Perdue adds fuel to debate on transportation funding

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ATLANTA --- Almost since the state's gasoline tax was first imposed, there have been some people calling for it to be raised.

They argue that Georgia's gas tax is among the lowest in the country, and they point to the huge need for transportation improvements and maintenance of the existing infrastructure.

But no matter whether it was a chairman of the State Transportation Board or a chairman of the House or Senate transportation committees, the gas-tax increase never got off the starting line for political reasons.

Governors have favored borrowing instead. Gov. Sonny Perdue, and his predecessor Roy Barnes, both won approval of huge bond packages that even borrowed against what the state expected in future funding from the Federal Highway Administration.

But when the slipshod accounting at the Transportation Department fouled up the borrowed money so badly that the construction budget wound up empty, some in the public began to talk about a new source of funds.

It became more than talk when the state's chambers of commerce joined with real estate developers in paying for a sophisticated lobbying campaign for some form of sales tax that would unclog Atlanta's rush hours.

With the public support of the business groups, the House and Senate each passed competing plans in each of the last two years.

Finally, the governor announced Thursday he was ready to lead on the issue. Mr. Perdue called the Capitol Press Corps into his office and took a firm stand: He favored elements of both plans.

One version had called for a statewide vote to raise the sales tax 1 percent, listing each of the projects so voters could see how they would benefit. The other version had called for regions around the state to draft their own list of projects and keep the money in their area.

His concept is for the whole state to vote in 2012 on a sales tax. Voters would see a list of projects, compiled by local officials working within a multi-county region.

His plan could be the element that finally forces local governments to make plans on a regional basis, a goal of governors since Joe Frank Harris. Of course, it's also likely to lead to the same conflicts -- but on a bigger scale -- as the battles between cities and counties over dividing the spoils of traditional local-option sales tax revenues.


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