After three years of wheeling and dealing to come up with a solution to help fund transportation, the Georgia General Assembly has approved a funding plan that would let residents vote whether to tax themselves to pay for needed improvements.
House lawmakers voted 141-29 for passage of the bill after the Senate voted 43-8 to let regions decide whether to increase the 4-cent sales tax by one penny to pay for roads, bridges and transit. The bill – HB277 – now moves to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature, which would give voters the final say in the 2012 presidential primary.
Getting transportation funding through the statehouse has been difficult the past couple of years. The Georgia House and Senate, which are led by Republicans, have been divided on how to come up with the money to pay for projects. The stumbling block has been whether the tax should be regional or statewide.
Under the new plan, the state would be broken into 12 regions. A select group of elected officials in each region would come up with a list of local projects, and could then submit the list to voters, along with the 1-cent sales tax increase to fund them.
The breakthrough in getting the funding legislation through the statehouse started early this year with Perdue openly supporting the plan to permit regions who vote in favor of the tax to spend money on local projects. Counties could not opt out of a region’s tax. Those regions rejecting the increase would not get any additional funding.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority would also get more flexibility to spend its reserve money on new projects.
Critics say the state cannot afford to wait until 2012 to address needed transportation work. They caution that it could be at least 2014 before projects are completed.
Supporters say it is important to hold off on the tax increase in the middle of a struggling economy. Others say the plan is needed to keep and attract businesses to the state.
“Atlanta’s transportation problems were driving business away to other Southern cities, but this bill addresses those issues,” Sen. Vincent Ford, D-Atlanta, said in a statement.
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– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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