On transportation funding, just be honest with Georgians

The long-awaited “Plan B” for transportation funding is, well, still being awaited. Due a week ago, recommendations from a legislative task force are expected to get a limited pre-screening this week in Athens.

Better late than never.

And best to get it right from the get-go. Two and a half years have passed since legislators’ last brain child, the T-SPLOST referendum, failed in nine of the state’s 12 regions. Some of the lessons from those defeats should still be top of mind as the new plan is rolled out.

1. Don’t pass the buck. Members of the committee, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Speaker David Ralston all have spoken of the need for more money for roads and bridges with an urgency I don’t recall from 2010, when the T-SPLOST was created. Good.

That’s all the more reason for the General Assembly to take ownership of whatever changes it deems necessary — and not to foist that responsibility onto voters in another referendum.

As a complementary piece, allowing local governments to band together to fund certain road or transit projects is fine. As the centerpiece, it’s the kind of dodge voters didn’t appreciate two years ago and won’t welcome in the future. You understand the importance of acting, so act.

2. Don’t get cute. The idea is to spend more money, and anyone paying attention knows that means raising more money. Don’t try to disguise that.

One idea I’ve heard includes adjusting the sales tax upward to some degree, the income tax downward to a lesser degree, devoting the marginal revenue to transportation and — voila! — calling it “tax reform.” That’s a no-go, for a few reasons.

It would reduce the likelihood of more meaningful tax reform. It would move Georgia away from the “user pays” concept, in which money for roads comes from the gas taxes paid by motorists. It would jeopardize future transportation funding, as the new revenues wouldn’t be legally tabbed for the DOT. It would also smack of the kind of sleight-of-hand the public hates. Lack of public trust was evident in T-SPLOST’s failures.

3. Choose your front men and women wisely. It appears the Atlanta business community, confined to the sidelines after the twin embarrassments of T-SPLOST and getting caught trying to whitewash the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, wants back in the game. Watch out.

Delta benefits from a reduced tax rate on jet fuel. Developers’ projects often are subsidized by local governments. They don’t have a lot of credibility asking Joe Motorist to pay more at the pump. UPS, which pays a lot of motor fuel tax in Georgia and says it would pay more to reduce congestion, has more of a leg to stand on.

4. Don’t pretend this is the end of the road. Any changes made to the gas tax won’t last long. Rising fuel efficiency, among other factors, means the gas tax is a revenue source in decline. Within a decade, legislators will probably have to consider an even more radical funding change, perhaps taxing motorists on the number of miles they actually travel.

The temporary nature of this change isn’t a bad thing; it’s just reality. Don’t tell Georgians otherwise.

Reader Comments 0

74 comments
Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

Tax jet and railroad fuel like the rest of us have to pay. Add sales taxes back to energy used by businesses like the rest of us have to pay. Do away with GATE cards the rest of us dont get. Then get back to me about needing me to pay more gasoline taxes.

lvg
lvg

Whatever legislature does make sure there is not funding for MARTA . You know who rides MARTA.

straker
straker

"and expect others to pick up those taxes"


You mean, like that newly revised Falcon stadium cost?

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Get on the interstate outside the perimeter,  ride in the left lane, then middle, then right. You can feel and hear the damage heavy trucks do. Left lane is smooth.  Should they pay even more because of this ?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Jefferson1776 They contend they do, but allowable axle  loads have been increased over time. But these trucks use older pavements not designed for those increases. The old number is that a Tractor trailer does 40,000 times the damage of one passenger car. I wonder what the updated affect is?

DonO56
DonO56

@RoadScholar @Jefferson1776


Damage occurs proportional to axle load to the fifth power.  Do the math.  Trucks are being cross subsidized by automobile drivers.  


Any move to change the nature of highway funding that draws more money from the general fund further increases the cross subsidy.

notagain
notagain

You ask for honesty.Where would this begin?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I have been burned too many times, locally, on SPLOSTs.  Never will vote for another one. They are written with so much wiggle room you could drive a tank through.


I also do not vote for constitutional amendments.Here in Georgia, those always seem to involve removing one group from taxpaying, and expect the others to pick up those taxes.


Nope. No more!

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Wascatlady I guess voting on  a specific list of projects, with a SPLOST that has a specific list of projects and  timeline and a guarentee those projects would be delivered on time and budget is too hard for you to wrap your braincells around. Funny. The City of Denver is now on its...not 1.....not 2....but third Splost set up exactly the same way ours was set up. How do I know....the process was "invented" by Denver and they delivered. Why was it approved two more times? Because the vote dictated each Splost list of projects would be delivered on time and budget. And guess what? It was!!!


