Repeat after me: Gas taxes aren’t going to transit

Traffic

One of the most significant things about the House transportation bill — which cleared its committee in a substitute form Monday — is its acknowledgment of a state role in funding mass transit. This is a historic step, not only for what’s in the bill but for the way key legislators have been talking about it, from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle to Speaker David Ralston and House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts (R-Long Way From Metro Atlanta).

And yet there’s a refrain from transit advocates that it’s not enough. They make some good points but also offer few solutions that aren’t laughably unrealistic.

A prime example of the laughable latter can be found on the Opinion pages of today’s AJC, although it’s hardly the first time this argument has surfaced in our paper or elsewhere. The idea: Devote some of the state’s motor-fuel revenues to transit.

This reflects about as much realism as transit advocates’ opposition to the 2012 T-SPLOST in metro Atlanta on the grounds that putting half the money from that tax toward transit would have been too little. It is a dead-end distraction.

The state constitution clearly states motor-fuel tax revenues are to be used for “providing and maintaining an adequate system of public roads and bridges in this state.” One suggestion by the author of the above-linked piece is a constitutional amendment to change this, which is perhaps the unlikeliest idea voiced during this debate. While a growing proportion of Georgians may be warming to the idea of funding transit, it’s highly unlikely a majority (to say nothing of the two-thirds majorities required in the Legislature for an amendment) would choose to fund transit from gas-tax revenues.

That’s in large part because roads and bridges are already underfunded. Transit advocates point to the “fourth penny” of state sales tax, which has been diverted from transportation since its inception, but that diversion is part of the reason the system is underfunded. While the fourth penny is wholly inadequate to filling the funding gap — it brings about $180 million a year, or about two-thirds of the funding shortage for repair and replacement of state bridges alone — it is an essential part of filling the funding gap. As things are shaping up, legislators will merely be putting the state on a footing to get our current roads and bridges up to par. (That includes not only repairing bridges and repaving roads, but expanding and updating key routes and interchanges to reflect the traffic loads they already bear.) In other words, every bit of motor-fuel revenue is needed for our current roads and bridges without even broaching the topic of transit.

Transit advocates’ time would be far better spent seeking a different revenue stream. The House bill already indicates money from a new fee on alternative-fuel vehicles is to go toward transit. That’s a good place to start, and additional funding can (and should) grow from there. Another idea that’s more realistic than seeking an amendment or continued diversion of gas-tax revenues from roads and bridges also appears in our Opinion pages today: Expand the footprint of counties that can join MARTA. A 1 percent sales tax for counties that participate in the MARTA system remains the best way to fund transit. The more counties that participate in MARTA (or which build their own systems, a la Cobb and Gwinnett), the more support there will be at the state level for increasing transit funding, albeit from something other than gas-tax revenues that are already more than spoken for.

Reader Comments 0

52 comments
MHSmith
MHSmith

Let the riders of mass "welfare transit" pay more money, a realistic fee for their ride, Kyle. 

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I'm against the House charging non-transit users an exclusive tax to pay for someone else to have a cheap ride or because they say they cannot afford to buy a car, or have too many DUIs', or simply have a fear of operating a vehicle or whatever the lousy excuse etc.


Go buy yourself car, pay the insurance and maintenance on the vehicle, the  ad valorem taxes and the gas tax then come back and tell me how you paid pennies on the dollar for your use of the public roads and feel the user of mass "welfare transit" pay anything close to the actual cost of their trips. 

LOL!



straker
straker

Let's take a vote and see how many believe ALL Georgia taxes go where the politicians tell us they do.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@straker 

Better idea, let Georgians have a vote to restrict  politicians from use taxes to go just anywhere they'd like funding to go. 

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

If you're claiming that roads in Georgia are built and maintained with funding that doesn't come from state and federal gas taxes, then show us the proof of that, including the percentages.  Everything I've seen says you can't back up that claim.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Repeat after me:  Gas taxes not going to transit that the State wants for transit needs the State to either replace those funds taken, or work side by side with those affected to make sure funds are replaced. 


Now, when the state needs AN INCREASE of a billion dollars a year, you can't just move money around, you actually have to INCREASE revenue to the state.  The bad way is to take that money from local communities. If the state can take that money and replace it from revenues elsewhere, then good.  If they cause a shortfall that brings a hardship on communities without even trying to assist those communities, then bad. 

(okay, now to read the article) :) 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Okay, for clarification's sake, you mean "transit" to mean "mass transit".  Most people (me?  a couple other people? :)   ) mean "transit" to mean "transportation" and all of its forms. 


