A Senate road map for transportation

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When the House finally approved a transportation-funding measure, you could almost hear Gold Dome denizens exhale. It was the 27th day of the session, and most any conversation about any topic had included at least the question of whether it could be tied somehow to the $1 billion gorilla in the building.

But it didn’t take long for everyone to inhale again. For the next question was what would come of House Bill 170 in a more skeptical Senate.

We should get an idea this week of how senators intend to change the bill. In the middle of that debate will be Tommie Williams, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

There are two things to keep in mind here about Williams, who represents Vidalia onion country. He spent two years atop the Senate as president pro tempore, so he knows what it takes to round up a GOP majority. And he runs a business that fills 12 trucks with diesel fuel every day, so he knows about the need for good roads and the burden of fuel taxes.

Tommie Williams

“Most senators believe that we should have some skin in the game,” Williams told me after the Senate adjourned Wednesday, “that we shouldn’t just look for a tax increase without looking at our own budget.”

That means shifting more than just the “fourth penny” of the motor-fuel tax from the state’s general fund to the transportation budget, as HB 170 does.

“The motor fuel tax is a diminishing tax” thanks to fuel-efficiency gains, he said, “so we’re trying to find something that’s a growing number.”

One number that’s been growing in recent years is the state’s general revenue. “If we were to put a couple hundred million dollars a year” from general revenue growth into transportation, he said, “within a few years you could generate some significant money.”

He conceded that requires “the will of the Legislature” for years to come, whereas an excise tax on gasoline is constitutionally bound to go to DOT. “Unless you pass a constitutional amendment, you can’t guarantee that happens. But I think we need to culture ourselves to believe if we have excess revenue, it’s not just education and bonds we look at. We need to look at transportation.”

One place he doesn’t think senators will look for money is from local governments. Currently, HB 170 shifts some local sales taxes on gasoline into a statewide excise tax, and raises the rate on everything else covered by local sales taxes by 25 percent — creating a net double-digit increase in local sales tax revenues in the aggregate. (SPLOST and E-SPLOST monies are not shifted due to constitutional considerations, although the bill would restrict how they are spent.)

“We’re not taking any locals’ money,” Williams said. “I have not talked to a senator who thinks we should be taking the locals’ money. … You can’t tell a county that’s got 40 percent of their money coming in (from) motor fuel that they’ve got to spend it all on transportation. It just doesn’t work for them.”

Oh, there is a third thing you should know about Williams as it relates to this conversation. Though he lives in South Georgia, his parents grew up in Atlanta. Their first date included a ride on the city’s old streetcar lines.

A self-proclaimed “big fan of the Beltline,” Williams echoed statements by House leaders about paying attention to the way businesses have warmed to the idea of rail.

“When companies want to locate next to the MARTA station,” he said, “somebody needs to wake up and say we need to think about transit.”

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47 comments
MHSmith
MHSmith

This is why I'm very skeptical Kyle about the legislators "just looking at  those existing nearby MARTA sites". I don't always agree with Sen. Webb on things he says but he is spot right on the mark with his description of the systemic destruction of the traditional employment model we once relied on in this country rather than assisting with more welfare or government dependency. 

Now would I be guilty of derogatorily stereotyping others by pointing out Sen. Webb's daughter as one of prime my examples in my complaint against public welfare transit? I mean, really, I doubt Sen. Webb's daughter lacks in education, skills or connections but here she is, a part-timer, no benefits has to buy healthcare, paying self-employment taxes as just another number among far too many other 1090 workers.     

Sen. Webb  says How can you fix it? You have to level the playing field in terms of how we take care of working people. Full time. Good job. The system is, in a way, becoming rigged against working people.

We've got to "unrig" the system to where a working person can buy a car or pay much closer to actual costs of their public transit ridership fare.

I don't see that happening on part-time worker job wages paying 8 or 9 dollars on the hour tops where the worker is responsible to pay their income taxes,  self-employment tax too. If these employers are looking for public transit as part of their employee picture, then as part and parcel to that answer I want full-time jobs with full-time pay and benefits offered in the employee deal so those people can "PAY THEIR FAIR SHARE" for their piece of the transportation pie which they consume private or public or the mix thereof.    

