Transportation Funding Bill Building Support

This week’s Courier Herald Column:

The transportation funding bill is moving through the Georgia House of Representatives, albeit at a pace approximating rush hour traffic in Atlanta. Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts continues to quarterback the effort to move the legislation after spending much of the summer and fall co-chairing the legislative study committee that attempted to quantify the problem and identify potential funding sources as solutions.

Roberts told a subcommittee that originally heard the legislation that he was open and would listen to potential changes, but only had time for those willing to be constructive. The last couple of weeks have provided the opportunity for many criticisms, some of which were constructive and with changes incorporated into the current version.

The bill now stands before the full transportation committee, which held a hearing last Thursday afternoon. While there are still some headwinds facing the transfer of about $800 Million in existing tax revenues to the Department of Transportation, some progress was noted at the hearing.

Julianne Thompson, a conservative leader who had a role in organizing the Atlanta Tea Party and was a vocal opponent of Atlanta’s T-SPLOST, indicated support for the process and pledged to support the House version of the bill. Quelling earlier opposition to this bill, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) also announced support for the measure. Local governments fearing lost revenue as existing taxes are phased out of local option sales taxes have grown more comfortable with the bill.

Chairman Roberts, for his part, has remained consistent in communicating what his bill does and does not do. At each committee meeting since the bill’s unveiling, he’s made it clear that local governments will continue to be able to collect all taxes on gasoline throughout the duration of any existing special purpose local option sales taxes.

He’s been equally clear that going forward, all taxes collected on gasoline will be used for transportation purposes. This is significant, as Georgia’s gas tax is currently at approximately the national average, while Georgia’s spending on highways per capita is the lowest of all 50 states.

This is because 99.3% of GDOT’s funding comes from federal and state gas taxes, but only 60% of taxes collected at the State and local levels on motor fuels go to GDOT. The overriding philosophy behind this bill is to correct this, and to re-establish the gas tax as a user fee.

The bill will likely receive another hearing in the House Transportation Committee before being moved along through the Rules Committee to the House floor. The bill will need to pass the House by “crossover day”, currently slated for March 13th, in order to be considered by the Senate this year.

Some are withholding support pending a more specific plan on which projects these funds will be used. These people, – whether in Atlanta or rural Georgia, whether wanting more money for roads or more for transit – should take solace in the fact that the bill as written appears to move less than $1 Billion for GDOT. While that’s a lot of money, it’s likely not enough for new projects to be fighting over.

GDOT’s presentations to previous study committee meetings and to the House transportation committees have been fairly specific. Because new projects have been prioritized over maintenance for some time, a backlog of maintenance has developed that will not be inexpensive to solve.

$128 Million is needed annually to return road maintenance to a 15-year resurfacing schedule. $456 Million is needed each year to replace aging bridges. $35 Million is needed annually for traffic operations. Add in the $200M annually needed to return GDOT to standards of “routine maintenance” and this money is spent before we talk about GDOT’s $1 Billion per year needed for new capital projects, transit for the Atlanta region, commuter rail, or other major projects of note.

This money will maintain the “roads we already paid for”. Little will be left for new ones.

The House bill as structured returns the principle of the gas tax as a user fee for GDOT, as is envisioned by Georgia’s constitution. But even with the additional money raised, local and regional initiatives will still be required to meet transportation investment needs for the foreseeable future.

As such, those that have approved TSPLOSTs will not be double taxed. Those who haven’t will likely have additional options such as smaller regions, local gas taxes for transportation, and possibly fractional cent sales taxes.

The House transportation plan isn’t a plan that will cure all of Georgia’s traffic woes. It is, however, a solid step that will get us moving in the right direction.

Charlie Harper is the Editor of PeachPundit.com, and is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a group which works on policy solutions for Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.

6 comments

  1. jimgilvin says:

    County officials who relish the thought of raising taxes and distributing the money to transportation projects of their choosing may now support the bill but I have yet to speak to an elected official at the city or school board level who supports the current bill. In fact the Alpharetta City Council has a measure condemning the bill on tonight’s agenda and if the comments state legislators around here are making at public forums reflect their actual positions the bill is going nowhere as currently written.

    • Will Durant says:

      Had Georgia done like the majority of other states then the basic methodology behind this bill in making the tax on motor fuels the user fee for roads and highways then Alpharetta would never have been able to tax it for other purposes in the first place.

      • jimgilvin says:

        There are a lot of things the state could have done differently but let’s be clear, Alpharetta is not receiving a fuel excise tax. The city simply receives a portion of all sales taxes paid in Fulton County based on a LOST distribution formula set forth by the state. Until now that sales tax on fuel has been treated the same as sales taxes on brakes, windshield wipers, tires or milk.

        For the state legislators to arbitrarily decide that hundreds of millions of dollars in local funds will heretofore be controlled by the state is an offense to every city government and school district in Georgia and will force them to either cut services or raise taxes. It also penalizes cities like Alpharetta who already invest far more in transportation infrastructure than they receive in sales taxes from gasoline. Alpharetta currently spends well over $3 million a year on transportation and only receives about $850,000 in fuel sales taxes.

        So if the state is concerned that some counties and cities do not allocate enough sales tax revenue from fuels toward transportation spending I suggest they address the problem by prioritizing LMIG and other transportation funds to the cities and counties that do allocate their sales taxes to transportation. That would allow locals flexibility to set their own priorities while investing more money in areas that do make transportation a priority.

  2. Ellynn says:

    A lot of rural school boards who count of the taxes from gas sales for a large chunk of their ESPLOST. Unless the state budget raise capital improvements (current budget would allow for 12-20 schools to be built dependant on grade level, size and location), there will be issues.

  3. Ghost of William F. Buckley says:

    It’s all sausage to Joe Six Pack.

    What ticks off previously ‘Grubered, unintelligent’ voters more than being told that one of the largest tax increases in Georgia history is as popular as the flu shot? That would be “we want to pay for it.”

    What may help stoke voter venom against the well meaning Transportation Bill’s attempt to resolve our ‘crisis?’

    A local blogger, Mr. Greg Williams calls, ” Georgia House Bill 224, the sequel to 2014′s House Bill 907, aka the Taxicab Monopoly Protection Act (TMPA).” Vaguely related to Transportation, this Bill will be unpopular in Atlanta, where it is easier and more successful to perform brain surgery on oneself than to hail a cab.

    Continue Williams, “Rep. Alan Powell, “Republican”, from Hartwell, GA and Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, is once again the lead sponsor on the 2015 Taxicab Monopoly Protection Act. The bill is cosponsored by state Reps. Emory Dunahoo (R-Gainesville), John Carson (R-Marietta), Dale Rutledge (R-McDonough), Bill Hitchens (R-Rincon), and Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper).”

    Clearly, some of our (R)ural ‘policymakers’ think that fair equates to what you pay for a taxi.

    http://gregslistlive.blog.com/2015/02/06/transportation-freedom-under-assault-as-georgia-seeks-to-ban-uber-lyft/

    To his credit Sen. Josh McKoon states, “I am very disturbed that legislation has recently been introduced in the General Assembly to stifle ride sharing technology like Uber and Lyft in Georgia. Conservatives should want to make sure regulation allows free and open competition. If companies develop better ways to deliver services, we should not punish them by changing the legal environment to run them out of our state!”

    Williams ends with, “In a year where finding more revenue for Transportation initiatives has taken on heightened importance it’s truly mystifying that Republican legislators would sign on to a bill which clearly inhibits Transportation alternatives across the State.”

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