation referendum – including the Georgia Transportation Alliance and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots – were there to urge state action on transportation spending.
Among their proposals were partial-penny SPLOSTS, and actually remitting the fourth penny of the state’s motor fuel tax to the Department of Transportation. Currently, it goes into the state’s general fund, although Georgia’s Constitution requires that it be used for transportation infrastructure.
As part of their Snowjam coverage POLITICO, major television networks and others recognized the T-SPLOST story and remarked with surprise that it was soundly rejected. Also a first – the infamous alternative euphemism for MARTA was uttered on national TV: “Moving African-Americans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”
Many asked: “How can a state not invest in transportation infrastructure spending?” But an equally important question is how the greatest country on earth can fail to do so as well.
The Congressional Budget Office recently reported to Congress that the “current trajectory” of the Highway Trust Fund is “unsustainable.” Federal funds are expected to run out by next year.
Just as Georgia has seen a decrease in collections from its motor-fuel excise and sales taxes, the same has taken place on the federal level.
Meanwhile, a third of U.S. highways are rated “poor” or “mediocre.” And sitting in traffic costs the American economy about $480 billion annually, or 3 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP).
For the region, an insolvent Highway Trust Fund will stifle the little that we are able to do now in terms of transportation spending. Approximately 35 percent of all transportation funding in metro Atlanta is with federal dollars.
That’s a hit that Georgia’s roads, bridges and transportation networks cannot afford to take. It’s also a hit our construction industry cannot afford to take.
How to pick up the slack? Georgia will have to get serious about making its own investments in transportation spending — with or without federal dollars.
Smaller, localized T-SPLOSTs, higher gas taxes, more HOT lanes, a tax on vehicle miles traveled, transit — all these ideas and more should be on the table.