Transportation Committee Releases Its Final Report

The Joint Study Committee established last spring to examine options for funding transportation in Georgia has releaseed its final report, which finds that the Peach State needs a minimum of $1 billion to $1.5 billion in new transportation spending to provide for enhanced interstate capacity, maintenance of roads and bridges, reduce congestion in the state’s metro areas, increase the air cargo capacity of Hartsfield Jackson Airport, and provide multi-modal transportation options.

The committee does not make a specific recommendation for how the funds should be raised, but does lay out several possibilities. They include:

  • Converting the current four percent sales tax on gasoline to an excise tax. The result would be a fuel tax between 22 and 25 cxents per gallon, and would have the result of eliminating the “fourth penny” going to the general fund.  If the sales tax is not converted to an excise tax, then move between $180 and $185 million of the “fourth penny” sales tax revenue to the general fund.
  • Increasing the motor fuel tax.  The report notes that a 10 cent per gallon increase would generate around $600 million annually.
  • Providing a way to periodically increase the excise tax to maintain its purchasing power.  This could be via the inflation rate, or some other method.
  • Implementing a one cent sales tax statewide, which would generate about $1.4 billion annually.
  • Establishing an annual fee for electric cars and trucks, likely around $200 for private vehicles and $300 for commercial vehicles.
  • Long term, determining how to eliminate the use of state and local sales taxes on gasoline sales for purposes other than transportation.
  • Establishing a schedule to pay the DOT’s indebtedness of approximately $3.6 billion from the state’s general fund.
  • Recapitalizing the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank in such a way that local governments would be encouraged to provide matching funding for transportation projects.
  • Developing new toll or managed lane networks.
  • Providing for an investment in transit systems, possibly including the repeal of MARTA’s requirement to spend 50% of its revenue on capital projects. It also recomments a separate funding stream for transit.

There is a lot in the 23 page report, including comparisons of transportation spending in Georgia to other states, and a look at how current funding is being used. It can be downloaded here, or viewed below the fold.

In a story behind the AJC paywall, Michael L. Sullivan, Chairman of the Georgia Transportation Alliance is quoted as saying,

“[T]here is no silver bullet.

“When you’re looking at a funding challenge of this magnitude, the idea that there is one solution that is going to solve that problem in one fell swoop is unreasonable,” Sullivan, who is also president of the Georgia chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies, said.

The report provides plenty of information to digest, and will likely be the focus of legislators when they meet starting January 12th. They will need to decide which, if any, of the committee’s recommendations to adopt, and whether the need to provide additional funding to maintain and improve the state’s transportation infrastructure outweighs the natural inclination by the GOP not to increase taxes.

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the release of the final Study Committee Report.

Download (PDF, 576KB)

19 comments

  1. South GA Bulldog says:

    I read the report and I believe they did make recommendations. However, the General Assembly is the one that will draft the bill not the Study Comm. I believe the report gives the General Assembly a blueprint to look at and then decide how far they want to go. Some people are just negative about everything.

  2. John Konop says:

    This is a very good start…..now we need adult behavior from the legislators…..I think the leadership is heading in the right direction….we just need the elected members to act like adults.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    The conversion of the state sales tax on motor fuel to an excise tax should include automatic adjustment for a combination of inflation and improving fuel economy.

    Any state transportation sales tax revenues should be prohibited from being used for highway transportation—state motor fuel tax provides for highways—levy a small fraction of a cent state sales tax for transportation dedicated to other than highway transportation.

    I’m opposed to limiting local sales taxes on motor fuel for only transportation. Fuel is a retail product like anything else. State sales taxes on anything else aren’t pigeonholed to specific uses.

  4. Rambler14 says:

    I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear from Debbie Dooley, to find out which of these items she supports.

    Since, ya know, the Tea Party promised us they would be working on a Plan B in conjunction with the Sierra Club once TSPLOST failed.

    • androidguybill says:

      Debbie Dooley pretty much admitted at several points during the T-SPLOST debate that her primary motivation was to prevent tax money from the (northern) suburbs from being used to fund MARTA and the Beltline. The result of her efforts: money will now be taken from the entire state to fund MARTA and the Beltline. Hope she is happy. It just goes to show: be careful what you wish for, as it may not necessarily be granted in the form that you had it mind when the wish was made!

      It looks like the Georgia GOP now sees that keeping up with Florida, North Carolina and Texas (and staving off increased competition from Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina) is more important than suburban Atlanta grievance politics (especially since they have to look out for the whole state, and there are more urban areas with mass transit systems than Atlanta and MARTA).

  5. blakeage80 says:

    Well that was an anti-climactic read. I wasn’t looking for a great, comprehensive fix, but maybe a little creativity. I’m not brown-nosing, but I think the PP contributors and commentors could have written this report a long time ago.

    One point: If the 4th penny is moved from the general fund to transportation funding, that means other departments lose money. This could be spun as a good faith move by the state government as they try to sell higher ‘user fees’ to the population, as long as they aren’t raising taxes in some other way to make up for it. They could say, “Look, we’re cutting other areas to prioritize this, not just expanding your tax burden.”

  6. androidguybill says:

    This is a disappointment. All they did was restate a bunch of ideas that have been kicked around for the past 25 years.

