Georgia Senate OKs legislation to transform transportation funding

| 2/13/2009

To help curb traffic congestion, the Georgia Senate approved a funding plan that would let residents vote by region to tax themselves to pay for needed transportation improvements.

Advancing from the Senate to the House were two measures that would allow residents to increase their sales tax by a penny to pay for road, transit and light rail projects. Georgia now has a 4-cent sales tax.

The legislation – SB39 and SR44 – would authorize counties to vote to form regions to plan and finance highway and transit projects in their communities. One of the regions must be a 10-county region in metro Atlanta, which is known for its lengthy commutes.

Advocates for a new road funding source say that only Tennessee spends less per capita on transportation than Georgia, The Augusta Chronicle reported. With a massive budget shortfall and the state’s fuel tax revenue used to fund road work struggling to keep up, Georgia needs a big shot in the arm, they say.

While the Senate was busy working on its transportation initiative, House lawmakers were crafting their own effort. The House version – HR206 – would ask voters to approve a one-cent statewide sales tax for roads and transit. A separate bill – HB277 – includes a list of the projects that would be funded.

House lawmakers say a statewide tax would yield about $25 billion for transportation over 10 years. Those funds could help foot the bill for such projects as expanded routes from Georgia ports; repairing or replacing bridges; and possibly new toll lanes, among other projects, they say.

A compromise between the two versions will need to be worked out before the regular session wraps up in March. Voters would get their say on the 2010 general-election ballot.

Because the legislation includes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution, it would require approval by two-thirds majorities in each chamber before going to voters.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Georgia in 2009, click here.

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