A penny sales tax could help build up area roads and might set up Augusta to take advantage of an improved port in Savannah, officials said.
At its annual Pre Session Legislative Breakfast today, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce publicly endorsed the 1 percent special district transportation sales and use tax, or T-SPLOST. The tax, which will go before voters in July, would raise $621 million over 10 years to build 80 specified projects in the 13-county area, the chamber said.
The chamber knows it might be a tough sell for some, said Terry Elam, chair of the board of directors.
“It’s not going to be easy and it is going to have to pass on the merits of what it is going to do to improve roads,” he said. Federal funding for roads is going to dwindle so “improvements must come from other sources,” Elam said. In light of the lack of revenues, it “really is a tax that we desperately need,” said state Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta. “Our T-SPLOST is hugely important.”
That is particularly true with the proposed deepening of the port in Savannah, which would open it up more for container ships and potentially set Augusta up as distribution center, she said.
“Let’s be ready for growth,” Sims said.
Not only is federal funding likely to dwindle but communities should not look to the state for the funds to maintain local infrastructure, said Don Grantham, Congressional District 10 representative on the State Transportation Board.
“Their last resort is going to be a property tax increase,” he said. Without the SPLOST funding for those projects, “there is no reason to have a list,” he said.
In other news from the breakfast, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby said he received a “very sobering” economic forecast for the state recently that predicted true recovery might not come until 2018 or 2020. Nonetheless, he is hopeful the system’s budget request will fare well with Gov. Nathan Deal and with the legislature. Huckaby is also seeking funding to finish a $55 million Education Commons building for Georgia Health Sciences University that will be shared by the Medical College of Georgia and the College of Dental Medicine. The Board of Regents has proposed $28 million in bond funding for the project.
“That’s a very important project,” Huckaby said, and he has had good feedback from the governor’s office on the project.
“I will be very surprised if that is not in his proposed budget,” Huckaby said.