Deal was scheduled to talk at West Lake Country Club during a breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Transportation Alliance, which is an entity of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce established to promote the sales tax.
Because of cloudy weather, the helicopter set to bring Deal to the Augusta area was grounded.
Georgia Transportation Alliance Executive Director Doug Callaway took the floor in Deal’s absence and told the group of about 45 people that the upcoming sales tax referendum, or TSPLOST, is the best “economic development opportunity” Georgia has had in 35 years.
Callaway also said the region would be “economically disadvantaged” if the referendum weren’t approved by voters July 31. Residents in each of 12 Georgia regions can approve or deny the tax referendum in their districts.
The Augusta area is made up of 13 counties, including Columbia and Richmond.
“Most people think transportation is a snoozer until we don’t have it,” Callaway said.
Though Callaway acknowledged asking people to raise taxes during a recession is a tough pitch, he said the TSPLOST would generate jobs, create safer roads and promote local control from elected officials.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to do the right thing,” he said.
Georgia Department of Transportation board member Don Grantham said he believed the referendum would be looked at as a model for other states to follow.
In 10 years, officials expect that $840 million will be collected in the area.
If approved, 75 percent of those funds would go to regional projects. The additional revenues would be reserved for local projects, Callaway said.
“This is more like a business transaction,” he said. “We know what we’re buying. This is a good deal.”
If passed, the referendum would provide $621 million during 10 years for the entire region. If the sales tax did not raise enough money, the Georgia Department of Transportation would be required to finish uncompleted projects.