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Augusta-area transportation sales tax advocates oppose Senate bill proposing penalty change

Legislation would lift funding penalty

Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 7:28 PM
Last updated Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 1:20 AM
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Local advocates of the transportation sales tax are calling on state legislators to play fair, reminding them that laws shouldn’t be changed after voter approval.

Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, introduced a bill in late January that would lift a penalty for nine of Georgia’s 12 regions that did not pass the 1 percent regional sales tax for transportation projects.

The Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which mandated July’s tax referendum, makes regions that did not pass the tax responsible for 30 percent of project costs for state-funded transportation grants.

“We don’t think it’s fair,” Columbia County Chairman Ron Cross said of Albers’ bill. “If you go into something with one set of rules, I don’t think you can change it.”

The Augusta area was one of three regions that passed the tax.

Municipalities in those counties provide only a 10 percent match. The lower match was an incentive pushed by advocates for the tax before the vote.

Cross said he won’t spend much time fighting Senate Bill 73. Local leaders need to remain focused on delivering the projects, he said.

State Sen. Hardie Davis, who represents the Augusta area, vowed Wednesday to fight in favor of the three regions that passed the tax.

“It is completely improper for us to go back and revisit that legislation at this time,” Davis said. “If it were to be brought before us in committees or session, I am going to work feverishly to defeat it.”

Sue Parr, the president and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, said revoking the penalty could open the door for further changes in the transportation sales tax law.

“The voters in our region based their decision to approve a new tax in part on our region’s ability to maximize local funding and save money on local match,” Parr said in an e-mail.

Cross said the region won’t lose its competitive advantage if the penalty is revoked. Georgia Department of Transportation is funding fewer projects under budget setbacks, so counties and towns won’t be called upon for matching funds as often, he said.

IN OTHER NEWS

Several local leaders were named this week to the citizens review panel that will monitor progress of transportation sales tax projects.

Phillip Wahl, James Kendrick, Mark Ivey, Ben Tarbutton III and James Alfriend were appointed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, according to a news release from the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

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