Help Wanted: Transportation Leaders – Mere Negative Critics Need Not Apply

Today’s AJC column on Transportation

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.” – Excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena”

The Georgia General Assembly’s Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding recently published its findings calling for an increase in annual transportation spending of $1 to $1.5 billion. In doing so, it recognized that a strong transportation infrastructure lies at the heart of our state’s future success and we ignore its present weaknesses at our peril.

In response, the Georgia House leadership has placed on the table its transportation plan and the long knives of opponents have quickly emerged.  An alphabet soup of organizations are already cranking out their calls to respective members to oppose the plan including GSBA (Georgia School Board Association), GMA (Georgia Municipal Association), ACCG (Association of County Commission of Georgia), and, of course, the usual assortment of naysayer organizations who can collectively be labeled by the acronym CAVE (Committees Against Virtually Everything).

These organizations so far have one thing in common: they denounce the House Leadership plan on the table but offer few, if any, viable alternatives despite the fact that our transportation woes endanger our safety, dampen our quality of life, and impede our economic development.  It is time for these organizations to understand:

  1. Since almost half our roads and bridges are rated in fair or poor condition, this means our school children are riding on unsafe roads;
  2. Our city residents’ are stuck in some of the worst commutes in the country;
  3. Our economy in every county suffers without a strong transportation network when businesses cannot get the goods, customers, and employees they need to grow and prosper; and
  4. While government should not try to do everything, there are a few things it must do well – like transportation – and that cost money.

The Georgia House Leadership plan does the following:

  • Phases out the practice of allowing the state and local governments from diverting sales taxes collected on gasoline to their general funds for spending on non transportation items. This practice has crippled our ability to meet our transportation needs. Approximately $180 million in state gasoline taxes and $500 million in local gasoline taxes are diverted into state and local general funds each year and not directed exclusively to transportation. It is time for gas taxes to be viewed as a user fee and devoted exclusively to transportation.
  • Abolishes sales taxes on gasoline and replaces it with an excise tax that under our constitution must be used exclusively for transportation purposes. This provides security against future elected officials jeopardizing our long term transportation needs by siphoning off money for their short term pet projects.
  • Devotes $100 million in bonds to mass transit which is the state government’s first major investment in this vital part of our transportation needs.
  • Provides local governments with the ability to directly raise money for local transportation needs.
  • Imposes a $200 user fee on alternative fuel vehicles ($300 for commercial vehicles) to insure that these vehicle owners also pay their fair share toward transportation.

This plan is not perfect – few proposals ever are – and constructive criticism and debate at this point is valid and necessary  in developing the right transportation plan for our state.  Therefore, it is time for GSBA, GMA, ACCG, CAVE, and others to  offer more than “just say no” criticisms and offer meaningful alternatives if they do not like the one presently offered.

In short, we need at this moment a lot more women and men leaders who dare to enter President Roosevelt’s arena and “actually strive to do the deeds” needed to protect our future, and few less mindless critics who are merely “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Edward Lindsey is a former Georgia State Legislator and Republican House Majority Whip.  He recently served as a citizen member of the General Assembly’s Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding.

***Update***

While several County Commission Chairmen and members have come out in opposition to the House Leadership transportation proposal, ACCG has corrected previous information I received and presently has only a neutral position.  I spoke with a representative of ACCG and he vowed that ACCG would come to the table with viable alternatives to their objections.  I applaud ACCG for this pledge and look forward to hearing its alternatives.

80 comments

  1. Jessica Szilagyi says:

    “Since almost half our roads and bridges are rated in fair or poor condition, this means our school children are riding on unsafe roads;”….really???

    • gcp says:

      Unfortunately there is much hyperbole on the subject of transportation. Yesterday someone referred to it as a “crisis”. Such silly statements only hurt any effort to fix what really needs to be fixed in transportation.

    • Teri says:

      Lest we forget our veterans.

      Seriously, though – and while recognizing that there have already been meetings and forums throughout the state – going forward, what opportunities for collaboration are available to municipal representatives? I am still evaluating the bill and while I hear from GMA daily, I know there are many layers to this onion and I need to hear more from the House before I make up my mind.

      • Edward Lindsey says:

        Jessica: My purpose for raising the point about school children was not hyperbole but to show how everyone, including GSBA, has a stake in safe roads and no one should stick their head in the sand and demand that someone else come up with a fix to the problem. (Teri: If a veterans group had denounced the bill, I would have mentioned veterans on the roads as well. 🙂 )

        GCP: As to whether we are at a “crisis” point, I think we are close to one if not in it. Forty eight percent of our roads and bridges are rated in fair or poor condition but we had enough money to upgrade only 2% of them last year. We have one of the worst commutes in the country and our transit systems in metro Atlanta are a proverbial Tower of Babel. “Crisis?” Quibble if you wish but I hope we can at least agree that it is serious.

        • Teri says:

          I don’t think “crisis” is too hyperbolic to describe a situation that impacts economic development, the environment, and quality of life the way our transportation situation currently does. It’s a crisis in the way it is in that tired metaphor about the frog and the pot of hot water, except we’re the frog.

        • gcp says:

          Ed,
          A crisis is a long term drought that seriously affects our supply of drinking water; a traffic problem is not a crisis. If any bridges, overpasses or roads are unsafe, they would have already been closed by dot or locals. Fair or poor condition is not the same as unsafe.

          Do roads need repaving and do bridges need to be replaced? Of course but it needs to be done over a course of years; not all in one year. Perhaps we could get get a dot cost breakdown per year?

          As for other road projects that will improve traffic flow, some of us remember the 85/285 interchange project, Freeing the Freeway, 400, endless upgrades to 75, all of which quickly became obsolete as will, for example, a billion dollar remake of 285/400. Once again a prioritized breakdown of projects and costs from dot is needed as such is currently unavailable on dot website.

          Some folks, (contractors, consultants, politicians, bureaucrats) have a vested interest in any transportation bill which accounts for some of my cynicism but I also know government won’t solve the traffic problem; they can only manage it. At some point it is up to citizens and businesses to locate closer to each other to minimize the need for taxpayer funded projects. Taxpayers should not subsidize a commuter that travels I–85 from Jackson County to Atlanta.