I completely agree with you on the need for additional revenue streams.  But these revenue streams MUST not be from current funding forms from other areas of the state unless the state is willing to cover those revenues somehow. 

Plus, if the State wants to jump into funding MARTA, then fund it so it can function as a proper metro mass transit solution.  Different county solutions just make for a multiple structures when a single lean structure will do.  (Not calling MARTA lean, yet, but it's been forced to be lean by lack of proper funding from the State)

MHSmith
MHSmith

@LogicalDude 

Nah, I'm not going to repeat after you. 

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Robbing from Peter's road funding to pay for Paul mass "welfare transit" - rails and buses - is not sound fiscal policy. Let the Pauls' of society pay THEIR FARE SHARE FOR THE MILES OF PETER'S ROADS THEY TRAVEL.


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By the way, I have proposed on "numerous occasions" funding roads and bridges by means of a vehicle mileage tax, which is every bit the same as paying a "TOLL" for every inch of public asphalt a person uses - SO DON'T TRY TO TRASH ME WITH YOUR FALSE STATEMENTS THAT ARE NOT THE SAME IN THE LEAST - "SEE!" 

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LIKE YOU SAY, GO PAY "YOUR TOLL!"


I am all for each paying for their own vehicle(s) and their vehicle(s) miles of travel.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@LogicalDude 

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For clarity's sake on the subject of rial travel, the Paul(s) can pay the "real costs' for their rials, since they cost three times more to lay down than asphalt.   


Meanwhile, I'll gladly pay my VMT(TOLL) for all the miles of roads and bridges I use. Which is far more than the pennies any transit rider pays for their highly over subsidized public transit trips

Bumper15
Bumper15

Traffic congestion could be relieved considerably by thinning out the Monday-Friday mass inbound/outbound herd movement. Incentivize companies and government agencies to shift their business hours, say from 9am-5pm to 11am-7pm, and operating days, say from Mon-Fri to Tues-Sat. Sure some workers would squawk but most would adapt in time.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Tire dump taxes go where ?  Tobacco settlement money goes where ?  Teachers are supposed to be paid by the STATE not the county. 


This is not new.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Jefferson1776 

All three items points to the kind misappropriations of funds that should be prohibited by law. Tire dump taxes should go to fund road and bridges, tobacco settlement money should go to pay for the cancers and other diseases of the lung attributed to the use of tobacco products. Healthcare and eduction  - the only two justifiable welfare distributions that should exist - should be paid for by funding from a national mini-vat on information and Internet data transfer, because of their respective enormous costs which are beyond the means and ability of the majority of any us to pay for in total without the use of government's heavy hand of intervention and fiscal assistance.    


This would be new and long overdue.


Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@Jefferson1776 Its do as I say not as I do Republican style.. Gas is up over 30 cents here in a month and climbing every week. Its outrageous this is even being considered until it gets back to 1 dollar per gallon.

independentiii
independentiii

In the failed TSPLOST, the Beltline wanted $600 million for their version of a 'trolly' - their projected ridership was 1100 per day.  (550 round trip rides).  Work that out and it's a subsidy of  $1 million per round trip rider. Just for construction.  I don't care how many times those chosen few would ride - that is an astounding justification for transit.  And it didn't include future operating costs and fares. 

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Gas taxes should not be diverted for any purpose other than roads.  That's essentially how we pay our fair share for roads, and the tax should be sufficient to cover those costs and only those costs.  Users pay.  (And a mechanism to allow electric vehicle users to pay their fair share needs to be implemented as well.)

Trains and buses should be paid for the same way, by charging their users an amount sufficient to cover their costs.

Anything less is welfare for transit moochers.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Aquagirl "Gas taxes don't nearly cover the cost of roads."

You have a point regarding federal money, but the amount of money the state spends on roads that doesn't come from the gas tax is negligible.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@LilBarryBailout  Gas taxes don't nearly cover the cost of roads, so you already have a far bigger class of moochers to yell at, but somehow I don't think you can muster the same vitriol for people in cars.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@LilBarryBailout Lets hold all to the same standard then.  Tobacco settlements funds should NOT be used for development nuttyness. If develop authorities needs funds then chambers of commerce should tax themselves and pay for them. If Arthur Blank needs this or that and the Braves etc etc etc

dreema
dreema

@LilBarryBailout Road users pay, but the gas tax is not enough to fund them. So yes, road users are moochers too. But hey, why let reality get in the way of a good snarky snit fit.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@dreema @LilBarryBailout How you gonna get bicvcles etc to pay? They dont wear and tear but the asphalt and concrete is being poured. How about feet tax too?

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@dreema @LilBarryBailout

I guess you ignored my statement that the tax should be sufficient to cover the cost of maintaining our roads.