But yet Denver doesn't have the paranoid me me me citizenry that has no view of the future!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

In case nobody's stated the obvious--for all the talk of how electrics are somehow mooching off of IC engined cars, they represent a teensy drop in the bucket for now. The gasoline tax is the simplest, easiest way to collect revenue that we need, and GA legislators need to continue to recognize this for now.

Let some other state get suckered into experimenting heavily with user fee alternatives.

(and before anyone goes after me personally, my daily ride is a conventionally aspirated IC engined car; I'd be forking over a bit more per fill-up if they decide to increase these taxes, and... so what? Stuff we used, has to be paid for.)

lvg
lvg

Top priority- 285/75 interchange and  widening all nearby interstates  and arterials in time for opening of Braves Stadium so fans do not have to ride public transportation with the riff raff.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@lvg Fat chance! Let them choke on it. Cobb has always gotten their way. The next interchanges to be rebuilt are I 285 @ Atlanta Road and South Cobb Drive and for the 5th time Windy Hill Road at I75.  Now as we get more cars on/off the freeway, where do they go? They sit on the freeway or surface streets because their is no money or political will to widen them! Can you say more tolls for the Interstates??

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

Why Kyle, have you had a transformation?  This one actually makes senses and gasp points out that more money is required.  It is and always has been simple the Legislature just needs to do their job...of course if they do that this time it will be the first in many many moons. 

Jimmyliscious
Jimmyliscious

This would effect the pocketbooks more severely of the poorer and working classes who are already paying a disproportionate amount of sales taxes in relation to their income, as opposed to the more wealthy.

Exactly. And as the middle class gets to pay for the goodies of the poor and soon to be increasing population of former illegals with full government handouts that those who actually paid into the system get, I want a gas tax increase. Yes, I want to punish those who work under the table driving all around town cleaning houses with a check made out to them, landscaping the same way, handymen the same way, yes I want to punish those who use the roads. And there should be a fee to get into and out of the parking lot of any government agency that hands out "goodies" to force them to chip in to the system.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Jimmyliscious Wait! I thought hat you said all "illegals" have taken the jobs of all the unemployed (white) Americans out there? The "illegals" have money, cash money, to pay there way. Where are all the American's that do not have jobs get their money for the living expenses? Just wondering?

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

I disagree with the concept that gas tax revenues or tag fees being the only source of income for DOT projects.  There needs to be flexibility in the full budget for infrastructure expansion and maintenance. 

More than the drivers benefit from transportation funds, so general taxes should be used to support it. 

This goes for Airports, Trains, Subways, Buses, and Roads. 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@LogicalDude Do you know that airports have their own trust fund and fees paid at the airports for landing, takeoffs, fuel,etc.? The airport trust fund is in the same dire straits; the traffic control system is decades old and needs updating with the new technologies!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Kyle, I very much like the straightforward honesty in your article and I support many of your points.  I wish to say this however, in disagreement with a point.  This relates to "sales tax upward to some degree, the income tax downward."


This would effect the pocketbooks more severely of the poorer and working classes who are already paying a disproportionate amount of sales taxes in relation to their income, as opposed to the more wealthy.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

@MaryElizabethSings 

It's a transportation bill, MES.  It needs to tax users of the transportation system, and it needs to be statewide, while it must get something from everyone.  Besides, food and life's necessities don't tax at the same rate as an I-pad. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Yes_Jesus_Can 


I realize that this is a transportation bill and that transportation reform will serve all classes of people in Georgia. (This makes twice in 3 days that you have gotten away with posting a  condescending comment to me. Your other post was sexist. Please stop it.) 


I recognize that the state needs more financial resources for needed transportation reform but I do not support a sales tax increase as one of those options. Period. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@MaryElizabethSings - this is America, the land of equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.

There is a cost to owning a vehicle a part of which is fuel to operate it.

If a person can afford to purchase a car, they must be able to afford its operating costs which are maintenance, insurance and fuel, of which the fuel costs includes road taxes.

It gets really weary when at every turn bleeding hearts want subsidies for everything to the so called poor.

Our poor appear as rich to the poor of other countries.

You want to see poor?  Look to those who don't know from where their next meal will come, there are no soup kitchens to get a free meal, and who drink and urinate in the same water source. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@JohnnyReb 


". . .the land of equal opportunity, not equal outcomes."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


I am so weary of reading that shopworn cliche, usually written by people without any real understanding of what the poor in our nation endure.  And, with little intellectual or emotional depth displayed.


RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JohnnyReb @MaryElizabethSings Doesn't transit offer an alternative to everyone driving each day? A bus or train car can sit 50 some. To add capacity on a rail line (once it is built) you add another car! Add another car to the Interstates and what does it get you? A longer duration commute! More pollution. More road rage. more crashes,

JAKilgoreBrunswick
JAKilgoreBrunswick

Have you, Kyle Wingfield, reviewed the "immediate need" project list ?  How can you write about an increase in funding for transportation if you have not examined the use of funds ?


