Three state legislators representing Hall County say they support a proposed 1 percent transportation sales tax, which goes before voters July 31.
State Sen. Butch Miller and Reps. Carl Rogers and Emory Dunahoo Jr. spoke on the subject Thursday afternoon at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors meeting at the Gainesville Civic Center.
The lawmakers said they didn’t want a tax increase, but believe there are no other viable options for funding transportation in Georgia.
The remarks were made as part of a presentation on the legislative session that ended March 29.
Miller said he has “gone on record repeatedly for being in favor of” the tax, which would raise Hall County’s sales tax to 8 percent from 7 percent, “and the tea party is after me for it.
“And that’s OK. I spoke to a group of them a few weeks ago and said I’m going to give you all the information ... and either convert you to my way of thinking or make me your enemy for life, and I don’t give a damn which.”
The remark drew laughter from the audience.
The tax would last 10 years or until the estimated revenues of nearly $1.25 billion are raised in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region, including Hall, whichever comes first.
Voters statewide will decide on the issue, which will be approved or rejected in individual regions. The referendum passes by a majority vote.
The chamber’s board of directors voted in the fall to endorse the tax, and green-and-blue buttons saying “I’m voting Yes! for transportation on July 31” were handed out at Thursday’s meeting.
A table with other information, including pamphlets and maps, also was on display.
Miller recalled riding on Spout Springs Road as a youth, and “it’s the same roadbed today that it was 47 years ago.”
Today, he pointed out, the road features the largest high school and one of the largest churches in the county and is about to serve as a road leading to Northeast Georgia Health System’s South Hall hospital, planned to open in 2015.
“We’re going to have even more transportation problems if we don’t take a forward-thinking, visionary approach to it,” Miller said.
Dunahoo said that when he ran for the House seat last year, he was against another penny sales tax “and we don’t follow through with the funds and where they’re supposed to go.”
He added that he supports the roads tax, “because we have no other plan,” he said. “And I understand how it works, even though it’s not perfect.”
The subject came up during a debate in November among candidates seeking the House seat vacated by longtime Rep. James Mills.
At that event, Dunahoo said people have to stop being conditioned to pay taxes. “Yes, we need better roads, but if we stop wasting money, we could build these roads,” he said.
Rogers said he believes “the No. 1 thing we have to show the voters, if (the tax) is going to pass, is exactly what roads we’re going to build, and we’ve done that.”
The longtime lawmaker took part in the Georgia Mountains Transportation Roundtable’s executive committee meetings, where the project list was formed by government officials from throughout the region, and then before the 26-member roundtable, which gave its OK in August.
He said one issue is that “people don’t trust” the Georgia Department of Transportation.
“That’s the one thing I hear more than anything else,” Rogers said. “But this money will all be directed back to the (regional projects), the 75 percent of it, and 25 percent will come back to cities and counties for their improvements.”
He added: “I am voting for it. I know the need. Do I want to pay another tax? No. None of us do, but in order to enhance what we have now, we’ve got to do this. We don’t have a plan B, C, D, E, F, G or H.
“We just stay where we are.”