Georgia’s top elected officials, including Gov. Nathan Deal, were light on transportation funding details Tuesday at a Georgia Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Atlanta.
“While many suggestions and opinions are on the table,” Deal said, “I want to make it clear ... that I support increasing funding for strategic transportation investment. Details on how that will be accomplished will certainly require discussion.
“I look forward to continuing that conversation tomorrow,” Deal said, referring to his State of the State speech set for 11 a.m. today.
Other leaders followed the trend of few specifics on the topic as they spoke to some 2,200 people at the Georgia chamber’s annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast at the Georgia World Congress Center.
“We must work ... to find sensible and responsible solutions to our critical transportation and infrastructure needs in Georgia,” House Speaker David Ralston said.
He referred to the legislative Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding, which released a 23-page report Dec. 30 suggesting funding options for lawmakers to consider this session.
Options include a 1-cent statewide sales tax that would generate some $1.4 billion per year; increasing Georgia’s motor fuel tax, which has not been increased since 1971; and establishing an annual road usage fee for alternative fuel vehicles.
The report states Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion annual transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive.
The report “paints a bleak picture of doing nothing to maintain and plan for our transportation future,” Ralston said.
“I’m sure we’re going to embrace some options and reject others,” he said. “But let me be clear on one point: Doing nothing is not an option.”
The comment drew applause from the audience.
Ralston tied the issue to economic development and driving safety, which “we cannot allow ... to be put at risk by inaction.”
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said inaction isn’t just a “political talking point.”
“I am confident ... we can finally address the problem with real, concrete solutions,” he said.
Deal did talk at length about economic development, including his High Demand Career Initiative, which recommends four areas of study to be added this year: precision manufacturing, certified engineer technician, computer programming and film and set design.
“My budget this year reflects my commitment to meeting the needs of employers (in those areas),” he said.
Deal is proposing creating a state film academy, a partnership between the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia, to mirror the state’s booming movie industry.