When the Study Committee started, the "emergency need" was $ 75 BILLION over the next ten years.  Now the Study Committee has distilled the annual need down to $ 1 BILLION per year.  Do you know what accounts for the difference between $ 7.5 BILLION ($ 75 Billion divided by 10) per year and $ 1 BILLION per year ?


You write extensively about Georgia being ranked No 1 as a state in which to do business.  Are you aware that the second most important criteria in that evaluation is the quality of transportation in the respective state ?


Are you aware that in every highway study Georgia ranks at or near the top.  Generally in top 5 but definitely in top 10 ?


Are you aware that Georgia was ranked No 1 by the Reason Foundation for quality of urban interstate condition ?


Are you aware that Georgia was ranked No 1 by the Reason Foundation for quality of principal rural arterial condition ?


Are you aware that GDOT has had scathing audits over the past ten years, with hundreds of millions of dollars not properly accounted for and internal bidding procedural requirements that are not complied with by the staff ?


Are you willing to write about the state Transportation Board that is populated by ex-pols who are brokering projects and basically being paid by the taxpayers of Georgia to lobby for fat cat contractors ?


Before you drink the coolaid of the tax and spend General Assembly, please complete your analysis.


Thank you

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JAKilgoreBrunswick " How can you write about an increase in funding for transportation if you have not examined the use of funds ?" The program of projects was put together by the hand picked GDOT Planning Director (By Deal and confirmed by both the house and senate transportation committees. THey are made up of the same repubs you and many others voted for in the last election. If you don't trust or like them, why the he!! did you vote for them?


And you respect and hang your hat on the Reason Foundation? The highways rated are the state highways, not the local streets and bridges that make up a substantial portion of the System.

JAKilgoreBrunswick
JAKilgoreBrunswick

@RoadScholar @JAKilgoreBrunswick 


How do you know I DID vote for those same REPUBS ?  And even if I did, that does not mean that you, me and every other taxpayer should not hold them to account for that which they create in Atlanta.  Just because some bureaucrat is appointed by someone that I MAY have voted for has created a project list does NOT automatically mean I think that list is necessary, much less "CRITICAL". 


The Reason Foundation is not the only source for the quality of Georgia's roads.  I have no doubt but what you will attack any source provided, so I am inclined not to play your game, but you may want to research the National Association of Manufacturers, the Council on Competitiveness and CNBC if you think you need other sources on the quality of Georgia's transportation.  Maybe the magazine Site Selection, which bills itself the magazine of corporate real estate strategy and area economic development would provide you some insight.


And, you should probably read the Reason Foundation Annual Report before you comment further, and you may avoid further embarrassment. 


Finally, I can only presume your moniker Road Scholar is self ordained, as you clearly are not a scholar when it comes to roads in the state of Georgia.


If you do possess the requisite knowledge RS, then why don't you share some of the results of your analysis of the $ 75 BILLION list of "critical" needs.  That would be a way of you providing some benefit from your wealth of knowledge. Then you can explain which projects were EXCLUDED to get down to a mere $ 1 Billion per year in additional needs on top of the already $ 2.3 BILLION that is spent.


RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@JAKilgoreBrunswick @RoadScholar "How do you know I DID vote for those same REPUBS ?"

It was a wild guess!!!! I've read your past posts, that is enough reason.


"Just because some bureaucrat is appointed by someone that I MAY have voted for has created a project list does NOT automatically mean I think that list is necessary, much less "CRITICAL". "

Who appointed you czar?

State roads have fallen from No 1 to No 7 in the past years. GDOT would overlay 10 % of the Interstates and State Routes each year. That's down to 3 %. Have you read the Interstate Strategic plan studies for the state and the COA? I oversaw their preparation.

And with my 39 years in the transportation design and planning arena, I don't have to prove anything to you. I have forgotten more than you think you know! I will put my resume of completed projects  and studies here in Georgia up against anyone! I do not know it all, but I'm aware of a lot more than you think I am.

MANGLER
MANGLER

Roads cost way more to design and build than most of you would think.  That's the main reason it takes so long to do large projects, because the city, county, and State doesn't have all the money up front, so it has to be paid for over time, just like your car or your house.

As for the future of funding, it really does need to be shifted towards user fees.  Relying on the fuel tax will unduly burden the users of combustion engines more and more as people shift to electric and hybrid vehicles.

We know what all cars and truck weigh.  A yearly line item on your taxes is really all there needs to be.  In areas that do emission inspections, it can be done right there during that.  And yes, require electric vehicles to be inspected annually as well - stuff can still go wrong in a Leaf.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@MANGLER  You are correct on not only the cost of building the roads, but also the prices for the property needed to construct them!


