Georgia bills seek to transform transportation funding

| 3/11/2008

A batch of measures have been offered throughout the Georgia General Assembly that would boost transportation funding. Several bills that attempt to help ease a $7.7 billion transportation funding shortfall have advanced from their originating chamber to the other side of the statehouse.

Among the legislation to advance from the Senate to the House is an amendment to the Georgia Constitution that would allow a county or groups of counties to put before voters a question as to whether to levy an additional 1 percent sales tax for highway and transit projects.

A competing effort approved by the House Transportation Committee would ask voters to approve a 1 percent statewide sales tax dedicated to transportation projects.

The Senate resolution – SR845 – would require voters to be given a list of projects the revenue would fund. Sponsored by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, the effort would direct 80 percent of revenue generated to counties that impose the sales tax. The other 20 percent would be routed to the Georgia Department of Transportation, with half of that money dedicated to transit.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, is the sponsor of the House resolution. HR1226 would keep 90 percent of the money collected in a region for local projects. The other 10 percent would be made available for work elsewhere.

The state DOT would have the final say on selecting projects.

Both pieces of legislation would require approval by two-thirds majorities in each chamber before going to voters.

Among the other measures approved by the Senate is a bill – SB410 – that would create a congestion relief fund. The State Road and Tollway Authority would oversee the fund and provide matching loans for community traffic congestion relief projects.

A separate bill – SB411 – would remove the cap on how many design-build projects GDOT can contract.

The process allows contractors to submit plans to design and construct each project. Typically, one firm designs a highway and another builds it, with the two tasks bid separately.

Another bill – SB417 – would require GDOT to develop and publish benchmarks and issue reports on projects with price tags exceeding $10 million.

Not to be outdone, House lawmakers have been busy approving bills to aid transportation funding. A bill has advanced to the Senate that would create the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank.

Sponsored by Rep John Lunsford, R-McDonough, the measure – HB1019 – would use federal highway dollars, state funds appropriated by the General Assembly, and other means to fund the bank.

The bank would be governed by the State Road and Tollway Authority. Low-interest loans would be made to communities for constructing and improving roads.

Supporters say it would allow communities to complete projects more quickly. Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed $50 million to start up the bank, the Americus Times-Recorder reported.

Another House-approved bill – HB1124 – would establish minimum requirements for design-build contracts. Sponsored by Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, the measure would mandate at least 5 percent of all construction contracts use the design-build procedure by fiscal year 2010. The requirement would grow to at least 10 percent by fiscal year 2012.

The Senate bills have moved to the House Transportation Committee. The House bills are in the Senate Transportation Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Georgia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor