Transportation tax proposal in jeopardy
by Jon Gillooly
jgillooly@mdjonline.com
March 19, 2010 01:00 AM | 2036 views | 4 4 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA - Will traffic relief be roadblocked in the General Assembly for the third year in a row, this time by an opt-out clause? Some Cobb lawmakers say it looks that way.

On Thursday - day 27 of the 40-day legislative session - the House Transportation Committee advanced a bill that would put a sales tax for transportation to voters in 2012.

House Bill 1218, also called the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, has some influential sponsors in state Rep. Jim Cole (R-Forsyth), who is Gov. Sonny Perdue's floor leader, and House Speaker David Ralston. The bill was originally positioned as Perdue's transportation plan, but it has been - and continues to be - heavily amended in committee.

In fact, some of Cobb's representatives at the Gold Dome said the changes to the bill were so fast and furious they aren't sure yet whether they will support it.

The legislation would divide the state into 12 districts, each guided by a "regional roundtable" of elected leaders within that region.

That group would draft a list of transportation projects and then in 2012 ask voters in their region to agree to a new penny-on-the-dollar sales tax to pay for the projects. The tax would last for 10 years.

A sticking point is the provision to allow the governing boards of each tax region to opt-out of even bringing the referendum to voters if the roundtable members can't agree on the project list.

"The Governor doesn't threaten vetoes, but he has certainly made it clear that he believes transportation is a statewide issue and will not look favorably on a bill that allows for opt outs. The voters of a region can decide to opt out by voting against the tax if they don't support the project list," said Bert Brantley, Perdue's spokesman.

For the metro Atlanta region, there would be 25 seats at the roundtable: 20 for a mayor and county chairman from each of the 10 counties, plus the mayor of Atlanta and two members each from the House and Senate, said state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna).

State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-east Cobb), who is a member of the transportation committee, said the bill must go to the House Rules Committee before it can get to the floor for a vote. Legislators have until the 30th day of the session, "Crossover Day," to get it passed by the full House.

"It's not just about sitting in traffic. It's a business issue. It's a quality-of-life issue. It's something we have been promising the citizens of Georgia, and we need to deliver on it," Dollar said.

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and Stoner support an opt-out provision.

"I think the sticking point for many legislators is the issue of a local opt out - whether it be a region opt-out or a county opt-out, and that's something we're going to have to come to a conclusion on before this moves forward," Rogers said. "I know there's a lot of people who don't want to really grant all this authority to a board of regional directors. I believe an opt-out is essential. We've got to solve the opt out provision before I'm comfortable with [the bill]."

Stoner said the opt-out makes sense to him because no county should be forced to participate. He describes Perdue's approach as a "top down approach" that will only stall the legislation with lawsuits.

"You have two choices here. Either the governor vetoes it or it ends up in court," Stoner said.

Stoner said legislators are wasting time working on a bill Perdue is going to veto. He believes lawmakers should aim for approval of two-thirds of the members in both chambers to present the transportation tax to voters as a constitutional amendment, which does not require the governor's signature. But that's a high bar to meet.

State Rep. Don Wix (D-Mableton) is also skeptical of a green-light on a transportation bill this year.

"I really don't see a lot of change in the way it's going right now. It's sort of depressing," Wix said.

In 2008, the state Senate killed a constitutional amendment that would have allowed counties to join together and tax themselves through a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, a proposal similar to the current plan. The amendment failed in the Senate on the last day of the 2008 session by three votes. Cagle blamed the House for stalling the proposal, saying the House amended the legislation at the last minute.

But the Senate and House failed to reach consensus on a transportation plan during the 2009 session as well. State Rep. Terry Johnson (D-Marietta) said a confrontational atmosphere between the two chambers and the governor's office was to blame in both years.

"We're playing 'button, button who's got the button.' They're playing games. It's just really embroiled in politics. I'm frustrated about it," Wix said.

Wix also wonders how multiple counties will be able to agree on anything.

"Essentially, his plan for improving transportation is by roundtable committee. The more I think about trying to bring multiple counties to a table to agree on anything - it's just so difficult I can't see it happening," he said - adding that he would love to be proven wrong.

But state Rep Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) said the session is far from over and remains hopeful that a bill will pass. State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) and state Rep. Don Parsons (R-east Cobb) echoed those thoughts.

"It is impossible to know what will happen between now and the end of the session, but I believe we will approve a transportation funding bill," Parsons said.
Comments
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ATF
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March 21, 2010


The legislature should increase the gasoline tax. And, pass the legislation that would form transportation regions.

I think the idea of regional transportation planning and cooperation is a good one. I like the idea of local taxes, even in regions, going to local needs. Even if the legislature can get the thing passed, I hope they increase the gasoline tax.

Come on, legislators. Get your act together.

And, this time don't make this another socialist bill where wealthy counties have to pay, again, to support infrastructure in poor counties. We are having enough problem in Cobb Country with adequate funding for our schools. Don't rip us off again!

Taxed Enough Already
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March 20, 2010
Throwing money at a problem invariably leads to wasted money. Let's think this problem through, for a change.

Has anyone heard about the national highway study just released two days earlier? Georgia ranks 13th in the nation for having the best highways. (Kansas is No. 1 -- with the best highways in the U.S.) So, the answer is not more money, but how that money is spent within the state.

If it isn't broken, don't fix it. The Atlanta metro area is broken, but the remainder of the state is not. Rural legislators need to get over the fact that they don't need money spent on roads in their sparsely-populated areas. Money needs to be diverted to where the population -- and economic engine of the state resides -- namely the Atlanta metro area. Rural Georgia legislators need to realize that "as Atlanta goes, so does the whole state" and support diverting a proportion of the funds used in rural areas to the metro Atlanta area so that Atlanta continues to bring national and international employers and jobs to Georgia. In bringing more employers and jobs to Atlanta, where the population is more educated and dense and the infrastructure already exists, it's good for the rural areas -- they can continue enjoying a better quality of life (less traffic, more space) without paying more for it in the way of a state gasoline tax increase.

We'all all in this together. If you don't want to realize this, ... just consider our 2007 mortgage/financial crisis. It affected those who were fiscally prudent as well as those who were fiscally irresponsible.
Indian Joe
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March 19, 2010
Why isn';t our lelgislature doing what other states have been doing - have a bill saying his health care reform (?) will not have any legal binding on the State of Georgia. Talk about unemployment, wait till this hits. Our legislature needs to be proactive on this
LawPatrol
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March 19, 2010
There is already a tax rule on the Books. This proposed Bill is a waste of time and resources. It would be a simple fix for transportation costs if the State just added another PENNY Tax on every gallon of gas sold in the State. That way, the tax burden falls on every user of the highways, not just the local counties. LP.
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