A 1-cent statewide sales tax that would generate some $1.4 billion per year is among several “funding options” a state legislative committee is suggesting the General Assembly consider to improve transportation.
Other suggestions include increasing Georgia’s motor fuel tax, which has not been increased since 1971, and establishing an annual road usage fee for alternative fuel vehicles.
In its 23-page report released Tuesday, the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding doesn’t make particular recommendations, but says the state will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion annual transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive.
The committee also suggests investing in mass transit, moving about $180 million annually from the state’s general fund into transportation, indexing gas taxes to inflation or the cost of fuel and adding new toll lanes.
The group says the legislature needs to figure out where the money will come from during the session that begins Jan. 12.
“I think this (issue) is going to require a whole lot of debate and discussion among the House and Senate (members) and the governor to decide where and when we bite the bullet,” said state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, committee co-chairman, on Wednesday.
Transportation is expected to be the dominant issue in the coming year as Republican Gov. Nathan Deal begins his second and final term in office.
Democrats, who are the minority party in both legislative chambers, have pushed to include transit in the transportation discussion.
The committee’s report urged lawmakers to acknowledge mass transit is “critical” in urban areas and suggested a “separate, permanent” funding source for transit systems around the state.
The study committee held meetings throughout the summer and its leaders bluntly warned colleagues at a presession conference this month the decisions ahead would be difficult. The state’s business community came out in strong support of the effort to study transportation, including Georgia-based companies Delta Airlines and UPS.
Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the governor will study the report and wants lawmakers to find solutions that will not affect the state’s bond rating. He credited committee members with taking “a serious look at changes in policy without sugarcoating the challenges we face.”
It’s not clear how much appetite there is for increasing taxes. One political group, Georgia Taxpayers United, already has begun campaigning against a gas tax hike through emails in which it warns of “consequences at the ballot box” for lawmakers who support an increase.
Dozens of states are reviewing or changing their systems for maintaining roads, bridges, rails and mass transit systems as gas-tax revenues continue to fall. The American Society of Civil Engineers is among the organizations warning of a funding gap for the country’s infrastructure needs: an estimated $3.6 trillion by 2020.