          • Jon Richards says:

            gcp. let me respond to some of your points.

            You talk about a crisis, and question whether the condition of the states roads or bridges are really in crisis mode. In reality, the life of asphalt paving is somewhere between 9 and 15 years. At 9 years, it’s pretty simple; a new layer of asphalt fixes the problem fairly inexpensively compared to year 15, when the deterioration is so bad, you pretty much have to dig up the road and start over. We can wait until we are in a crisis (year 15) and then pay through the nose to fix the problem.

            No one is saying that all the problems are going to get fixed in a year. Right now, DOT is on a 50 year replacement cycle for asphalt. That’s untenable, and the goal is to get to a 10-15 year cycle. That $1 billion is an ongoing need.

            I remember when they built Spaghetti Junction. It was in the early 80s, so almost 30 years ago. The interchange between I-75 and I-16 has to be that old too, if I remember my trips from Atlanta to Jekyll Island in the mid-80s. a 30 year lifespan isn’t unreasonable for road and bridge infrastructure, especially when more people use the roads than was planned for when the project was built.

            Will some people make money off of rebuilding and maintaining the state’s roads. Yes. That’s called capitalism. If you think that the projects should be done at cost because it’s “For the People,” that’s fine, but I don’t think you’ll have too many companies willing to do the work.

            Which brings me to your last sentence. Are you asking people to relocate to denser neighborhoods in order to minimize the expenses the state must pay? Let’s look at this issue a bit differently. Someone who lives further out from work has to put up with a traffic jam on most days, but typically pays less for housing than he or she would if they lived close to work. You could be talking a $150,000 house vs. a half a million dollar mortgage and the payments that go with it.

            But let’s say everyone agreed with you and moved closer to work in Atlanta. Now, with higher density and everyone closer to work, we need to figure out a way to get them to that last mile between home and work. That typically means transit, and that isn’t cheap either.

            So we can subsidize a commuter who travels many miles in order to pay less for housing, or we can subsidize a transit rider who would prefer to live closer to work, and is willing to pay for the privilege. I’m not saying one lifestyle is better than another, but you still have the taxpayer paying for both.

            • gcp says:

              My concern is the nonspecificity of the figures. For instance, is it 70 million for paving, 120 million or what? Same thing for bridge replacement, 100, 200 million? Even Lindsey’s figure of 1 to 1.5 billion is uncertain. Such uncertainty leaves a lot of room for contractors, consultants, politicians and bureaucrats to play games.

              Its much the same with the traffic enhancement projects such as 285/400 and I-16/75. As I said above, these projects need to be justified and prioritized. Improving 285/400 intersection only puts more cars on an overcrowded 285. And the cost, one billion or what?

              As for folks moving closer to work, I know some that have done so. As for businesses look at State Farm; they moved to the perimeter area to be close to MARTA. Once again, if you want to live far from work, thats fine, just don’t tell taxpayers they have to pay for it by widening 85 all the way to S.C.

              As for “capitalism” its not capitalism when you talk about taxpayer money because taxpayers don’t have a choice; they have to pay taxes.

        • Angela Palm says:

          GSBA has not yet taken a position on HB 170. I alerted our members to the fact the press conference occurred, the bill was coming and would include the change in sales tax. I recommended they figure out the impact to them and talk with their legislators about it. That’s it.

          Do we need to do something about transportation? Absolutely. We also need to be fully aware of the consequences of the choices we make in doing something about it so we can make the best choices. Counties and cities may be forced to raise taxes by levying an excise tax, but school boards don’t have that option.

          I try not to stick my head in the sand — it’s hard to breathe down there.

    • Edward Lindsey says:

      Xdog: I do not expect anyone to be “happy,” including the state which loses $180 million from its general fund. However, I do expect everyone to do more than complain about the other guys’ proposals. My column is simply a call to everyone to come to the table.

      • xdog says:

        Your original post reads as if you want hosannas instead of a rush for seats. As pointed out, it’s not the job of county commissions and boards of education to make transportation policy. I don’t understand why you find their objections unreasonable.

        I read the early copy of the bill that was posted here. It mentioned an increase in LMIG funding, which looked to be a way to ease counties’ lost tax revenues. I’ve heard nothing further. What’s your understanding about how future LMIG funding will be affected? Any chance of getting something other than vague mentions of more money?

        • Edward Lindsey says:

          XDOG: As I pointed out elsewhere, I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to come to the table with transportation solutions — especially school, city, and county officials. They have a vital stake in finding a solution as do me and you.

          As to LMIG funding, I could not agree with you more and hopefully that will part of any final bill. It is an issue like that the local governments can be especially helpful.

        • Newtster says:

          xdog – LMIG is a Democrat philosophy. Take more money from the local jurisdictions and then hold it as long as you want to and give it back on YOUR terms. The local governments have to fund all of the architectural and engineering work in order to apply to GDOT for approval and then, and only then, GDOT will decided to MAYBE give you back 20 percent, or 30 percent or maybe even 50 percent………UNLESS…..your Region voted against T SPLOST, in which case the geniuses in the General Assembly decided that you should be penalized and you can only get 20 percent of the project cost funded by LMIG. It is a disgusting concept and should be eliminated totally. Rather than view LMIG and something the local government is RECEIVING, you must understand that it is YOUR MONEY to begin with and we should stop that control lever at the state level.

        • Rambler14 says:

          LMIG shouldn’t even be talked about in regards to additional funding for transportation.

          This is budgeted funding coming out of state motor fuels tax and distributed to counties and cities, instead of GDOT.

          Increasing the LMIG budget from year to year accomplishes nothing but appeasing some of the counties and cities. It doesn’t increase our investment in transportation one iota.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Mr. Lindsey, the state is reallocating, not losing $180M. SPLOSTS will receive less. Not the same. Whether sloppiness or spin, it casts cynicism on argument.

