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.