If the conservatives on my side are looking at going further "down the 1090 road", then they are looking in the wrong direction, we should be looking up the traditional full-time worker hill to that shining city.

Excerpt from ABC: Former Sen. Jim Webb Eyes 2016





In the speech we showed, you talked about powerful financial interests spending billions to think that the current situation is okay. Who are the press and how are they encouraging a aristocracy?


I think if you see what has been happening to our country over the past 20 or 25 years, or so, with the economic model. First, the model itself has broken apart. The traditional model has broken apart. The -- employment model that was based on full-time employment, manufacturing base, taking care of your working people fell apart a lot when the manufacturing sector was hurt so bad in the past 20 years. The other thing is, if you have capital, if you have assets, you're doing pretty well. The stock market has almost tripled since April 2009. This is particularly true with the generation coming into full adulthood. They don't have that model anymore. They were doing part-time jobs, consultancy jobs. They have student loans to pay off. They're wondering whether they're going to be able to get a home. How can you fix it? You have to level the playing field in terms of how we take care of working people. Full time. Good job. The system is, in a way, becoming rigged against working people. They're getting these part-time jobs. My oldest daughter is a good example. She works for the disabled American veterans. She loves her job. She's brought on as a consultant. She has to pay her own self-employment tax. She doesn't have medical. She doesn't have retirement. This is becoming a model for the generation that's coming along. The other part of it is, the people at the top have moved away from everyone else in our society. And the benefits they're receiving. Largely through stock options and executive compensation that would never have existed 30 years ago when they were measuring corporate -- corporate compensation by the earnings of the corporation rather than the price of the stocks.


http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/video/sen-jim-webb-eyes-2016-29651471

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

What about the "any increase or shifting in fees is a tax increase, and WE WILL NOT INCREASE TAXES!" mantra?

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

 One number that’s been growing in recent years is the state’s general revenue. “If we were to put a couple hundred million dollars a year” from general revenue growth into transportation, he said, “within a few years you could generate some significant money.”


With the stipulation that the money is used to pay for actual concrete and asphalt and not some giant government bureaucracy.


Now you're starting to get somewhere.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

I just cant wait until next election when I can point at a fuel price and say "your republican rep did it". And then ask "what you plan to do about him/her?"

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

NOBODY has a plan, that's the truth. 


The GOP wants it (funding), but don't want to pay for it, after all they are the ones to praise or blame. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

 “The motor fuel tax is a diminishing tax” thanks to fuel-efficiency gains, he said

It wouldn't be if you'd just have the courage to raise the stupid thing. Sheesh.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield

Just so it is clear--gradually increasing the gasoline tax over the years so that Georgians would be paying in 2025 what Pennsylvanians paid in 2014 is, apparently, in the realm of science fiction.


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex No, I'd say going from what Georgians pay in 2014 to that level just just nine years later is in the realm of political fiction. If you want to talk Pennsylvania, ask yourself if you can imagine Pennsylvania lawmakers raising their rate in short order from 41.8 cents/gallon to 63.5 -- the equivalent percentage increase.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex Fuel-efficiency is supposed to rise by about 40% between 2017 and 2025, according to the government's new CAFE standards. We won't see any tax rate rise that sharply. So if your transportation revenues are mostly tied to the gas tax, I think you'll either see a reduction in purchasing power or a shift to a new kind of tax (e.g., VMT).

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex Tell me where you would expect any kind of politician to raise any kind of tax rate by 40% over eight years.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @Visual_Cortex

I dunno where--but what I do know is that the excise tax hasn't kept up with inflation, and it's really not much of an ask.

I had to ask Google to know what the tax even was--19 cents? so that's another, what, seven, eight cents per gallon?

That's too terrifying to contemplate asking taxpayers to bear? really?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Visual_Cortex The current tax is about 28 cents/gallon if you include state and local (but not federal). The current bill has it going to 29.2. A 40% hike on top of that would put it at 40.9.

straker
straker

The ideal would be for the House and Senate to do what's best for the people of Georgia.


