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Ga. Senate passes transportation bill, but at less than $1 billion funding goal
Amended bill lowers excise tax, excludes transit
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The Georgia Senate passed a transportation bill Friday afternoon that would generate somewhere near $800 million in funding for roads, bridges and other transportation projects.

The Senate bill converts Georgia’s mix of gasoline sales taxes to a 24-cent per gallon excise tax, down from the 29.2 cent mark previously approved by the House.

The Senate version passed 29-25.

“If you need two points to win a game, you don’t get anything extra for a three-pointer,” said Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, a top floor leader who voted in support of the bill.

The Senate bill scraps a highway user fee proposal that would have generated about $200 million in annual revenue and also takes $250 million from the state’s general fund to pay off debt service owed by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The Senate version also allows local governments to collect sales taxes on gas for special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, initiatives.

Miller said several amendments were made by both Democrats and Republicans “trying to torpedo” the bill.

“These are tough votes,” Miller added. “But the fact of the matter is, when it came time to stand up for Georgia, the Senate did it.”

But a final bill might call for more money. Republican leaders have said Georgia needs at least $1 billion or more annually to maintain roads and bridges, and perhaps as much as $1.5 billion.

The House version raises just $900 million.

“Gov. Deal is happy that we have a bill through both (chambers) and now goes to conference committee,” said Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson. “He wants a final product that will provide the additional $1 billion we need each year for maintenance and repair.”

The legislative session ends April 2. A conference committee of Senate and House members will likely hash out the differences in the two versions of transportation funding.

“Compromise is not a dirty word,” Miller said. “You show me a man that won’t compromise, and I’ll show you a man with a failing business and a miserable marriage.”

Senate Democrats wanted to add public transit projects to the bill, and also increase minority participation in contracting, but these amendments were voted down.

“Senate Democrats believe that transportation must be a priority in order to move our economy forward and address gridlock,” Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Steve Henson, of Tucker, said in a statement. “But we believe that to prioritize transportation over education without a vision and long-range goals that include transit and multimodal transportation is the wrong direction.”