Metro Atlanta Chamber board still holding out hope for new transportation funding
The Metro Atlanta Chamber keeps hoping for a transportation funding bill to come out of this year’s General Assembly.
At its board meeting today, chamber leaders heard from Tommie Williams (R-Lyons), president pro tem of the state Senate, who bascially said that governance must come before new funding.
That has been the position of Gov. Sonny Perdue since he unveiled his plan to change the governance structure of the state’s transportation agencies.
Under Perdue’s plan, the Georgia Department of Transportation would become more of a maintenance agency and a new State Transportation Authority would hold the power and the purse strings.
Metro Atlanta Chamber President Sam Williams said the president pro tem explained that the business community should do all it can to try to get the two different funding proposals — a regional approach in the Senate and a statewide approach in the House — to conference committee.
“Tommie Williams said that without governance, it’s going to be very hard to pass a funding bill,” Sam Williams said. “He said that as the Georgia Department of Transportation stands today, it does not deserve to have more funding.”
Bill Linginfelter, who co-chairs the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s transportation committee and is the chairman-elect for the business group, said that state Sen. Williams’ message is the same that he’s been hearing from other legislators.
“Unless the governor is satisfied with a governance process, then funding probably does not have a chance of passing,” said Linginfelter, who added there’s an outside chance that the two legislative bodies could get a two-thirds vote to pass a constitutional amendment without the governor’s signature.
“At the end of the day, you would much prefer having the three top leaders in the state on one page with differences ironed out,” said Linginfelter, who is area president for Georgia and South Carolina for Regions Bank.
In talking to business leaders, it was clear that there’s a growing level of frustration with the lack of progress in getting new transportation funding to help metro Atlanta address its traffic problems.
“The practical view is that we’ve been at this for the third year in a row with a bill ready to present, and it just hasn’t been done,” Linginfelter said. “I really hope this is the year that we can take something to the people of Georgia and say congestion relief starts in ernest today.”
Part of the political tension is that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is behind the Senate version, which calls for regions being able to vote a penny sales tax to address their transportation needs; and that House Speaker Glenn Richardson is pushing the statewide penny sales tax.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber has just come out this week with a definite preference for the regional approach.
“We certainly like the idea of the regional T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax),” Linginfelter said. “We know there are alternative ideas, and we know there will be compromises along the way. But in the end, local accountability and matching local dollars with local projects is what has passed across the country.”