And the taxes I refer to do include the federal gas tax that we're paying as well.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @Aquagirl 

The negligible short-fall part could likely be made up with the addition of a mileage tax, tolls and other user fees.


The defenders of welfare transportation have no merit to support their complaints against people who pay a fair share for their ride and the ride of others who take from them.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@Kyle_Wingfield I dunno, I'm using a report from the Tax Foundation "Gasoline taxes and user fees pay for only half of state & local road spending" According to them Georgia's taxes and fees only cover about 43%. The rest has to come from somewhere, yes?  But I certainly have not poured over the entire report so I may be missing something.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Aquagirl I can't (and didn't) say about local spending, because I don't know. But if you look at the GDOT budget, the state portion almost exclusively comes from gas taxes -- it's like 98-99 percent.

Now, I haven't read that report, but maybe they're referring to the role of federal money, which isn't fully funded by gas taxes and user fees?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Aquagirl No costs outside GDOT for state roads. I'm guessing it has to be local roads, although I really doubt that many of them are spending more than they collect in gas tax.

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@Kyle_Wingfield No, it specifically excludes federal funding. Is there a possibility of road costs outside GDOT? Anything is possible in the shenanigans of our state budget. There also could be an enormous difference in local funding for roads.

cwkimbro
cwkimbro

@Kyle_Wingfield @Aquagirl 

Y'all are mostly both right to an extent, but it is important to remember the relationship between State and local taxation and spending.

The state dictates how local governments can raise revenue for transportation and often place limitations on them.Some spending is local, but it is still dictated how it happens by the state.


The end result is the state budget is primarily from the gas tax and local governments are primarily using sales tax and property tax for the local part of the transportation system. In some counties local governments haven't done as much (ie Dekalb has more state/federal routes) and some have done more (ie Gwinnett has an expansive county built system).


I believe most of the GDOT's budget that isn't from the gas tax is either a federal matching share or is revenue to address the state match for federal funds for seaports, airports, as well as administration expenses.



Aquagirl, you need to be careful with any claim that revenue from sales tax and property tax being using on roads is creating 'moochers.' There is a a direct relationship between land accessibility and the value of the land and the retail operations it holds. Admittedly, it isn't as close to being a direct use tax as a gas tax, but roads are needed for land to be functional... so at the local level a portion of property taxes and sales taxes shouldn't be entirely out of the question as they do depend on transportation and roads.


Now I do believe the state should have a vested interest in larger transit operations, especially regional operations compared to local ones. I'd really like to see strong development in commuter rail. There is a point where the cost of extra peak-hour capacity on major freeway and arterial corridors grow enough outpaces the cost of other options. Keeping in mind as a freeway lane only carries about 1800 cars/hour when moving efficiently. This often decreases with severe congestion.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@MHSmith @LilBarryBailout With riders of publicly funded roads paying as little as a penny on the actual transit costs for their trips, they will never come anywhere close to covering their just fair share of the costs for their ride. 

So-called "roads",  which mainly serve costly single-riders compared to those riding transit, will always be "welfare transportation." 


See, by trashing those people I don't like, I can make an argument JUST LIKE YOU DID.  Roads are funded by the government.  Actually paying for your road would mean paying tolls EVERYWHERE to pay for your actual road usage. Since you don't pay tolls EVERYWHERE, it is a highly subsidized system, or in your words "welfare transportation." 


Now, go pay your tolls so you won't have to be on welfare, because evidently, for you, that's "bad". 

Aquagirl
Aquagirl

@cwkimbro I have no problem with a portion of sales and other taxes going to roads----Unlike IRYW I don't advocate a strict user fee for everything government provides. However, having said that, if roads are only half paid for by gas taxes, that's a little much from the general revenue fund. Especially since the people who incur most of the cost drive (no pun intended) more and more road development. More user fees would help stop that cycle. 

MHSmith
MHSmith

@LilBarryBailout 

With riders of publicly funded transit paying as little as a dime on the dollar of the actual transit costs for their trips, they will never come anywhere close to covering their just share of the costs for their ride.

So-called "mass transit", which only serves the minority of the "mass - majority- population", will always be "welfare transportation".   


Fuel taxes or mileage taxes should solely go to fund our roads and bridges.



cwkimbro
cwkimbro

@Aquagirl 

Understood, but what I'm trying to get at is the general fund we are talking about isn't the state general fund. Kyle is correct on state spending. It is the general fund of the local cities and counties that are creating the spending you're referring to. They take in property taxes, but the biggest thing they must do to keep property values high is provide direct access to land parcels. It is expensive, but it is an expense they must pay to have that revenue to start with too. Most roads, afterall, are the quiet ones most of us live on that we don't talk about.

