Selling Transportation Funding in Northwest Georgia

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.

6 comments

  1. Rambler14 says:

    I was listening to Erick on the way home last week (Friday?)

    He was railing against the idea of raising taxes for transportation.
    On and on about “republicans” voting to raise taxes.

    • Al Gray says:

      The Augusta meeting was the last committee meeting. Very serious issues were raised, not the least of which was the objection to any statewide tax increase that would duplicate the TSPLOST tax that passed in the CSRA region.

      The Sprints Food executive, Mr. Jones, made a very powerful presentation against raising the motor fuel tax.

      Chairman Gooch said then that there might be no specific recommendation.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        A case can be made that a significant fraction of our transportation funding shortfall is a result of truck subsidies.

        Jones already has TIA / T-SPLOST, and it doesn’t get any sweeter for an executive of a trucking intensive business like groceries that largely avoids sales tax to fund transportation with sales taxes.

        • saltycracker says:

          Makes good sense, diesel tax should be less as about everything we consume comes by truck and he’s paying a road tax now.

  2. Rep. John Deffendum says it’s fine to raise taxes here to pay for Atlanta roads because “As they rise, we all can rise from it.”

    The rise of Atlanta has been SO helpful for Walker and Dade the last hundred years, yes, let’s throw more of our money into that mess.

    The real problem with roads in Northwest Georgia, or in Walker County at least, isn’t the availability of funds but how the funds are spent. Every few years taxpayers are told to renew the SPLOST sales tax for roads, and then when the tax is renewed most of its proceeds go to buying land and other needless projects the taxpayers wouldn’t have supported if county leadership had been honest about where the money would go.

    Ethics, honesty, transparency. Public input. Responsive leaders. The legislature will never do anything about THOSE issues.

    — LU

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