        Here’s another: “Phases out the practice of allowing the state and local governments from diverting sales taxes collected on gasoline to their general funds for spending on non transportation items. This practice has crippled our ability to meet our transportation needs.”

        Has there ever been a diversion? I thought the 4th cent went to the general fund from nearly if note from its inception. SPLOSTS sales tax revenue on motor fuel has never gone to the state.

        What has crippled our ability to meet our transportation needs is a lack of state leadership dating to the late 1990’s when it became apparent revenues were inadequate.

        • Edward Lindsey says:

          Dave: The crippling comes from overburdening gasoline with taxes unrelated to transportation. We are one of the few states that allow this. It’s a bad practice and, yes, it has gone on for decades.

          The question now is how do we meet our transportation needs. Any ideas? Now is the time to speak up.

          • Dave Bearse says:

            (1) Implement a new fraction of a cent state general sales tax constitutionally dedicated to transit, with the ability to use the tax revenue for operations.

            (2) Index the 3 cent Local Option Excise Tax (I’m coining the acronym LOET, and also claiming Local Option Transportation Excise Tax LOTET) to CAFE and inflation exactly in the manner of the $0.292 /gallon state excise tax. State excise tax goes up say 10% to $0.321, LOET /LOTET concurrently increase 10% to $0.033. No local action required on the part of local government, just as no action is required on the part of GDOT with respect to state excise tax revenue.

            (3) Consider using AFV tax revenue to back a much larger transit bond ($500M) to jump start transit if (1) above applies. Alternately consider initially using AFV tax revenue to accelerate repayment of GDOT bonds (GARVEEs, etc.)

  2. androidguybill says:

    Quite honestly this is immoral.

    It is not the job of the GSBA to come up with state transportation policy. It is their job to tend to what they were elected to do, which is local education policy. So claiming that they should “offer an alternative or shut up” is simply disgraceful, outrageous and dishonest. Again, it is not their job to come up with state transportation policy. But it is THEIR JOB to point out that taking hundreds of millions of dollars from their budget WILL HURT THEM.

    Funding transportation in this state, and doing it in a way that doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul, was the job of you guys in the state legislature. And you guys failed. Again. Georgia is in the bottom 5 in high school graduation rates. Has been for who knows how long. Taking money from schools to add a few highway lanes IS NOT PROGRESS. Neither is forcing local communities to raise millage rates and property taxes to make up these shortfalls just so the guys at the state capital can continue to boast over their perfect ratings on the Club for Growth scorecard when re-election time rolls around.

    You guys have failed to do a thing on transportation on this state for 20 years, you finally put forward this monstrosity, and you tell GSBA to offer meaningful alternatives or shut up? You guys should have been the ones to offer “meaningful alternatives” 10-15 years ago! And if it wasn’t for snowjam making you guys a national laughingstock and all of these potential employers telling you that their employees don’t want to spend half their lives in traffic (something that “the urban liberals” could have told you YEARS AGO, but I guess back then trying to split north Fulton off into Milton County or other windmills that you were tilting at were more important) you guys would STILL have your heads in the sand.

    How about this: instead of telling people who haven’t been at the state capital avoiding this issue FOR DECADES like you and and who were never elected to deal with issues like this LIKE YOU WERE to offer something better or shut up, how about YOU GUYS come up with a plan that doesn’t raid county treasuries for education and economic development funds? Here’s an idea: T-SPLOST, imposed statewide by the legislature (no referendum where you try to make the voters do the dirty work for you) to fund a project list set forth by the GDOT which automatically ends when the last item on the list is completed (or is at least fully funded).

    Simple, easy and far more effective than ripping off counties and inhibiting the methods at their disposal to pay for their future needs! And this way, you could actually MEET the $5 billion need that we have. That is the worst part. This destructive proposal only raises 1/5 of the total that your own figures say that we need! Where is the rest going to come from? I get it … counties and cities doing your dirty work for you by raising their gas taxes right?

    Disgraceful.

    • Edward Lindsey says:

      Androidguybill: Including GSBA in the debate on a transportation bill is reasonable. Like it or not, as a present major recipient of taxes on gasoline, a large user of our roads through its fleet of buses, and an entity that has asked for tax breaks on gas taxes for its buses, GSBA has a major stake in the issue and I am simply calling on everyone to put on the table viable alternatives rather than merely raise negative criticism. I think that is reasonable. You obviously do not. So be it.

      I appreciate putting on the table your proposal for a statewide dedicated sales tax for transportation passed by the legislature. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. You can only have a dedicated tax in Georgia through a constitutional amendment and that requires a popular vote.

      As far as my and other members past work on transportation efforts, feel free to e mail me ([email protected]) on my efforts over the years on issues of transportation and transit, but lets keep the focus in this post on where we go from here.

    • Newtster says:

      androidguybill – Please don’t give the lightweights dealing with transportation at the state Capital any ideas about a statewide increase in the sales tax. That is EXACTLY what they were hoping for, which is a Democrat solution that simply establishes a HUGE new revenue stream for the misuse and disappearing acts that have been going on in the past. Just pull the copies of the GDOT audit reports for the past ten years and look at what has been happening to the money before you advocate giving the state political machine any more money. PLEASE ! That are many potential solutions that have not been considered yet, but raising the sales tax is amongst the worst.

      • Jon Richards says:

        OK, Newt, you posit, “many potential solutions that have not been considered yet,” but fail to detail what they are. Believe me, the people at the Gold Dome are trying to figure out the best way to deal with a transportation funding shortfall that everyone from the Governor to local officials agrees is there.

        Share your solutions, so they can be considered.

  3. Gray says:

    As a left –of-center guy, there was very little in this op-ed that I disagree with. Then I realized it is because Lindsey doesn’t touch on the main criticisms of the proposal at all.

    Does it raise taxes? Yes, by tacking on the gas taxes we would be paying for if gas was at $3+ gallon to actual real-world gas prices that are $2 per gallon in my neck of the woods. It also raises taxes by taking money for local governments and shoving it into the underfunded transportation fund, which will cause the locals to raise sales taxes and property taxes to cover the difference.