    Two interesting things to note:

    1. with the proposed items in there for MARTA (and transit generally) and Hartsfield, it shows that the GOP is serious about bipartisanship on this push.

    2. It looks like the GOP is very willing to hammer the general fund for the sake of transportation. As the general fund includes things that A) Georgia is required by law to fund at proper levels and B) things that a lot of GOP constituents support it will be interesting to see how they make the numbers work. Redirecting a ton of revenue that should have gone towards transportation/infrastructure made it a lot easier to balance the budget while appearing fiscally conservative. Now that is going to be a lot harder.

    • John Konop says:

      ………… It looks like the GOP is very willing to hammer the general fund for the sake of transportation……

      With gas prices lower consumer spending will go up. This will create extra revenue in the general fund. Not sure if it will really effect budgets that much….more of shifting the extra revenue….not sure…need to see the numbers…

  7. saltycracker says:

    The Committee did what committees do, put forth options to test the waters as interests chime in. The primary importance is what the decision makers do now, the legislators must grow a pair and take actions in the best interest of all Georgians or will they continue to cloak themselves in their security system?

    The way to mute tax revision nays from from the peanut gallery is to come up with some widely acceptable solutions.

  8. Will Durant says:

    I predict a courageous move by the legislature to pass a bill allowing for another vote by the electorate to tax themselves, which will of course fail.

    • analogkid says:

      Exactly. The whole point of this study committee was to provide cover for the legislators to raise taxes, and they couldn’t even get that right.

      • South GA Bulldog says:

        I believe the report did give the Legislature the cover. The report made the case that GDOT’s budget is in bad shape and that not only GA but states all across the country are facing the same issues. One of the best cases that was made was getting less dependent on the Federal Government and for us as a state to control our own destiny. The fact that over 50% of GDOT’s budget comes from the Federal Government is ridiculous. The strings that are attached to that money adds about 40% cost to a project. We need to become less reliant on the Feds. This report shows the Legislature how we as a state can get to that point. I am not a person that likes to see taxes raised but at this point we have got to do something. A sales tax is the fairest tax in my opinion. This would allow not only Ga residents but people from other states to start paying for the roads that they are riding on when they are headed through our State. If you travel the interstate, you don’t have to pay that close of attention to see how many cars are on our roads that are from out of state. Negativity will get us nowhere. W

  9. South GA Bulldog says:

    I assume you can go to their website and look up the requirements. I ask about this and was told that the “Davis Bacon Act” adds about 20% cost to a project and another 20% can be figured in because of the NEPA requirements which are all of the environmental studies and work. These studies not only adds to the cost but also adds to the time that it takes to complete the project. I know that this has been the case on some local projects in our area. There was one project that I followed because it affected me, and every time I turned around there had to be another environmental study done. The project should have been completed about 10 years ago but is just now being completed. This is just one project that I am familiar with but I have questioned GDOT and local elected officials about it several times. I also contacted my Congressman and had them check with the Feds to make sure everything was correct. I was sent all of the information about the requirements. But to answer your question, I would assume that you can find it online. But there again when you assume something you can make an a>> out of yourself. I also heard this subject talked about at the Study Comm meeting that I attended.

    • Rambler14 says:

      Projects involving federal funding generally take 2-3 times longer than a locally-funded version, just to go through the NEPA/FHWA BS.

    • benevolus says:

      Well I guess if you don’t mind doing projects that haven’t had environmental impact analysis and you don’t mind paying below prevailing wages, sure, you can save a lot of money.

  10. Dave Bearse says:

    I thought I save more thorough comments until I’d read the report myself.

    The report was not unexpectedly a bit light on substance with respect to the way forward. I previously suggested here its preparation would largely be a forum for legislators to kibitz on the public dime. It’s worth the read though. It’s 23 pages sound like there’s more to it than there is—there are many half pages or pages easily skimmed over.

    It’s light on the way forward in that the reposts conclusions are merely suggestions, without ranking or recommendations (which is what should be expected when the kibitzing is on the public dime. Charlie preparing a detailed post including his ideas and soliciting comments, and then reviewing, summarizing, and in some measure applying judgment to the responses of the commentariat, could have produced the same essentially the same suggestions in a week’s time for only a few days pay over a year ago.

    There wasn’t any spin in the report, though a few things were omitted despite the majority of the report being devoted to facts and explanations.

    The report cited IL, FL, CA, OH and PA as peer states, presumably based on state system highway mileage. GA expenditures relative to these peer states were lacking. No explanation that theses all fund rail at orders of magnitude greater than GA.

    The report incorrectly implied that Georgia was no longer a donor state as concerns federal transportation funding in a footnote stating GDOT receives $1.14 in Highway Trust Funds (HTF) for each dollar $1 paid in federal motor fuel taxes. The implication fails to reflect that, as the report states, HTF for transportation have been supplemented with general federal revenue since 2007. A chart in the report indicated $52B+ distributed by the feds, versus $38B received by the HTF, in 2014. That works out to an average $1.38 received by the states for each $1 in motor fuel taxes nationwide—No, Georgia still is a significant donor state with respect to transportation (though perhaps a little less so when the HTF was fully funded by motor fuel revenue).

    The report’s first suggestion is to retire GDOT debt. Not unexpectedly, there was no explanation of the GaGOP running up that debt on Sonny Perdue’s Fast Forward program to build economic development highways.

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