Non-drivers do help keep local governments from needing to rebuild roads when they are expensive, particularly in older areas. However, their land values are still directly tied to access the roads provide, so this local government spending isn't just a driver vs non-driver cycle. The real problem has been created at our state's inability to fund transportation and transit well. With our structure of smaller counties, the state has to accept more responsibility for regional transportation of any type, especially since they control the purse strings of local governments and the ability of any regional authority to form, not form, or have any tangible power.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@MHSmith @LogicalDude @LilBarryBailout No, I'm showing the hypocrisy of using "welfare transportation" as a means to denigrate mass transit. 

All transit: roads, rail, bus, boat, and air are subsidized by the government in many ways. 

The people/government have recognized that moving goods and people easily increases the overall welfare of the people/country.  Evidently some people forget that. 

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

A good way to start is taxing common people eh? Lets raise the corporate tax rate and let the chamber nuts fund their billion dollar plus tax hike to see if they really want it or not.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Plumb Krazy Do you consider UPS, Coke and other companies "common people"? Because they'd pay most of the money that alternative-fuel vehicle fee raised.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@Kyle_Wingfield @Plumb Krazy Do UPS, Coke and other "people" like them pay sales taxes on their energy? Or is that for us fools that elected chamber nut Republicans and Democrats?

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@Kyle_Wingfield @Plumb Krazy  Whats is it Delta gets? 23 million in tax exemptions on fuel? What would that fund? And spin the rest of this........



The state also passed a sweeping tax-reform bill in 2012 that eliminated some sales taxes and broadened exemptions for the agricultural industry that small towns and counties say have wreaked havoc on their revenues.


The exemptions he’s talking about were part of H.B. 386, passed by the state legislature in 2012. The law replaced an annual car tax with a one-time title tax, which is paid when a car is bought. It also eliminated sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, and expanded a program that allowed the agriculture industry to avoid paying sales tax on a variety of products.


“I think the tax reform was made with all the best intentions,” Hobby said. “But it has really created a crisis in the rural parts of the state.”


“In many rural areas, this is going to prolong coming out of the recession,” said Amy Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association, which calculated that some rural counties in the south had seen sales-tax decreases of more than 15 percent between 2012 and 2013.



Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Plumb Krazy The latest version of the bill strips away the tax break for Delta (and other jet-fuel buyers).

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@Kyle_Wingfield @Plumb Krazy Then they can lower the excise tax they want to establish. Does business still get a free ride on sales taxes in this tax the common man whether he wants t or not bill?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Plumb Krazy If you think businesses pay sales taxes, on anything, then you are indeed plum crazy. The tax is always passed on to consumers (in higher prices), workers (lower wages) or owners (lower dividends).

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@Kyle_Wingfield @Plumb Krazy Right. Business has a set profit margin and they raise and lower prices set on that,  They never make but a set profit each and every year and they automatically lower prices when they get a tax cut. Do ypu people really think the consumer is this stupid?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Plumb Krazy "Business has a set profit margin and they raise and lower prices set on that"

You ignored what I said about the workers and the owners.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@Kyle_Wingfield @Plumb Krazy And yes also, how would sales taxes effect a commodity? Of course, gasp, governments (ours included) and investment banks manipulate price but  that excluded.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Plumb Krazy "And yes also, how would sales taxes effect a commodity?"

No one's suggesting they do. But they affect what you pay at the pump, or for other goods/services at the service station. Or, as I said before, they affect wages or profits.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

Repeat after to me. The state and development authorities  have passed so many tax exemptions for deadbeat , freeloader chambers of commerce types and farmers and sports team owners and film makers and airlines this and that etc etc that local governments and schools are strapped on ways to fund themselves.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Kyle calls the article on the Opinion pages of today’s AJC advocating more funding for transit “laughable,” but his own article shows a remarkable lack of logic. While admitting that there is a growing support for transit, Kyle makes a curious argument that that a fee on alternative fuel vehicles might go toward transit, but the sales tax on gasoline should be used exclusively for road and bridges. Both gasoline and alternative fuel vehicles use roads and bridges. The fact that there is not enough revenue for the form of transportation you prefer is not a valid argument for denying funding for a form some other people prefer. Sales taxes on all kinds of commodities are routinely used to fund anything in the state budget, so why should a sales tax on gasoline be handled differently?

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@MarkVV What is amazing is 9 outta 12 regions said no to TSPLOST and no to more fuel taxes and now the Republicans are planning a screw you you getting one anyway bill.