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Money for transportation still a problem

POSTED: December 29, 2013 8:01 a.m.
 

Stop us if you’ve heard this one …

A bunch of Georgia lawmakers are at a prelegislative luncheon. The crowd bemoans the need for transportation improvements. The lawmakers concur, but say the money isn’t there.

OK, so it’s not a joke. But it is an old story that seems to crop up about this same time every year, with the same unfunny ending.

At a luncheon sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club of South Forsyth earlier this month, local lawmakers talked about the need for transportation improvements throughout the region, and especially along Ga. 400 and the corridors that feed it.

The need for transportation projects throughout the state and the role such improvements can play in economic development and job creation also were among the items discussed, as was the perennial observation that there just isn’t enough money to do all that needs to be done.

“We cannot continue on the same track. We have to find alternate funding sources for transportation, and I don’t think anyone has the magic answer,” said District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner.

Tanner is relatively new to the General Assembly, but the need for alternate sources of funding for transportation is an old issue that always seems to get lots of discussion but little traction in the state’s governing body.

It was only about 18 months ago that Georgians voted on a complex proposal that would have established regional sales taxes devoted solely to funding transportation needs. At the time, state officials repeatedly said the proposal had to win approval, because there was no Plan B.

Well, it turns out they weren’t kidding. While three regions of the state approved the sales tax, the other nine, including the metro Atlanta region where help is most desperately needed, rejected it.

And Plan B apparently hasn’t made it off the drawing board yet.

If anything, last year’s TSPLOST vote complicated the issue even more, since some regions of the state do have a sales tax earmarked for transportation, while the others do not. So now any attempt at a one-size-fits-all funding formula is going to be skewed by the tax collections in those regions.

The good news for legislators as they prepare for the convening of the General Assembly session in a couple of weeks is that the state’s overall financial picture seems to be improving, and funds may not be as tight as they have been in recent years. But the recession years have left Georgia climbing out of a financial hole, and there certainly aren’t going to be enough revenues to bridge all the gaps in service created by years of budget reductions.

And even the smallest of transportation projects is expensive.

To their credit, members of the local delegation seem to understand the problem with commutes that get longer and traffic jams that get bigger every year. They know that it’s hard to bring new industries and jobs to areas where traffic doesn’t flow. They understand the value of lost personal time for those sitting in their cars every day waiting for traffic to move.

But identifying the problem and finding a solution are two different things.

Hopefully, the coming session of the General Assembly will be able to draft that elusive Plan B that has been hard to find in the aftermath of the TSPLOST defeat.

But with another round of elections on the calendar for 2014, and with them the inherent reluctance of any politician to talk about higher taxes or increased user fees or the need for additional state money for any purpose, it seems likely that yet another Band-Aid approach to the state’s transportation problems is more likely than any comprehensive solution.

It would be nice if those responsible for decision making under the gold dome of the state Capitol proved us wrong.

 

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