During my tenure in the Georgia legislature, I served 15 years on the House Transportation Committee. Through this experience, I saw the day coming when we would have to face up to a shortfall in transportation funding that threatened our state and regional economy. Sadly, that day is here, and the timing couldn’t be worse — just as we seem to be climbing slowly toward a recovery.
But I am optimistic that voters in Gainesville-Hall County and throughout our region now see a way out of this mess. It’s as simple as marking Yes on the ballot for the upcoming T-SPLOST referendum.
T-SPLOST — a 1 percent sales tax dedicated to roadway improvements that was authorized under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 — offers an opportunity to reinvest in a transportation infrastructure that lags well behind the rest of the country. The importance of maintaining roads and building new ones is often overlooked. However, like sewer lines and water pipes, the asphalt beneath your tires sure gets your attention when it all starts to fall apart. That’s where we are now.
Despite our fast-growing population of 9.5 million Georgians, we spend less per capita on transportation than the rest of the country. Not because we want to, but because we had to. As everyone knows, the recession has greatly limited our state budget. At the same time, the tax on gasoline that traditionally paid for our roads has fallen way behind.
For every gallon of gas that you purchase, three pennies go to the Georgia Department of Transportation, amounting to nearly $1.2 billion to pay for debt on road-construction bonds, maintenance, and new road projects. Another penny goes to the state treasury, while 7.5 cents goes to Washington.
No matter how much gas prices rise, the fuel tax on each dollar is locked in at the same rate. In fact, fuel tax collections have actually fallen due to the economy and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The impact is just now being realized in growing traffic, long overdue road-improvement projects, and rapidly deteriorating safety.
So what are our options? Naysayers have hung their hopes on some hidden pot of money or a Plan B. Folks, I assure you that if there were some magic answer, I would surely know about it. There is no easy panacea. By some estimates, we would have to raise the tax on gas by more than 25 cents on the dollar just to match the projected revenues from T-SPLOST. Other unsavory options include raising income or property taxes, or even worse — do nothing at all.
In my opinion, T-SPLOST is by far the best solution. While raising over $18 billion statewide for road improvements, 100 percent of the money collected in our Georgia Mountains region would be spent here — not in Atlanta or any other place. In addition, 25 percent of that total is returned directly back to local communities stretching from Oakwood, Flowery Branch and Gainesville to Gillsville, Lula, Clermont and the rest of Hall County for road maintenance, sidewalks, bike trails and any other transportation amenities that we so choose. For our community, that amounts to a projected $320 million — a $1.45 return on every dollar raised here.
For these reasons, we need to view T-SPLOST more as an investment and an economic development tool than a tax. At this point in our economic recovery, it is time to look ahead, not backward, and begin paving the way for more jobs and growth.
For my two children and seven grandchildren, and the entire next generation of our community, T-SPLOST represents the best road to their future and quality of life. For their sake, let’s all come together for passage of this critical referendum.
Carl Rogers represents District 26, which includes Gainesville and a portion of Hall County, in the Georgia House of Representatives.