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Transportation Funding: Progress or Political Stalemate? Hoping the House and Senate find half-penny compromise

What a mess.

The political puzzle at the Georgia Capitol these days resembles a Rubik’s Cube — especially when it comes to transportation issues.

The Georgia Senate, which is led by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, is pushing for a regional penny sales tax for transportation — which would give metro Atlantans an opportunity to vote to tax themselves.

The Georgia House, under the leadership of Speaker Glenn Richardson, is supporting a statewide one-cent sales tax with a specific list of projects throughout the state.

And Gov. Sonny Perdue has said he won’t support any new transportation funding unless there is a change of governance among the state’s key transportation agencies.

In short, Perdue’s proposal is to create a new State Transportation Authority (a merger of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the State Road and Tollway Authority) that basically would gut the powers of the existing Georgia Department of Transportation.

As we approach the closing days of the session, it appears there is a 50-50 chance that no progress on transportation funding will be made this year.


The political subplots between Cagle, Richardson and Perdue could easily end up in a stalemate.

Right now, all eyes are focused on Richardson, who has been amazingly circumspect.

Will Richardson support Perdue’s governance proposal even though it would curtail the House’s power in naming members to the GDOT board?

Will Richardson be willing to negotiate a compromise with the Senate on transportation funding even though that could help Cagle’s run for governor?

The Richardson of 2009 is reminiscent of longtime Speaker Tom Murphy, whose only political ambition was be an all-powerful Speaker of the House. The first evidence that Richardson was taking a page from the Murphy playbook was at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues Breakfast.

Like Murphy, Richardson chose to pick his words carefully with little political grandstanding.

Since then, Richardson has been holding his political cards pretty close to the vest.

One possible compromise would be for the House to succeed in killing the governance bill in return for accepting the Senate approach for regional transportation funding. One reason that might not fly is because of Richardson’s ABC’s — “Anybody but Cagle” for governor.

Or the House could pass a governance bill that would keep much of the power vested at GDOT, a position expected to be unacceptable to the governor.

Chances are that at the very best a bill for new transportation funding will end up in a conference committee. That is where transportation funding died last year. And it is there where it could die again this year for lack of a compromise.

So here is a possible compromise for transportation funding.

Let’s split the penny, something other states and metro areas do all the time.

Let voters vote for a half-penny statewide sales tax (the House version); and let voters vote for a half-penny regional sales tax (the Senate version).
The beauty of such a compromise is that both sides win.

The fear in the Atlanta region is that Georgia voters would not support a statewide sales tax. That’s one major reason why regional leaders are concerned with the House bill. A “no” vote would mean no new transportation dollars, leaving the region just where it is now — in a traffic jam.

Yet Georgia voters might be willing to support a half-penny transportation sales tax more readily than a full penny.

A half-penny regional tax also might be more acceptable to Atlanta’s metro counties, especially the two — Fulton and DeKalb — that already are paying a one-cent MARTA sales tax.

But the problem remains that Perdue might use his political influence to kill any transportation funding compromise if he doesn’t get his wish for a new governance structure — a proposal that has lukewarm support at best.

So we would be right back where we started — a region with a tremendous need for new transportation funding but with leaders who can’t seem to figure out how to work together to get us out of the ditch.

And according to Georgia Sen. Doug Stoner, that means we’ll be stuck in the same place for at least a couple of years.

“This is the last opportunity for transportation not to be a partisan issue because of the gubernatorial election,” Stoner said. “It will be hard for this issue not to become part of partisan politics next year.”

Can anyone please solve our messy Rubik’s Cube?

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. RICHARD WISE March 16, 2009 9:07 am

    I heard today on NPR that GMAC (GENERAL M0TORS ACEPTANCE CORP.)is looking to relocate their headquarters to either Charlotte or Atlanta. It would be a sad day for Atlanta if we lost GMAC to Charlotte because their transportation system is so far ahead of our in Atlanta.Report

    1. Maria Saporta March 16, 2009 10:18 am

      That kind of blow might be what we need to wake up our state leaders. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

  2. Roger Coley March 18, 2009 6:35 am

    It’s very frustrating to me that the leaders of this state are so wrapped up in their own agendas that they end up hurting the very people they’re supposed to help – us. Gov. Perdue’s election has sent Georgia backwards at least 10 years. Under his watch, the transportation issue has become more of a political football than it ever has been.

    If we lose GMAC, it could be a deathblow and other businesses considering a move here may follow suit.Report

  3. Richard E. Hodges March 20, 2009 6:39 pm

    I may have missed it. I have been watching for definitive coverage by the “big circulation” media of the transportation issues facing the Ga. General Assembly I have been amazed at the lack of coverage recently,which perhaps is a result of lack of public action on the various proposals by legislative leaders and the governor as the General Assembly winds down. Maria Saporta’s column, as so often has been the case over the years, has filled that informational gap with some excellent accompanying commentary and analysis, as well as some worthy ideas as to how this issue so vital to Georgia’s economic future might be resolved in a responsible way. One has to hope that the political stalemate that seems too often to be charateristic of our state’s elected officials does not win out again.Report

  4. Thoulplog March 23, 2009 10:37 am


  5. Steven Charles March 27, 2009 9:50 am

    Nothing this backwards state legislature does (& doesn’t) surprises me any longer. The transportation mess, now in a terminal state, cannot solely be laid at the capitol doorstep, however, as we the people have allowed nothing to be done for decades. From the time I arrived here, back in the ’70s, it was evident that Atlanta was going to need a master plan, that action needed to be taken, to avoid the traffic mess of a Los Angeles.

    Instead, while people prospered & partied, willy-nilly sprawl continued, with nothing more than one committee after another, one study after another, talk, talk, and more talk. So in 2009, with strangling gridlock threatening to discourage future business growth, and drive away those companies already here, we are deeply in debt, still with no plan, nor one on the drawing board. Meanwhile, even the limited public transportation we do have, MARTA, is facing cutbacks in service, just as it faces increased demand by many who cannot afford to drive.

    As the famous philosopher, Stan Laurel, once said, “”It’s a fine mess you got us into this time, Ollie!”Report

  6. AngryVoter April 1, 2009 7:59 am

    The people of Georgia need to let their legislators know TODAY that it will be political suicide to fail again to pass legislation that gives citizens the right to vote to support transportation funding (state, regional, split, who cares which?). There is no cover up for this pathetic disregard for the public welfare and clear prioritization of political agendas over public service. The Speaker, Senate, and Governor seem to be saying: “it’s my way or NO highway (or railway, or bikeway)”Report


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