Transportation Fight Is More Folks Fighting Over Fewer Dollars

The AJC did a summary article depicting transportation woes under the Perdue Administration. It does give credit for finishing some high profile (and high dollar) projects like the GA-316/I-85 interchange under the Governor’s “Fast-Forward” program.

The result, however, has been higher interest payments on bonds let to fund these projects, with fewer dollars available for new projects. The spike in earlier activity with few follow on projects has taken jobs out of the Georgia economy just as it hit a major downturn.

The dollar amount of transportation projects out for bid went from $2.65 billion in fiscal 2007 to $484 million in fiscal 2009, which ended June 30. That $484 million included federal stimulus money.

At the same time, the recession dragged down gas tax revenue, adding to the DOT’s woes.

The slowdown helped the DOT start building back its treasury balance, which was at about $809 million by the end of fiscal 2009, according to agency officials.

But the lack of contracts for road projects led highway contractors —according to some estimates — to shed up to 10,000 jobs in Georgia just as the recession started to kick into high gear last year.

So, the question remains, in an election year with power struggles and political fiefdoms still in flux, will the legislature attempt to find new revenue for transportation? Or will this be another year where we decide to study the problem?

14 comments

  1. South Fulton Guy says:

    No legislators like Jan Jones and Mark Burkhalter think splitting Fulton County is more important to their constituents than solving their transportation woes.

  2. ByteMe says:

    Will they let us tax ourselves here in the big city… or will they claim that’s a socialist plot because they don’t get to route some of the collected money to build unused roads in the poor areas of South Georgia where votes need to get bought with our money?

    • Lawton Sack says:

      Lol, ByteMe. You are the one person that I know that can be rhetorical, satirical, sarcastic, and serious in the same sentence.

      Seriously, though, the transportation is interesting and does draw some parallels with the insurance debate.

      Jenkins County (Millen, GA) and Screven County (Sylvania, GA) are the counties that always come to mind with transportation, state money, etc. Living in Bulloch County near the Ogeechee River, I live 10 minutes from both counties, so I get to see the great disparity between the prosperity of Bulloch and Burke Counties and the drastic decline of Screven and Jenkins.

      Jenkins County is one of the poorest counties in the State and have lost all of their industries. All of their students are on free lunch. Screven County has lost just about all of its industries.

      They have four-laned Hwy. 25 from Statesboro to Augusta which runs right through Jenkins County. They have also four-laned Hwy. 21 from Savannah/Rincon through Screven County to Jenkins County, where it ties in with Hwy. 25. They were planned this way to try to draw industry and traffic through Millen and Sylvania, but it has greatly failed. Businesses in Jenkins County along Hwy. 25 have shut down and Screven County has not fared well either.

      Interestingly enough, Interstate 3 was planned with about the same route in mind. Details can be found at http://www.interstate-guide.com/i-003.html

      The people of Effingham, Bulloch, and Burke have benefited as we can now travel on these nice roads to get to Augusta. We currently do not have an interstate from here to Augusta. I know very few people that travel Hwy. 21 to Savannah, though, as we can travel I-16 to Savannah.

      Jenkins and Screven counties obviously do not have the tax revenues to self-fund this type of road work. The debate would then be: Does the state let these counties die or do they attempt to let them grow by using money from other parts in the state?

      • ByteMe says:

        On the one hand, you have some vocal folks who get all Rand-ian and proclaim “the market has spoken, let them die!”

        But that’s not really the complaint I have. The DOT receives money from all over the state and doles it out by congressional district using a formula that’s (correct me if I’m wrong) Constitutionally mandated. And I don’t have a problem with Atlanta getting shafted for a proportional share of the money when other areas are in need of help.

        What I’m complaining about is the knuckle-draggers in the legislature who refuse to let metro areas tax themselves an extra penny to raise money for special transportation projects that are outside of DOT budget (like expanding MARTA). And these legislators hold it up so that they can get a slice of the money. It’s most annoying.

        • trainsplz says:

          “these legislators” = particularly Jerry Keen. Does your commute suck? Thank Jerry. He does it to spite you personally.

    • ByteMe says:

      My understanding is that DOT money is considered “off budget”, just because it has its own source and its own destination that the legislature can’t control (yet).

      • trainsplz says:

        Yeah – it’s in the GA constitution that the gasoline tax money gets used to build roads. No trains, no sidewalks, nada. Hence, it kinda sucks to walk most places.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    The depressed economy has taken the edge off congestion in metro Atlanta, and tax increases are rarely popular, so the GOP will get another bye with voters on transportation for the 2010 seesion, unless business interests demand otherwise. (The economy and circumstnaces are likely to have business interests focusing on direct, not indirect, handouts this session).

    Then consider that Perdue is a lame duck, Cagle has re-election to consider, and the House’s man is currently commissioner, circumstnaces not condusive for a transportation power struggle.

  4. B Balz says:

    Mr. Bearse may be right, but I am sure he wishes to be wrong.

    Reps. Levitas and Millar will present important legislation that cannot afford to get lost in this years critical budget discussions.

    A Georgia State University study shows the ten metro Atlanta counties generates 53 percent of the state income, yet only receives 37 percent of the state’s spending.

    So as Atlanta’s future goes, so goes State revenue funding over what rural Counties collect.

    That tax paid/services received imbalance led several metro Atlanta areas to incorporate from their respective Counties. Obviously we can’t incorporate the entire Atlanta SMSA, can we?

    One of Atlanta’s problems, as I see it, is that over 5 million plus non-MARTA taxpayers are now rightfully screaching about integrating their transportation solutions into those of just over 1 million.

    Of course, if you live in some rural Georgia counties you’d be doing backflips just to get a Publix in town, so issues Atlanta are a tough sell under the Dome.

  5. Dave Bearse says:

    BB:

    MARTA’s planning and management may need improvement (case in point: tens of millions dollars of the $100M fare collection system of a few years ago were for the capability to charge fares based on specific trip and time of day—apparently will be obsolete before it is ever used), but the state of late has done little to demonstrate it will do any better.

    Despite Millar’s good intentions, I disapprove of allowing a state government that routinely siphons off a considerable fraction of metro Atlanta tax dollars for use elsewhere in the state, to takeover MARTA.

  6. B Balz says:

    Hey Dave,

    One thing I noticed after the new fare gates were installed is that the ridership numbers spiked. What was actually occuring, I saw this personally, is that the new fare gates virtually eliminated people from scooting thru the turnstiles for free.

    There will never be a dollar-for-dollar equilibrium between taxes paid and services received in any political subdivision. That fact is unfortunately both unpopular and lost on voters.

    The argument about State government using Atlanta tax dollars elsewhere is the same argument th

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