Unfortunately, what they usually do is what's best for the various special interests they represent and are involved in.


Some things just never seem to change.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Whether Kyle realizes it or not, he now presents, with tacit approval, the ideas of the Senate Transportation Committee, which are generally in line with my comments a few days ago in response to Kyle’s March 6 article, which he attacked and denigrated, namely, that the motor fuel tax is the wrong tax to put all emphasis on, and that transportation, vitally important for everybody in the state, should be a budget item in the general revenue category.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV 



Any tax other than the VMT should be shunned to fund transportation, as those forms all fall short to pay true costs for roads and bridges. The best form of payment-user fee for every inch of road traveled is the VMT. Which can only decline when less miles are driven. 

If left up to me the VMT would be the sole means of funding roads and bridges. Taxes for every mile of traveled amounts varying per vehicle weight and size.

"Public Welfare Transportation" systems cannot be compared to the personal private transportation model. As your old pal Chris always accused you of doing Kyle, these "Welfare Champs" of mass transit, CONFLATE!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV

1. You infer approval I did not imply. I will wait until I see an actual plan before passing judgment on it one way or the other. But I will report what a key figure has to say about a pressing issue if I think it's newsworthy.

2. What I disagreed with you about -- "attacked and denigrated" simply reflects your odd, apparent martyr complex -- was whether gas-tax revenues should be dedicated to transportation. Everything else in your above comment is a distortion or outright fabrication regarding our discussion. I never said "all emphasis" for transportation should be on the gas tax, but rather that all gas-tax revenue should go to transportation; a nit-picker like you ought to recognize the difference. Likewise, I never said transportation should not receive general revenues.

So, as usual, your comment is dead wrong.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@Kyle_Wingfield @MarkVV 

As usual, you are dead wrong, Kyle. I had argued that IN PRINCIPLE gas tax revenues should NOT be dedicated to transportation (even if that may be necessary at a particular time), and I spelled out my arguments for that. Instead of arguing the substance, you made silly comments about “commodities” vs.”goods” a did all you could to degenerate the discussion to trivialities.


As for an approval you did not imply, you should have made your position clearer. And I never wrote that YOU said that "all emphasis” for transportation should be on the gas tax, so I resent the distortion or outright fabrication of what I have written.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV "Whether Kyle realizes it or not, he now presents, with tacit approval, the ideas...which are generally in line with my comments a few days ago...which he attacked and denigrated, namely, that the motor fuel tax is the wrong tax to put all emphasis on, and that transportation...should be a budget item in the general revenue category."

That is your earlier comment, distilled. Neither of us made any such argument at the time. Your latest comment doesn't prove otherwise.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MarkVV And next you'll say you did so. Just letting you know now, I'm not publishing anything else from you on this particular string. Feel free to make other comments about the piece.

KeepinItSimple
KeepinItSimple

Don't worry, the streetcars will save us!  What an unbelievable waste of money.  Granted, it's a small drip in a big lake, but idiotic nonsense like that streetcar are not helping.  There are hundreds of those little pockets of waste in our city, county and state budgets and it won't stop.


You can fix this by slowing growth.  Atlanta once contained it's growth in the 70's but when big money started rolling in they mortgaged the future to get money at the time.  By that I mean they greatly increased zoning densities, lowered minimum lot sizes, and everything else you could think of to get quick money to pay off debts from the crisis periods of that time.  


The result is over-population, though it is on a suburban scale.  Growth has to be managed from the onset or it gets out of hand quickly and we now will have to fight a battle for decades into the future.  Our current municipalities are fighting it the same way it was fought in the 70's and 80's, by trying to bring in more residents to gain money through multiple tax fronts.  The problem is that the taxes do not offset the burden.  


Stop what is causing the wound first.  Slow the growth or tax developers much more steeply so that the new growth at least covers itself in infrastructure costs.  Then try to tackle the long standing problem.  By not doing enough to staunch the growth are governments are just causing more money to be lost.  


Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@KeepinItSimple Amen to that!  When the next drought rolls around, there won't be nearly enough water for all these people, and the liberals will clog the courts with challenges to any new dam construction.

MHSmith
MHSmith

These people are really at a loss. 

We need to look something with growing numbers, companies want a MARTA station next door, so MARTA is something with growing numbers? 


As in growing negative fiscal numbers? 

Rob Peter to pay Paul: We'll stack a tax increase on fuel, call it an excise tax, another tax piled on top of tax to expand MARTA Paul.

Get real.   

Charge people - including the POOR, at least 60% actual costs for the welfare transportation as we once knew them to use - accordingly to the miles they choose to travel. 

Oh, and by the way, those companies that want a MARTA station next door: Do they employ 95% full-time workers - have only a few part-timer working under contract labor - match SS, have 401 K, company paid comprehensive healthcare, dental, education and training assistance?     


No need to answer those rhetorical questions. Companies that ask for a MARTA station next door usually work a lot of part-time temporary contract labors low pay no benefits or very few benefits in this race to the bottom dollar labor market with very few realistic options for many to ever move upward on the scales of income or in life's station.  


Can we ever get around to having an honest conversation (which I seldom talk about myself) is the 47% - OR BETTER - employer base in this country that has for years broken with, and from, using employing the traditional model workforce in America?

 And, I'm talking about the non-union traditional employee model which paid medium-level wages for doing and making things that didn't include flipping a hamburger or pressing pants? 

 This "all for me and none for thee employer - employee business model of today" is something to look as well, Kyle. 


 


 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MHSmith "Companies that ask for a MARTA station next door"

Not quite sure what you meant by this, but Williams was talking about companies that choose to buy property near existing MARTA stations.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @MHSmith  The request is fine as far as it goes, though existing property does not exist forever. Second if as it appears this is another push to grow MARTA he's also saying he wants to compensate business with a labor force that is very likely without means of transportation other than public welfare transit. Which means more of the robbing and redistribution. 

Nah, you know where I'm going with this... the business model of today is slanted too far against  low skilled and even skilled labor. When market economics get so out of balance, corporation making more money than ever before and the home labor-force producing the goods and services are receiving and less of the bounty it is not good. More tax to try an sustain the collapse makes this problem worse. 

You have to start by increasing the amount of pay the people who you are charges these additional taxes to in order to bring this entire picture into balance. Otherwise more debt or more welfare on a so promising mass of the population.

MANGLER
MANGLER

@MHSmith One could argue that anyone who drives on roads or interstate highways is also using welfare transportation, considering the cost of those are spread throughout the State and the Country.  Or in your mind is a welfare rider only low wage minorities who ride a train ITP? "Nah, you k\now where I'm going with this."

MHSmith
MHSmith

@MANGLER @MHSmith 

One would argue very foolishly if one returned once again to his too often ridiculous vacuous failed rhetoric just to pet he hurt feelings with another of hie lies. 

If it's the same and I'm using welfare to ride the roads I paid my part for according to the current law, then, put or shut up, go buy a car, pay welfare to ride the roads exactly equal like the rest of us do, who don't depend on government buy us a bus or train, fuel, insurance tires oil tags titles and a driver - welfare champ! 



Any time you welfare transportation clowns think you can afford to stop taking your el cheapo welfare bus or MARTA train ride, the car lots are full of automobiles, gas station have plenty fuel on hand for you to pay taxes on, the tag offices are open regularly so you can pay some more trans taxes and insurance companies all other the place selling policies to cover your car should you drive as reckless as you live. 

Nah, it is I who knows where you've gone - out of mind!

 


MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @MHSmith 

Furthermore Kyle, if it was "just existing property being looked at" near MARTA then why the push to expand MARTA to other properties in other counties not so near by? :)

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MHSmith Look, any expansion of MARTA would obviously bring up the question of where the routes would go and whom that would benefit. But what Williams and others are saying is that the moves by companies to move toward existing stations reflects the importance they put on transit, and that this should inform the way legislators think about it.

