Transportation tax is the right thing to do

The widening of Old Petersburg and Old Evans roads as part of the Riverwatch Parkway expansion is one of the projects to be paid for by the proposed transportation special-purpose local option sales tax.

 

Do the right thing.” How many times in your life have you heard that when you ask for advice? Often, it isn’t clear what the “right thing” is, or we would not need to solicit input; rather, we already would be doing it.

Well, I believe that voting “yes” for the upcoming transportation tax referendum vote July 31 is indeed one of the chances we have to do the right thing for today and for our future generations.

This is the first opportunity for Georgia voters to join together on a regional basis for transportation improvements needed across jurisdictional boundaries to benefit a larger group of citizens.

 

SIMILAR TO A special-purpose local option sales taxes (SPLOST), the tax referendum brings regions together for the greater impact of a larger taxpayer base. The law created 12 regional districts with the authority to approve a 1-cent tax for transportation projects within their boundaries. This new investment strategy, supported by additional resources, could transform the transportation network; create economic development opportunities; and produce thousands of new jobs for communities across Georgia.

Augusta falls in the Central Savannah River Area region, and benefits from hundreds of projects. Richmond and Columbia counties alone have more than $475 million worth of approved projects on the list when you include matching federal aid. And when you add in the 25 percent of funds that are returned directly to local governments by formula to be used at their discretion on any transportation-related projects they choose – well, that benefit is huge.

I think the right thing is clear. We must vote “yes” to this opportunity.

Today, Georgia spends considerably less than other states on transportation investment per capita, despite the fact that population growth continues to be phenomenal in our state. Transportation funding in Georgia primarily is limited to the motor fuel tax, which is in serious trouble because of the variables that drive gas tax revenue. The revenue most likely will not grow as vehicles become more fuel-efficient, and people carpool, telecommute and use public transit in greater numbers.

 

WE HAVE TO do the right thing to meet the growing needs of our citizens and businesses, and once again have a premier transportation network that is recognized across the country.

This tax referendum offers a unique opportunity to spread the burden of financing badly needed transportation improvements by adding small amounts to purchases people already make – whether they live in our region or are just passing through. We have a chance to benefit from every dollar spent by adding a 1-percent tax to the total.

Everyone uses the transportation system, and by taxing products that are used by everyone, we can collect funds for projects fairly.

Yes, I have heard the comments from those who don’t think they use the transportation system because they don’t drive or they make their purchases on the Internet. In reality, everyone does use the system, whether it is actively or passively. A taxi or a bus still drives on our roads; a mail or UPS truck still delivers purchases on our streets; and even walkers and bicyclists go to a store where products they buy were brought to that store in a vehicle using the roadways.

 

DO THE RIGHT thing, and recognize that every citizen depends on having a quality transportation system. Where would our state be today had we not supported President Eisenhower’s initiative for the interstate highway system?

The tax referendum’s legal language spells out specific guidelines: how projects will be delivered; who will be responsible; how funds will be collected and dispersed; and how the discretionary funds formula will be calculated.

Let it be known that all funds collected in our region will be earmarked and spent in our region. None of our funds will be used for projects outside our region – i.e., Atlanta. A Citizen Oversight Committee will be selected that will meet at least three times per year and produce an annual report of the progress of projects, focusing on scope, schedule and budget.

As a member of the State Transportation Board for the past couple of years, I can say with certainty the dedication of the Georgia Department of Transportation staff is unquestionable. In fact, the department was recently recognized for being No. 1 nationally in projects delivered on budget and No. 2 in the country for projects delivered on time. Its staff strives each day to do the right thing by constantly improving performance and accountability.

 

WORKING TOGETHER, we can do the right thing. Sometimes, as we all have experienced, doing the right thing is not easy or clear. This time there is no other option but to do the right thing, by voting to approve the tax referendum which will provide much-needed funds for our transportation system.

We can all make a difference and make history with the successful passage of this 1-cent tax. This chance to provide so much investment for our long-term growth cannot be passed up, especially when it directly affects economic development and improves the quality of life for our citizens.

So join me in doing the right thing and vote “yes” July 31. Our children, grandchildren and future generations depend on it.

 

(The writer is the District 10 board member on the State Transportation Board.)

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