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A measure that would allow Georgia residents to vote on boosting their sales tax by a penny to pay for road, transit and light rail projects passed the state Senate on Tuesday.
A bill and a resolution that would pave the way for regions to band together for road projects passed by votes of 52-3 and 53-2.
Sens. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, Jim Butterworth, R-Clarkesville, Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, and Ralph Hudgens, R-Hull, all voted in favor of the bill and the resolution.
The vote puts the Senate at odds with a proposal now surfacing in the state House. That measure, announced Monday, would create a statewide sales tax for transportation. The funds would be administered by a panel appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.
"The time is now to implement a true infrastructure stimulus," said state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. "Traffic congestion stifles economic growth, hinders businesses and costs jobs. Georgia cannot continue to suffer such losses in the current economic climate."
Mullis’ proposal would require two ballots, one to approve the amendment and then a regional referendum to approve specific projects. The bill would allow counties the option to band together to levy a 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects in a region. The bill creates only one defined region: 10 County ARC Region (Cherokee, Douglas, Fulton, Fayette, Clayton, Henry, Rockdale, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb). Other counties around the state have the option to be individual regions or come together as larger regions with local approval.
Tuesday’s vote came after heavy lobbying from the state’s business leaders, who say metro Atlanta’s traffic woes are hindering their ability to attract and keep companies. Atlanta’s commute ranks as the second-worst in the nation. And the state ranks second from the bottom when it comes to per capita spending on transportation, state Department of Transportation officials said.
House Speaker Glenn Richardson has argued that "transportation is not an Atlanta problem, it’s a Georgia problem." The House unveiled its plan Monday, along with a list of proposed projects around the state the new tax would fund.
But Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Chestnut Mountain, who presides over the state Senate, said the regional plan is preferable because voters approving a tax increase would know "the money’s going to stay there."
Cagle said it allows "true local input and influence of transportation projects."
Georgia currently has a 4 percent sales tax. Counties assess additional taxes that can vary by location.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.