Revised transportation bill quells some earlier criticisms

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Remember all the way back to … a couple of weeks ago, when state House leaders unveiled a transportation-funding plan that moved some local revenues to state coffers, and some folks got upset and pounded their figurative chests about sleight-of-hand and stealing from local governments, and I counseled everyone to just sit tight and see how the legislative process unfolded?

Ahem (via my AJC news colleague, Aaron Gould Sheinin):

“Supporters of a House plan to raise at least $1 billion for transportation received a major boost Tuesday when the state’s top organization of county governments agreed to endorse the bill.

“‘We support the bill as passed the subcommittee yesterday and will continue to work on other recommended improvements,’ said Clint Mueller, the legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

“The support comes after a unanimous vote of ACCG’s policy board Monday night, Mueller said.”

The counties are one of three types of local government with a stake in this debate, and probably the easiest to please regarding this legislation. Still, it’s important to note the bill’s revisions allow county and city governments to recoup the vast majority of recurring revenues from local sales taxes on motor fuel, which under the bill would not be allowed after a certain point in the future, as long as the revenues are spent on “transportation purposes,” which the bill defines fairly liberally. (The specific date varies according to the kind of tax. Also, I say “vast majority” because there are a handful of local sales taxes that haven’t been fully addressed yet.)

Take note of the phrase “recurring revenues.” Here’s what I mean by that: sales taxes that differ from SPLOSTs and E-SPLOSTs both because they don’t require reauthorization by voters, and because they aren’t levied to fund specific capital projects. SPLOSTs and E-SPLOSTs wouldn’t be touched until their current authorization expires. Any such taxes approved in the future simply couldn’t include motor fuel in their tax bases, and the list of capital projects they fund would consequently be a bit shorter.

Whether you think this is a good idea probably depends on whether you think transportation infrastructure deserves a higher priority among revenues from gas taxes than other types of infrastructure. After a couple of decades of funding new education infrastructure, among other capital projects, with gas-tax revenues, I think it’s high time we set just such a priority.

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16 comments
PinkoNeoConLibertarian
PinkoNeoConLibertarian

"After a couple of decades of funding new education infrastructure, among other capital projects, with gas-tax revenues, I think it’s high time we set just such a priority."

This. 

Use the money for the projects it was initially earmarked for and keep your grubby, greedy, legislative paws off of it!


Observant1
Observant1

So, let me see if I got this right: Local jurisdictions can levy or recover gas tax money as long as it is spent on transportation projects?  I suppose that means really VITAL projects, like the Atlanta Trolly Folly and a similar proposal by Marietta's Mayor to fund a trolly to scoot people to the Marietta Square--from where nobody seems to know.  That kind of really "vital" transportation projects??  Idiots!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Observant1 Or they could repave roads, since counties maintain something like 70% of the roads in Georgia.

Frankline
Frankline

Many school jurisdictions have ESPLOST's that are serving bond debt and the voters were counting on to pass a second or third time rather than tag a bond debt on the property digest. Hope the power people at the legislature take than into account.  

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

" transportation infrastructure deserves a higher priority among revenues from gas taxes than other types of infrastructure"

Of course "we all do".  But if the state is going to pull that penny into transit, then they need to replace THAT revenue with something else.  Pulling pennies and not replacing pennies puts an undo burden on those places the funding previously went.  

If Georgia wants to make the tough decisions on funding transit, it just can't take money allocated somewhere else. They have to find dedicated funding for transit above and beyond the current levels.  And that means finding the funds to replace that penny that is being (by most opinions) rightly pointed toward transit. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude I assume you meant "pull that penny FROM transit," and yet I still have no idea what you meant by that.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

This is politics,  the yard birds don't want simple -- fix the roads,  they want bs and dirty knees.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

I think its high time that those who "paddle" up and down the Savannah River and Atlantic pay for their own dredging and port expansion. You know, just like you suggest and are all giddy about with fuel taxes. The state could take the hundreds of million set aside for that entity that should be funding itself and remove sales taxes from all electric bills just like business gets. I also think I need some sort of tax exempt card (similiar to a GATE card) to swipe at the pump when I am purchasing fuel for my lawnmower, ATV, etc which are things I ride on my own property and not on public areas. Get'er done for the common man or lick chamber nut boots.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

What happens to the penny a gallon currently going into the general fund?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@IReportYouWhine Result of the legislation. The entire sales tax on motor fuel would be converted to an excise tax, which is constitutionally mandated to go to DOT.

Caius
Caius

See this from the ajc's Political Insider:


Leading Georgia Republicans are heading into battle with Grover Norquist over transportation funding.

In a post that calls out Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston by name, Americans for Tax Reform announced its opposition to the proposal to raise at least $1 billion to tackle the state’s commuting woes.

Not only does the bill result in an immediate gas tax hike, it gives local governments free rein to raise local gas taxes in the future. The total tax on gasoline in Georgia could range as high as 53.6 cents per gallon, well above the U.S. average of 48.29 cents per gallon. If implemented, H.B. 170 could make gasoline sold in Georgia, the 9th highest taxed gasoline in the nation. Indexing the gas tax to inflation would make it worse.

ATR urges the legislature to revisit its transportation spending priorities and reject all gas tax hikes on consumers.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Caius I don't think anyone disputes that gas taxes will be higher in any jurisdiction where the local governments have added the 6 cents/gallon excise tax.