MHSmith
MHSmith


@Kyle_Wingfield 

These legislators should be asking why it is so important to these companies to have public transit nearby? Is it for these high paid execs to use or just a majority of 1090 contract labor workers?  

Look Kyle, the fare charged to people using public transit is far to low. People need to make more money  - more than a 1090 contract labor jobs can provide, if they are to pay a realistic portion of the bus services they are using  - that is where I'm going with this.

 Which is nowhere in the area of where that bigot mangler try to access  me of snidely and his other possible nonsense offering that would mimic Obama's you didn't build that business that others made possible-wingding. 

Sure everyone pays for roads to some extent but face the facts, the majority of bus riders don't even come close to paying more than 40% of what their bus ride costs. 

Now if these companies are out to fill full-time wage jobs, with all traditionally thought of full-time basic benefit included that truly reflects mid-level incomes with a qualities of life that supports them and their families: Then I'd say, okay, take another look but not without looking at paying a far bigger percentage of the true costs of the fare to be included in the increase on the ridership.

BTW, Kyle the editor of another paper did an investigation on how much the average bus rider paid for their bus trips in my county. Out of about a $2 fare charged the welfare rider paid about 10 to 20 cents of the actual trip costs. 

I'm far from a bleeping liberal but things are out of economic balance Kyle and have been for some time. We've simply got to press for putting on the brakes to this downward spiral. It is easy enough to force people off the welfare dime but where, or what, are we forcing them into? 

You know Kyle, Christians believe in Karma too - "we really do reap what we sow."       

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

My company is relocating next to a Marta station in July.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

So Williams is willing to let Counties continue taking in transportation taxes, not using the money for county road expansion and maintenance, then cry they don't have money to fix potholes or put in that left turn lane so badly needed at rush hour.


The whole mess is a shell game.  I suppose if your job was to make heads and tails of it as is Williams and Kyle, it might half way make sense.  For taxpayers, it enters into the "trust me" game, and there is no trust.


Transportation funding should come from transportation taxes on fuel and use, not income or regular sales tax.  The idea that taxpayers outside the metro pay more tax on their income so that Marta or other rail riders can be subsidized is unacceptable and born of Socialist Democrats. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JohnnyReb County governments, in aggregate anyway, spend more on transportation than they receive in gas taxes. It's the cities and school boards that don't.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Kyle_Wingfield @JohnnyReb - thanks for clearing that up.  However, my guess is the overwhelming majority of tax payers who even pay mild attention have zero confidence in the way the legislature budgets.


And I failed to state in my first post, Williams affinity for the Beltline gives me even less confidence in him.  I believe including the Beltline in TSPLOST or whatever the correct acronym had a big effect on its defeat. 

MarkVV
MarkVV

@JohnnyReb 

This shortsighted, backward view of transportation is the reason, because it appears to be shared by some of those who make the decisions, why the transportation system in Georgia is in such as a disastrous shape.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@MarkVV @JohnnyReb - I'm not sure if you are stating my view on the Beltline is backward or my complaints on Williams' views.


The whole transportation issue may just be FUBAR. Here's an example


I live in Clayton County.  The big transportation issue grew with its transition to a black majority. Families moved to Clayton for cheap housing and the dumb commissioners kept approving starter home after starter home communities.  Problem is, the family could only afford a home in Clayton, not enough vehicles of their own, no public transportation, and not enough jobs locally.


So now it has become the states/taxpayers responsibility to provide transportation to people who should not have located here in the first place because they can't afford their own transportation to jobs and schools.


At a minimum its backwards.  The transportation should have been there before the county was flooded with people whose quality of life and opportunity depend on it.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@JohnnyReb Then you agree boats using the savannah river should pay for dredging and dock expansion.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

Tax income for transportation,  get money where there is money.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

I feel this article is only half-done.  Yeah, Williams says this and Williams says that, but what are the talking points that the Senate is actually debating? What are the likely results? 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude They aren't saying yet. But what he's saying they won't do is just as important, as that represents well over half the money the House bill would put toward transportation.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

@LogicalDude He aint promoting axing his GATE card goody for him and his cronies or repealing sales tax freebies for deadbeat business i imagine.