    None of this is bad, necessarily. Our transportation needs are woefully unmet and have been for quite a number of years.

    My issue comes with a bunch of right-wing politicians trying to disguise raising taxes by mis-educating Georgians and telling them what is patently untrue. Yes, it’s a tax raise, in two different ways. Just own it, pass it, and worry more about the future of the state instead of the future of your political career.

    • androidguybill says:

      I am a “right of center guy”, albeit one who believes that infrastructure is a basic function of government (and should not be left to the private sector to address) and my issue is with these guys and their water-carriers trying to browbeat everyone that talks about what a bad deal this idea is.

      Gas taxes should only be used for transportation? Sure, on the state level. But what right do state legislators have to tell cities and counties what they can use taxes raised and collected in their areas for?

      • Edward Lindsey says:

        A: Here is why it is difficult to fix the problem without looking at the diversion by both the state and local governments of taxes to gasoline for non transportation purposes. We currently pay one of the lowest taxes on gasoline for transportation purposes in the country, but at the pump we pay some of the highest taxes in Southeast. That is because we have allowed a massive amount of gas taxes to be diverted to other uses. At some point we need to adjust our thinking and view gas taxes as user fee for transportation.

        As to the “brow beat” comment, I do not see how urging folks to offer solutions and not just problems is unreasonable. In fact, I believe that is the only way we are going to get any where.

        • Newtster says:

          More fantasy by Ed Lindsey. Our fuel tax ranks 23rd highest out of the 50 states according to the American Petroleum Institute. If you want to quarrel about the various components of what comprises the aggregate fuel tax, then make that argument, but don’t attempt to spread more misinformation to the people of Georgia.

          • Edward Lindsey says:

            Newster: I am not sure where your fantasy claim comes from but here is the basis for my analysis. Per the American Petroleum Institute, we rank only behind North Carolina and Florida in the Southeast in total gas taxes paid at the pump by motorist. However, API includes in that figure not only state taxes that are dedicated to transportation (7.5 cents per gallon excise tax and 3% state sales tax but also the 1% state sales tax that goes into the state general fund and the local county, city, and education sales taxes that go into the various local governments general fund. As we have discussed, the amount diverted is not insignificant — $180 million diverted to the state general fund and over $500 million diverted to various local government funds. As a result of this diversion, according to a 2010 study from the Carl Vinson Institute at UGA, Georgia has one of the lowest gas tax rates in the country devoted to transportation.

        • Angela Palm says:

          When it comes to schools, I don’t understand this “diversion” argument. The constitution and court cases have made clear the limited use of funds raised for educational purposes. ESPLOST funds can’t be used for roads etc.

          Yes, we did ask for an exemption for school bus fuel just as it’s given to mass transit. We’ve had that exemption for 2 years and there is a bill to renew it.

  4. jbsimpson81 says:

    Here is a proposal…lets take the current proposal and add back the local revenue the bill repurposes for transportation. Then everyone can see where the $1 billion is coming from. Let the state legislature stand up and vote for the same tax increase they are asking the municipalities to vote for.

    GSBA (Georgia School Board Association), GMA (Georgia Municipal Association), ACCG (Association of County Commission of Georgia) aren’t upset that we are fixing transportation, they are upset the legislature it doing it on their backs, because they don’t want to vote for a tax increase.

    Yesterday Peach Pundit claimed that municipalities will lose about 8.1 cents per gallon in revenue in the switch from a sales tax to an excise tax. Yet the bill only lets municipalities raise the gas tax by 6 cents, all of which must be spent on transportation. This proposal isn’t going to just force municipalities to raise the gas tax, its going to force them to raise ad valorem taxes too.

    Bottom Line: The state is “finding” $1 billion for transportation by raising my property taxes.

      • jbsimpson81 says:

        Whether we like it or not, municipalities are using some of the local sales tax (2.4% on average) for projects other than transportation. Therefore, if we are to exactly replace the money they are losing, it’d have to be via a sale tax. No matter how many pennies of excise tax we add, it will still force municipalities to adjust their budgets as all excises taxes must be spent on transpo.

        However, in reality, if we gave municipalities a dollar for dollar replacement in transportation funds by raising the gas tax by an additional 8.1 cents (to 37.3 from the current 29.2 proposal), I’m sure they’d be able to make the math work in their budgets. After all, money is fungible.

        I’d suggest adding local revenue back into the proposal for a total new excise tax of 37.3 cents and then doing transportation formula funding or bloc grants for the share that used to be the locals share (roughly 8.1 cents).

        • Jon Richards says:

          I’m trying to figure out what you want here. Assuming that one of the goals of this proposal is to move completely away from having a sales tax on gasoline–going 100% excise tax gets us minimum $60 million annually from truckers who can’t deduct sales tax, so buy fuel elsewhere–are you saying to do a bigger excise tax or letting local taxing authorities continue to tax gasoline?

          Problem is that the excise tax must be spent on transportation. I’m not sure how a school board is going to be able to do that.

  5. Spacey G says:

    Teddy Roosevelt would be out building mass transit systems – all by himself. And I’ve a feeling he’d call a tax a tax, and not a “fee.” Then he’d go bowling, and drink any of these road industry lobbyists, who will inevitably grab most of any new transportation revenues raised, under the table. Wake up and do it again.

    • Edward Lindsey says:

      Spacey G:

      This is what I do know about TR and getting things done. It took 9 years from the time we started our construction of the Panama Canal until its opening. By contrast, we spent 15 years studying the dredging of the Savannah Harbor before we pulled the first shovel of mud out of the harbor. We could use a little more TR attitude today.

  6. Edward Lindsey says:

    All: I regret that I must leave this discussion moderation but my real job demands it. I simply ask that you balance negative criticism with positive proposals from here on out. Let’s let PP the source of solutions. Later. EL

  7. Three Jack says:

    “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” Albert Einstein

    So let me get this straight. According to the former state legislator, anybody who criticizes this plan must offer an alternative or be stoned for daring to disagree with their government?

