A thorny issue during last summer’s transportation sales tax debate has found its way to the Georgia legislature during this year’s General Assembly.
A group of senators has introduced the “Anti-T-SPLOST Penalty Act,” which seeks to reduce the matching portion of state Local Maintenance Improvement Grants from 30 percent to 10 percent for local governments in regions of the state that didn’t pass the tax.
The higher match was a criticized part of the unpopular Transportation Investment Act, which called for a July 31 referendum on an additional 1 percent sales tax on transportation. The referendum failed in nine of 12 designated regions across Georgia, including the Georgia Mountains, which included Hall.
State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said governments would still have to sink a lot of money in bringing roads up to a certain standard before they are able to get state funding.
“The 30 percent was probably already being spent by local governments before the code section changed,” said Gooch, who served previously as a Georgia Department of Transportation board member and as a Lumpkin County commissioner.
“So, if the bill were to pass, it’s not really going to change anything,” he added. “Local governments are still required by law to fix those problems and those roads before state funds can be used on them.”
As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Gooch said he expects the bill first “will be put into a subcommittee, where it will be discussed.”
Still, the provision of TIA has been criticized on principle — that voters shouldn’t be punished for exercising their right to dismiss the sales tax.
“Taxing any one part of Georgia simply because they did not pass a tax increase is un-American,” said Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, in a news release last week. “This is unfortunately the case for 113 counties across the state that voted against the TSPLOST tax.”
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan mentioned it briefly during the City Council work session on Thursday.
“It’s an extra burden on cities and counties to match at 30 percent, so that (bill) is a good thing.”
Georgia has long had a program where it helps contribute to local road work, particularly resurfacing, with the latest incarnation known as the Local Maintenance Improvement Grant program.
A portion of gas tax receipts helps fund the program, which was streamlined this year to ease the process for cities in getting money. The state had set a Jan. 31 deadline for applications but is continuing to accept a scattered few as they come in, said Todd Long, the DOT’s deputy commissioner.
By the deadline, however, more than “95 percent of the 2013 LMIG allocation (of nearly $110 million) has been requested by local governments,” Long said.
Before LMIG, “local governments always contributed to the program,” he said. “For resurfacing projects, they had to patch and prepare road beds. For new construction ... they had to do engineering, the right-of-way (acquisition) and typically 50 percent of the construction.
“So, their match was probably 70, 80 percent. For most governments, matching 30 percent (now) is probably less than what we required in previous local assistance programs.”
As for local governments, they are already moving forward on plans to get improvements done with LMIG money.
Hall County, for instance, has set aside $2.9 million for road resurfacing over the next few months.
The county is using special purpose local option sales tax revenue, as well as LMIG funds, to prop up its resurfacing efforts.
Nearly 20 miles of roads will be improved, with Bethel Road between Ga. 52 and Ga. 283 its biggest project between now and the expected completion date, April 30.