But the state, esp using Fed funds, must have the money in hand to put a project to construction before it goes to contract. Did you also know that the Federal monies are a reimbursement, after the state uses its money to get construction going?


A mileage tax based on vehicle weight and congestion level would be optimum but to do that would smack of Big Brother, esp for the paranoid amongst us!

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

A couple dozen off shore oil rigs, far enough out so no land pinko can see them, turn the scrublands north of Savannah into a giant refinery and then reap the windfall. You could build an 8 lane ramp right over the top of Atlanta and still have ton$ of cold hard ca$h left over. 


Plus, gas would be about a buck and a quarter a gallon (mostly taxes.)


If we weren't so dumb.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@IReportYouWhine By you, you are referring to you! Those wetlands do nothing? you haven't learned anything from the oil spills in  the gulf? An 8 lane ramp over Atlanta? Take your meds.

JamVet
JamVet


When I moved to Atlanta in 1979, I was a big fan of Delta. That's when they were a good company - as in good for their employees, the community, the taxpayers and their customers.

Boy, did I wake up and did that ever change quickly!

Their primary mission soon became little more than to protect their not-so-little turf at Hartsfield (and elsewhere) and screw the paying customer by trying to monopolize the action/letting no cheaper competition in, and were very successful in driving air fares up, up and away.


That airline - like the other few mammoth ones left - can go to hell.


As for the CEO - GOOD ON HIM!!


Sure the Republican fascists hate it when Americans exercise their First Amendment rights and dare disagree with their GOP First, Last & Always politics. So the rabid right wingers desperately want/try to silence them.


And by Americans, I mean actual, living citizens as defined by the US Constituion.


Not people like Bank of America, Citibank and Lockheed Martin as defined by those Five Pigs in the US Supreme Court...

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@JamVet  Wow. I was agreeing with all your Delta comments until you went off on this unrelated diatribe against Republican fascists. May have been the first thing we ever agreed on, and then you had to go and spoil the moment.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

I don't know what will pass muster with the voters, but I do know what won't.

That being, special projects that don't directly benefit road users.

In a couple of words, The Beltway.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

This article reads like a cookbook for how to pound an unpopular big government social engineering agenda through the taxpayers, the first attempt having failed. The doom and gloom closing statements portending even more big government as a fait accompli is a non-starter.


Suggestion: Propose discrete packages of specific local and sub-regional transportation improvements the public in those areas wants and needs. Put those up for local and sub-regional votes on the bond issues and tax increases.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@DawgDadII You and whiner should put a transportation plan together and let us comment on it! I need a good laugh!

straker
straker

JohnnyReb - "Obama's lawlessness on immigration"


Has a Federal Court ruled that it is lawless?


If so, I must have missed it.


Perhaps you can give me the link.

MHSmith
MHSmith

The VMT tax is still the best way and most equitable way to fund roads and bridges.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@MHSmith Based on vehicle weight and congestion usage. The VMT accounting will either be self reporting (and we know people won't lie) or by sensor or satellite, which smacks of Big Brother. Pick your poison.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@RoadScholar @MHSmith 

Big Brother smacks of a straw-man argument. ;) 

 BIG Brother's evasion of privacy already exists e.g. Internet, Cell Phones etc. 

Face NSA global reality.

 You and the rest of us have already "PICKED OUR POISON" while BIG Brother government watches us drink it.   

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@MHSmith @RoadScholar So you want more? Do you know that the travel times you see on the variable message boards on the Interstates is from tracking our cellphones? The data cannot be used for anything else by law, but....The Paranoids should have fun with that one!


Also the cars that used to go through the toll plaza before it was removed had their license plates photoed, but it could only be used to identify the abusers? If you were going through a divorce, your spouse could not get access to when you went through it ...or who was in your car with you (girlfriend) by law. But SRTA personnel could!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Criticisms of this piece? I got nothin'. 


Were our state officials to follow your advice, it'd be a start in establishing some kind of cred on this issue.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Road contractors are soaking the taxpayer.  Income taxes are the best way to fund.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Jefferson1776 - income taxes don't put the people using roads paying for them.

Instead, it excuses the 50% or so that don't pay income taxes.

User taxes and tolls are the only way to go on transportation.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Jefferson1776 @RoadScholar That did occur in the 1970s and 80s, but there are safe guards placed on the bidding practice now. It is all electronic. With as little work going out on the street (no pun intended) now, they are battling for each companies life. GDOT is holding back shovel ready jobs from bidding because of the lack of cash flow from the Feds and others.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Jefferson1776 @JohnnyReb They do when they buy at a store. Do you not think retailers/manufacturers not add transportation costs to the price of their sales?