    The political committee known as the ‘Joint Study Committee of Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding’ had months of study and meetings with transportation experts prior to putting forth their plan. The committee was made up of current legislators and appointees of other elected officials, not engineers or municipal planners. It did not include anybody from GSBA or CAVE (one assumes Lindsay includes the various Tea Party groups under this banner). Yet he demands representatives of these groups (or anybody else who questions the plan) offer an alternative idea. Nice dodge, but not practical.

    The basic point of trust has not been established. A committee of political appointees with no expertise in the subject being reviewed does not build trust. A body of legislators totally dominated by one party that promised very certain actions yet failed to deliver also has a trust gap. Build the trust then come to the table with demands.

    • Edward Lindsey says:

      Three Jacks: I understand the cynicism and distrust in your post but we have to move beyond it. Simply opposing solutions will no longer suffice on transportation issues. We have played this game on all sides for too long.

      As for the study committee, we had a great deal of input from engineers and city planners. GSBA did not have someone on the committee but were present. Same with TEA party representatives who offered some constructive ideas that were included in the report.

      I have read your posts in the past and I hope that you will reconsider and lay out what you think should be done. It is your state and your problem as well. We are all in this boat together.

      • Al Gray says:

        Edward Lindsay, JSCoCTI was hardly forthright and open during the process. I tried to get on the agenda for the September 30 Augusta Meeting. I tried to find the time and location of the meeting weeks in advance, but found out via the Augusta Chronicle the day before the meeting, although someone with the local civil engineering group forwarded an email about a breakfast preceding the meeting. We had discussed the meeting on local talk radio for months and these tactics were an obvious attempt to dodge scrutiny.

        The excellent presentation by Mr. Andy Jones of Sprint Foods, showing the deleterious sales effects of the fuel tax imbalance with South Carolina is not on the Committee site, nor is my presentation on the realities of the CSRA TSPLOST program.

        This was not an open process.

        It was and is a “Lets RAM this baby Through!” Process.

        Take the time to do it right, including an honest assessment of TSPLOST, and I am not opposed to a tax increase.

        Dismissal of us “mere critics” is an off-base smokescreen to deny discussion after a year of avoiding discussion.

        Your point in making this post is either uninformed or it is purely reprehensible.

        • Edward Lindsey says:

          Al: I was there and thought everyone did a good job including you and Mr. Jones. As a mere “citizen member” of the committee I do not have any control over what gets posted on the state site but if you have your data on a web site, I encourage you to post the link here so that people can see it. If you do not have it on a web site, let’s figure out a way to get it posted.

          I will say this, we heard a wide range of views on the effectiveness of the T SPLOST in the three regions where it passed as well as on other transportation issues.

          Let me emphasize that I think that you are one of the good guys who is took the time to testify and I appreciate it.

      • debbie0040 says:

        I would love to know who the tea party representatives were that supported a billion dollars in new revenue and a billion dollars in new spending and a tax increase. Who were they ?

        We offered a plan in 2012 that you completely ignored, so please don’t be condescending and pretend no one has offered solutions.

        Elected officials spend out money unwisely by giving massive tax breaks to big corporations and giving projects to political cronies, help fund building a new stadium for the Falcons and you are upset because we oppose giving elected officials a billion dollar blank check. You are upset because we have an issue with the lack of transparency and accountability of the Bank slush fund that will receive funding from the tax.
        “•
        From the internal House Leadership memos:
        Recapitalize the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank so that a revolving, self-sustaining, loan/grant fund is created to incentivize governments, authorities, CIDs and other entities to provide matching funds for local construction of projects. The Transportation Infrastructure Bank will be directed to assist tier 1 and tier 2 counties and encourage investment in every region of our state. ”
        House Republican Leadership lied to Georgians about their bill not raising taxes and you want us to trust these same elected officials with a billion dollars to 1.5 billion dollars in new spending.

        Well, Mr. Lindsey, maybe you should have a nice long chat with Gov Deal and legislative leadership and tell them our concerns . Why on earth would we give them more when they can’t even be trusted with the money they have now. They have a tendency to use tax dollars to enrich themselves or political cronies and not be fiscally responsible with tax dollars.

        • Edward Lindsey says:

          Debbie: I never accused you of not putting a plan on the table and I suspect you will be at the Capitol advocating for it. That is all I am asking for at this point . Do not just criticize others. If you do not like a proposal, offer an alternative.

          • debbie0040 says:

            Tell the House Leadership to stop lying about their plan not raising taxes.

            .” Do not just criticize others. If you do not like a proposal, offer an alternative.”

            In other words, you want us to shut up and let the House pass their plan. We have a right to criticize any piece of legislation we have a problem with. Legislators work for us. We don’t work for them.

            • Edward Lindsey says:

              “In other words . . .”

              Come on, Debbie, you know better. That is the farthest thing from what I said. In fact, I stated just the opposite. I want you down there. Criticize what is on the table but also argue why you believe your plan is better. I want everyone else to do the same if they do not like other plans on the table. I happen to believe that is the best way you come up with good policy.

      • Three Jack says:

        Ed,

        ‘Bless your heart, I understand your cynicism, but you need to get over it’ is exactly the kind of answer that I would expect from a politician. If a majority of the public lacks trust in their elected leaders, you can’t ignore that when asking for billion(s) in taxes.

        Personally I don’t oppose solutions as you imply. I oppose tinkering with an antiquated tax system again as the bill proposes. Georgia legislators must address the tax system with its bounty of special interest handouts as a whole including transportation funding, that is my solution.

        • Edward Lindsey says:

          TJ: You are absolutely right. I am doing everything I can in this post to urge folks to state positive solutions. You caught me.

  8. Posner says:

    The governor’s budget includes approximately $465 million in NEW spending on K-12 education from the state before even accounting for the approximately $193 million increase in spending on teacher retirement/healthcare plans and raises (admittedly, the raises aren’t exclusively for teachers).

    So, the state is giving education approximately $650 million in new spending next year.

