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House, Senate pit state vs. regions in transportation sales tax

POSTED: March 23, 2009 11:33 p.m.

The members of the state House and Senate agree there is a need for an additional sales tax to pay for transportation projects. How that happens has the two chambers on different roads.

With each body pushing a competing proposal, the state Senate on Monday dug in its heels, pushing its version of the funding bill. The Senate plan would allow counties to band together to form regional alliances.

Voters in those regions would have to approve a 1-cent sales tax hike to pay for road, bridge and transit projects.

The House plan would ask voters statewide to approve the penny tax for projects around Georgia. The Senate voted on Monday on a pair of bills that would amend the House plan and substitute it with their own.

"The Senate has approached this issue very seriously," Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said in a news conference following Monday’s session. "We want to give more tools to local communities to provide real meaningful solutions."

He said the Senate plan gives local voters a clear indication of the projects on which they are voting and sets a time limit for the level of sales tax.

He said that he is hopeful of reaching a solution with the House without a final day showdown on the matter.

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, called Monday a great day for transportation.

"Not only is this about roads and bridges, this is about all sorts of transportation issues," Mullis said adding that the funds can also be used for rail or airports if voters approve.

In a letter dated Jan. 8, Hall County Commissioners indicated support for the Senate plan.

"We respectfully request that you consider allowing a single county which has a metropolitan planning organization to collect one cent in sales tax to support the MPO’s county and city transportation plan," stated a letter signed by all five commission members.

House leaders take issue with the idea of local approval.

"With a statewide plan, we fulfill the needs of all of Georgia instead of just a part of the state," said state Rep. Vance Smith, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "Collectively we can do more for Georgia with a statewide plan." Smith said the House is likely to adopt another version of their plan Wednesday and then send the bill to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers will hash out the differences. Georgia’s clogged roadways have been a hot topic at the state Capitol for several years but a solution has been elusive. The metro Atlanta area has among the worst commute times in the nation, and business leaders said that has been a setback to economic development. Transportation spending in Georgia has lagged behind the state’s explosive population growth. A similar plan fell just three votes short of approval in the Senate last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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