Now that the ceremonial first week of the Georgia Legislature is behind us, lawmakers will be in session for Day Five today. By many accounts, we will see a bill containing the recommendations of the Joint Transportation Committee filed this week. And while there has been concern over whether there is enough will on the part of the legislature to pass a tax increase, there has been less talk about how a transportation funding bill will fare outside the metro areas of Atlanta, Savannah, Macon and Augusta.
As a recent story in the Chattanooga Times Free Press talks about how citizens in the northwest corner of Georgia might react to a proposal that would raise taxes or divert funding from other projects to pay for $1 billion or more worth of transportation maintenance and improvements. The consensus among lawmakers appears to be that improving the transportation infrastructure will bring more business to the state, and that, in turn, will ultimately provide tax money for things like public education that benefit all Georgians.
“I don’t care for the fact that we’re kind of up here in a rural area that doesn’t get a whole lot,” said Rep. John Deffenbaugh, R-Lookout Mountain, a member of the House Transportation Committee. “But the majority of the people are in Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus, Augusta, Macon — places like that. As they rise, we all can rise from it.”
Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, agreed: “It’s a concern to me, too. But the way metro Atlanta goes, the way a lot of this state is going to go. We really need that revenue generator.”
Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said the state has to increase funding for its highways and bridges. But he doesn’t believe a motor fuel tax is the answer.
Mullis, former chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said people don’t drive as much as they used to. And when they do drive, they’re operating more fuel-efficient vehicles. People just don’t spend as much on fuel as they once did. He isn’t sure of the solution.
Voters in the northwest Georgia region soundly defeated the TSPLOST back in 2012, with 57% of voters against the penny sales tax that would have brought transportation improvements to the region.