    Even if we turn around and take away $500 million from local county discretion under this transportation plan, we’re still talking about almost $150 million in NEW spending next year for education.

    If they get $150 million MORE MONEY next year, is it really a tax increase?

    And in reality, nothing in the plan “takes away” the $500 million, next year or ever. Everyone seems to forget that nothing changes for local government until the next time they have to authorize a SPLOST–the existing taxes remain the same until they EXPIRE under current law.

    First, that gives local governments a lot of time to figure out what they want to do, and second, these SPLOST’s are almost always billed as “temporary” to pay for “needed local ______.” If they really are “temporary” as local gov’ts claim, why is it a problem to, you know, actually end them when they are supposed to end. That seems like gov’t living up to it’s promises to me.

    • blakeage80 says:

      Yes, yes, yes. This will hopefully put the breaks on what has become an automatic, on going set of extra taxes and force local folks to look close to home at the taxing and spending of their municipality/school board. (which shouldn’t be immune to heavy scrutiny every once in a while) I can’t see why this is a bad thing.

    • xdog says:

      “nothing in the plan “takes away” the $500 million”

      No, the plan merely exempts gas and diesel from new SPLOSTs which would limit the tax’s revenue base. Same budget hole for localities, smaller pie. That’s OK, they’ll have a lot of time to figure out what to do. Why should they complain?

    • benevolus says:

      As a public service, I have analyzed all the LOST’s and come up with this, just for information:

      There appear to be 503 various LOST’s throughout the state that are currently active.
      34 expire in 2015.
      33 end in 2016.
      117 end in 2017.
      51 end in 2018.
      42 end in 2019.
      26 end in 2020.
      I didn’t find any that expire in 2021.
      46 end in 2022.
      157 appear to be open ended.

      http://dor.georgia.gov/documents/historical-sales-tax-rate-chart

        • benevolus says:

          Oh yeah- there’s actually 3 of them that end then, so maybe that’s right. (So the total is really 506. That date was in the margin of my worksheet and I missed it when totaling.)

  9. Newtster says:

    Ed Lindsey is not entitled to his own facts. The studies I have seen rank Georgia quite well in terms of the quality of our roads. Indeed, the Reason Foundation 21st Annual Report has recently been released and it ranks Georgia 13th in the country overall. Further, our state ranks NO 1 in rural interstate pavement condition, NO 2 in rural arterial pavement condition and NO 4 in urban interstate pavement condition. Hardly a crisis as Mr. Lindsey would have you believe. Further, in terms of deficient bridges Georgia ranks NO 16. Mr. Lindsey decries the fact that our city residents, I presume he is referring specifically to Atlanta, are “stuck in some of the worst commutes in the country.” On that point he is correct. And that is the VERY point that the Joint Study Committee (“JSC”) and the House leadership has NOT made. Any critical problem in transportation in Georgia is, in fact, an Atlanta problem. Therefore, the people of Georgia are deserving of an accurate Report after a full year of paying for the JSC members, including Mr. Lindsey, to travel across the state in an attempt at gathering the data in order to formulate an informed and reasoned solution. Unfortunately, the JSC accomplished neither. Mr. Lindsey writes that the Final Report of the JSC concludes that GDOT must increase spending by $ 1 to $ 1.5 Billion, but that is NOT correct. The Final Report on pages 14 and 15 states that $ 1.0 to $ 1.5 Billion will ONLY FUND “maintenance at acceptable levels.” Further, on page 15 the Final Report states that it will take an “additional funding of between $ 3.9 to $ 5.4 Billion annually” to provide the interstate improvements, intermodal facility improvements and building new interchanges, while also funding passenger rail systems and the “full universe of transportation needs in the state.” HB 170 does none of the above. As far as a solution, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the City of Atlanta need to sit down and devise some suggestions to be considered for the metro Atlanta area, which has been stated above, is the REAL source of the crisis. Included in the discussion should be a metro wide toll system for selected arterial roads (reference the Dallas metroplex). Also to be considered would be Public Private Partnerships (“P3”) for selected projects such as the 285 / 400 interchange (reference Chicago or Miami projects). Clearly a “user pays” approach for MARTA and any other transit systems is an imperative. If self sufficiency for MARTA requires supplements from the City of Atlanta, then that should be added to the discussion. It is up to the MARTA board and the other “players” to figure out how to make the Metro transit system self sufficient. Georgia boasts the busiest airport in the world and the 4th busiest container port in the US. There are more than 3.6 Million containers going through the Savannah port according to the Georgia Ports Authority, with the port producing over $ 66 Billion in sales revenue. A true Republican solution should have considered techniques to tap those revenue streams through additional fees or taxes, whether on docking fees, landing fees, increased fees for the heavy tractor trailers that are transporting those heavy containers and causing the vast majority of the damage to our roads. The Government Accounting Office has conducted studies and concluded that ONE tractor trailer is responsible for the equivalent damage of 9,600 passenger automobiles. Our interstates were not designed nor constructed to withstand the weights that the General Assembly has approved for truck traveling on our state roads. Why should the Georgia taxpayer pay for those mistakes or subsidize the heavy industries attracted by the first class facilities that the Georgia taxpayer has already funded to make among the best in the country ? If the Joint Study Committee had really done the comprehensive job that the Georgia taxpayer deserved, maybe you would have come up with some REAL solutions that actually could fund the full range of “wants” identified by the Joint Study Committee. But what is really an insult to the taxpayers in Georgia is that the JSC did not even come up with the analysis that is included in the Final Report. The amounts cited in the Final Report as “required funding” were taken from a study commissioned by and paid for by the Chamber of Commerce and completed by an engineering firm and an accounting firm that are in line to receive millions of dollars worth of contracts from GDOT to be paid for the Georgia taxpayer. That is how business is done in the General Assembly.

