This morning the House bill that would consolidate gas taxes across the state to be used exclusively for transportation had it’s first subcommittee hearing. Rep Al Williams opened noting “I haven’t seen this many people at a subcommittee meeting since dog hunting.” The room in the CLOB was at capacity. It’s no secret that the bill – an admitted work in progress – has a large amount of interest.
Committee Chairman Jay Roberts presented an overview of the bill. He noted that the study committee which he was co-chair held 8 meetings around the state, with public comment available at each. He noted no one who wished to speak was turned away. Much later during Q&A Rep Mark Hamilton, also a study committee member, asked Roberts where the $5 Billion dollar tax increase was that he keeps getting emailed about, drawing chuckles from many in attendance. Roberts noted that the folks sending the emails (we’ll assume we’re all taking about the spam coming from Nathan Adams) attended a single meeting. Roberts also noted in his remarks that he and those working on the bill are still open to listening, but they only have time for those who wish to be constructive.
Roberts had two main points he wanted to clarify due to uncertainty and/or misinformation since the bill’s release last week:
1) All sales taxes on motor fuels currently being collected as part of any SPLOST or one that would pass by July 1st would remain grandfathered and continue to be collected under this bill. None of this existing money would be lost that is currently funding a SPLOST.
2) Going forward, the key point of this bill is philosophical in that all taxes collected on motor fuels would be used to fund transportation. Period.
New GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry brought an updated PowerPoint similar to two used by former Commissioner Keith Golden to help “quantify the need”.
Roughly, the annual amount needed in addition to existing funding is between $2.1BN and $2.6 BN, as follows:
Pavement Resurfacing $128M
Routine Maintenance $200M
Traffic Operations $35M
Total Unfunded Capital Needs $1,047M
Managed Lanes $60M to $500M
Note that the first three items are not new capacity, but just taking care of these “roads we’ve already paid for”. And they total just under the $800M that the current House Bill raises in recurring revenue. So before we start talking about which of the projects in the $1BN of annual unfunded capital needs get chosen, we really need to find that billion so that the argument is productive. $800M only takes care of what we currently have.
Other numbers that matter as highlighted by McMurry: 55% of Georgia’s current $2.2 Billion GDOT budget comes from the federal government. The Federal Highway Trust Fund is operating on a temporary authorization, and there’s great uncertainty on when it will be renewed/reauthorized – and how much funding will continue to flow to Georgia. We’ve already allotted all but 47.5M of this year’s federal funds. It’s possible/likely that we won’t see more federal money until October, the next Federal Fiscal year, presuming that no fix in the Highway Trust Fund is approved until the next major approps bill. McMurry noted that Tennessee has stopped all contract letting already for the same reason. Georgia only has the money on hand for minor contracts or emergencies.
There will be another meeting of the same subcommittee at 2pm Monday afternoon.