    • Edward Lindsey says:

      Newster: Let’s play dueling reports, you have cited a general report that a national Libertarian Think Tank that I have respect for, but its primary focus is not engineering and they have only minimal detailed analysis of Georgia to gage the accuracy of their rankings. By contrast, in addition to the data, I have already supplied, let me cite the American Society of Civil Engineers — Georgia Section that was prepared by Georgia engineers who have extensive on the ground knowledge of Georgia’s transportation situation. ASCE’s 2014 report gives our roads and bridges a C- rating and our transit a D. In regards to roads and bridges, as bad as the overall rating is, the report’s conclusion that our road conditions are deteriorating because of the lack of proper maintenance funding should be of particular concern to all of us.

      That said, I appreciate the fact you did not limit yourself to criticism but also offered possible solutions. I think that many of them need to be looked at while the General Assembly goes through the legislative process.

        • Al Gray says:

          Yes, Harry, they even had a breakfast prior to the Joint Committee hearing in Augusta coordinated with the meeting schedule. The whole affair was a 3 hour love-fest between politicians, DOT, civil engineers, aggregate suppliers, the Chamber of Commerce and contractors.

          • TheEiger says:

            A breakfast? Not a breakfast. That changes everything. Civil engineers and aggregate suppliers? Who are they. The people that help build roads maybe? Why on earth would they be at a BREAKFAST about improving transportation. It’s a conspiracy!

    • Will Durant says:

      “NO 1 in rural interstate pavement condition…”

      How did they arrive at this number? I recently traveled several North Georgia state highways and found this laughable given my experience.

  10. Scarlet Hawk says:

    I appreciate your change in title from the AJC version to this. Negative criticism alone is never helpful; constructive criticism can be. You’ve carried a lot of weight over the years to see good legislation passed, and it is my hope that your words will be able to cover for the poor delivery of this plan and its DIRELY needed answer to our transportation challenges. Thanks for taking one for House Leadership (again)- you are a gentleman among men.

  11. Rambler14 says:

    GMA’s response to Ed Lindsey:

    http://www.myajc.com/news/news/opinion/dream-big-on-statewide-revenue/nj3Kn/#c4f34f36.257116.735632\

    “The plan proposes taking the local share of revenue generated from local option sales taxes collected on motor fuels and redirecting it to state coffers. In 2013, local governments – cities, schools and counties – collected $516 million in revenue from sales taxes on motor fuel sales. This bill would redirect that $516 million to the state, leaving local government to find other ways to make up the difference.”

    “The transportation study committee made 12 recommendations in its final report. House Bill 170 primarily focuses only on one of those, and relies on what everyone agrees is a shrinking revenue source. Let’s look more broadly. Let’s dream big, but be practical. Today, the issue is transportation. But it’s also education. And the loss of rural hospitals and trauma hospitals.

    Why not develop a statewide revenue plan that addresses these issues? Georgia deserves a plan that looks at the big picture and puts funding to needs to create the same economic impact as Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, the Savannah Port and the HOPE scholarships.”

    • Will Durant says:

      This completely ignores the fact that municipal, school, and county should have never been attached to motor fuels in the first place. It also ignores the fact that existing SPLOSTS are grandfathered so future SPLOST referendums will need to factor in the loss of motor fuel. LOSTs without a reasonable time limitation should never happen anyway.

      To this end we need to allow partial cents on future SPLOSTs and review some of the spending limitations placed on them today. For example, an ESPLOST should allow for more than new construction if voters approve of it in advance.

  12. Boredatwork says:

    Why not just raise income taxes modestly? Everyone in the state benefits from improved transportation and transit, whether they use it or not. Trying to turn this into a “user pays” model is making everything more complex than it needs to be.

      • Boredatwork says:

        I’m familiar with it; this is why I thought it was a stupid idea and voted against it. The state does not receive enough revenue to meet current needs, there’s not enough in the budget to meaningfully cut (ala Jason Carter and education), so we have to come up with silly workarounds.

  13. analogkid says:

    Ed,

    A wise Georgia politician once said (paraphrasing), “If everyone is angry about a proposal, then you’ve probably found the right answer.”

    Removing taxes on gas that are unrelated to transportation is appropriate. Increasing the excise tax in order to devote the additional revenue to transportation is also appropriate. My primary quibble is that the number is too low to support the massive need for investment in transportation in this state (which means that I’m technically also one of those people that are angry about the proposal).

    That said, props to the Joint Study Committee and particularly the Chairman (See? I’m not negative about everything.) for their work on this. I think you’ve established a good framework for tying a tax to its purpose, even if the amount of the excise tax is too low. I hope you are successful in getting this passed.

    Thanks.

  14. Medic8310 says:

    Here’s a scenario that would explain how this transportation bill will work. I will use myself and Ed as examples.

    Me: “Hey Ed, my car has finally given up the ghost. I’m gonna need to buy a new one because continuing to pour money into this one to fix it, isn’t making much sense any more.”

    Ed: “That makes sense. But you said the other day that you don’t have the money for a new car. How do you plan on buying a new one now?”

    Me: “Oh, I’m going to have some money payroll deducted from your paycheck directly into my bank account. But don’t worry, I’m only gonna use it for my new car, fuel, and maintenance on it.”

    Ed: “But that’s not fair. Why should I have to pay for a problem that is yours? How am I going to pay my bills?”

    Me: “Ehhhh, that sounds like your problem now! My problem is fixed! But hey, you can ride to work with me any time you want, no charge!”

    That’s how it really is.

    • Edward Lindsey says:

      M: Interesting analogy. I see a couple of flaws: 1. It is not the local governments’ money. It is the taxpayers money. 2. Transportation is not simply a state problem. Every layer of government is affected by our transportation woes.

      That said, let me keep with my manta in this post and ask what you think should be done?

      • debbie0040 says:

        The tax-payer is effected when their tax dollars are not spent wisely. Many elected officials use tax dollars to enrich their political cronies who in turn enrich the elected official.

        • Medic8310 says:

          There are many, many, many more elected officials who take their office seriously and appreciate being good stewards of the taxpayer’s money. Some members of the TEA Party oftentimes seem to lump ALL elected officials into the same category: lying, untrustworthy crooks. That is not the case.

      • Medic8310 says:

        1. The tax money is labeled and collected as a local tax, for local governments, for use on local projects for local taxpayers.

        2. Transportation is a statewide problem. And a problem at each level of government. But the transportation problems at the state level are much different than local transportation problems. Local transportation problems vary from local gov’t to local gov’t, sometimes even within the same county.

        Local officials take care of local problems. Taking care of local problems helps the region. Fixing regional problems helps the state. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

        The State’s plan is to take tax money that is already serving the local taxpayers, send it to Atlanta to help fix their problems, and “provide local governments with the ability to directly raise money for local transportation needs.” Basically what that says is, “We’re afraid to raise taxes from the Capitol (by offering a popular vote by the citizens), so we’ll just take it from the local governments, then allow them to look like the bad guys for suggesting a tax hike!”

        I’m not one of the 236 serving in Atlanta. I thank you for your service there, Ed. But a “Leader” comes up with better ideas than, “Let’s just take taxes from the local governments and let them deal with any problems that arise for them. At least it’s not our problem any more.”

  15. debbie0040 says:

    Gwinnett Tea Party Co-Chair David Hancock wrote a good article about the Transportation bill regarding taxes. You can read it at the link below.

    http://gwinnettteaparty.org/transportation-funding-act-2015/

    Another issue tea party activists have with the House Republican Transportation Tax Increase Plan is the Transportation Infrastructure Bank. Valdosta Tea Party sent the newsletter below out. I disagree about funding MARTA and mass transit funding but comments about the bank were right on target. Transportation dollars should only be dispersed to governmental entities-not development authorities, CIDs or other entities.

    Oppose the gas tax now. Here’s why:

    The new transportation bill (HB 170) proposed in Georgia is a bad deal for taxpayers. They want over a billion dollars more a year, but try to tell us it’s not a tax increase. It reeks of corporate welfare. There’s not even a project list for us to see – where’s the accountability? The GDOT has a history of bookkeeping mismanagement – how can we trust them?

    Georgia’s Constitution requires that all gas taxes be used for roads, but this bill attempts to redefine “transportation purposes” to include “public transit, rails, airports, buses, seaports, and all accompanying infrastructure and services necessary to provide access to these transportation facilities.” Talk about expansion of big government! In Georgia, public transit is not financially viable – MARTA stays bankrupt. Public transit is a black hole for taxpayers – period. Seaports and rail are privately held business ventures.

    Here’s where the cronyism comes into play:

    Even though 9 of 12 regions rejected the onerous T-SPLOST tax two years ago, the law still provides for a Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank to facilitate Public/Private/Partnerships [read: Corporate Cronyism]. The terrible T-SPLOST law of 2012 was conceived and heavily promoted by the Chambers of Commerce. Large corporations that would profit from the projects, donated millions to promote the passage of the T-SPLOST tax referendum. But the Tea Party-led opposition foiled their plans.

    So, in 2014, the Georgia legislature created The Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding. Of the 16 members on the Committee, three are Chamber of Commerce officials.

    One highlight of their plan includes “Recapitalize the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank so that a revolving, self-sustaining, loan/grant fund is created to incentivize governments, authorities, CIDs and other entities to provide matching funds for local construction of projects.”[emphasis added]

    ”Other entities” would be those Public/Private/Partnerships with large corporations that get those juicy no-bid contracts and loans through the Infrastructure Bank. Taxpayers get stuck with any losses, while the private corporations get the profits – hence Public/Private.

    Can you imagine how much fun the cronies would have with this? We imagine it would be very easy to hide money and contracts using this bank. A taxpayer-supported loan/grant fund for unelected boards and “authorities” just doesn’t pass the smell test in America.

    The bank’s board is where the POWER lies

    Section 5-1 of the bill states, “’Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank Act,’ is amended by revising subsection (b) of Code Section 32-10-127, relating to loans and other financial assistance and the determination of eligible projects, as follows: “(b) The board shall determine which projects are eligible projects and then select from

    among the eligible projects qualified projects.” The power grab is breathtaking.

    Local governments are outraged with the bill because it stops them from levying local gas taxes like they have been doing for local projects. The bill authors want transportation projects decided by a small power-elite at the Infrastructure Bank. I’m stunned at the audacity.

    Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None!

    The American free enterprise system is being corrupted before our eyes. Many of the elected legislators have been corrupted by the large construction companies’ campaign donations. The new ones we elect, who try to stop the corruption, are shunned as extremists or else co-opted into the system. It looks like it is going to be up to voters and taxpayers to stop the madness. Please make your voice heard. Contact the entire delegation representing our area.

    Diane Cox

    Valdosta Tea Party

    • Will Durant says:

      The title to this post and Mr. Lindsey’s comments have been consistently asking for constructive criticism of the bill. You respond quoting another negative nabob of negativity with half-truths and outright falsehoods with no acknowledgement of the shortfalls and debt accumulation that is the current status of our transportation system.

      I know the tv reporters flock to you because they know you are good for a counterpoint, if not an inside joke as a caricature of the TEA Party. In the past they gave this same bully pulpit to Lester Maddox and look where that got us.

    • Medic8310 says:

      Many in the TEA Party worry more about who is getting paid to complete these projects than who is benefiting from the completion of these projects. They’re more focused on the hundreds that are getting the contracts, rather than the thousands and thousands of employees that are being paid to complete these projects, and the millions of taxpayers that will benefit from infrastructure improvement. SMH

  16. debbie0040 says:

    Here is one suggestion about the bill regard Part V Section 5-1 regarding the Infrastructure Bank.

    Change the Bank Board make-up so it consists of county commission chairmen in each Regional Commission region. Have the county commission chairman in the regions elect a person to represent them on them board.

    Only local elected governments should be eligible to receive funding from the bank. No CIDs, development authorities or other entities should be entitled to receive funding.

    Require bid contracts only with openness and transparency. The request for bid should be open to the public easily found online. The companies that bid on the contract should be publicly listed as the winner of the bid. Each bidder shall be required to publicly list any political contributions they have made within the past two years to the Governor or legislators or local elected officials when they submit their bid

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