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Democrats have plan to fund transportation

Legislative update

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POSTED: February 8, 2010 11:40 a.m.
Members of the Democratic Caucus in the Georgia House this week introduced the Transportation Jobs Development Act, a legislative solution to the transportation funding problem that has caused Georgia to fall behind other states in recent years.
The proposed legislation (HB 1099 and HR 1300) calls for a constitutional amendment authorizing the formation of transportation districts, which would give citizens in local jurisdictions the power to decide whether to levy a regional sales tax for transportation improvements in the regions. The proposal would also dedicate the fourth penny collected on the state’s motor fuel tax to transportation purposes.
Georgia has been losing jobs and federal dollars to other states because of the majority leadership’s failure during the past two years to enact transportation funding. For example, Florida and North Carolina received nearly $1.8 billion in federal rail grants last week, while our state received only $750,000 due to the lack of support for rail projects by the Perdue administration and the legislative majority. In this area of the state, we especially need rail improvements to serve the distribution centers that receive and ship products to and from the rest of the country, and to attract more manufacturing plants and distribution centers to create jobs.
The governor recently proposed a statewide vote on a one-cent sales tax for transportation to take place in November 2012, nearly two years after he has left office. It would be 2014 before those funds would have any positive impact on transportation. Georgia cannot wait four more years to catch up with the needs of a population that has outgrown its transportation system.
The Transportation Jobs Development Act would establish a 10-county metro Atlanta region and authorize counties outside that region to levy a special one-cent sales tax for transportation if approved by local referendum. The local governments within those regions would develop a list of projects to be funded prior to calling for the referendum.
We need this option to allow voters to choose if they wish to expedite local transportation improvements, such as the Barrington Ferry and Gum Branch road resurfacing in Liberty County. I have carried these projects to DOT Commissioner Vance Smith and Planning Director Todd Long to ask for help. I am also pleased to see that Buddy DeLoach of Hinesville is seeking an open position from the 1st Congressional District on the DOT Board. Because of Buddy’s experience and knowledge of our transportation needs, he can count on my support.
The fourth penny of the motor fuel tax, which generated $137 million in fiscal year 2009, now goes to the general treasury. The legislation calls for those funds to be dedicated to transportation on a phase-in basis between 2012 and 2015.
As a proposed constitutional amendment, HB 1099 and HR 1300 require two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate, and a majority approval by voters this year.
Concentration of power: I am opposed to the governor’s plan to change four state constitutional officers — labor commissioner, agriculture commissioner, insurance commissioner and school superintendent — from elected offices to positions appointed by the governor. This goes against the governor’s longtime claim that Georgia has the most efficient state government in the nation. I am disappointed that, instead of focusing on addressing the state’s economic problems and job losses, the governor is taking up valuable time in this session in an effort to concentrate power in his office.
Education flexibility: The House passed four measures this week to give school systems more flexibility to deal with regulations and reduced funding imposed by the state. HB 905 would extend until 2015 the sunset date for providing school systems advance funding for new facilities that are needed because of student growth or damage caused by fire or natural disaster. HB 906 would extend the deadline for offering teacher contracts from April 15 to May 15 for the next three years. HB 907 would allow local boards to decide the grade structures that make up their middle schools. HB 923 would allow teachers who earn leadership degrees to be moved up the salary schedule if they earn the degree before July 1, 2013, and were enrolled in the leadership program by April 1, 2009. All of these bills now go the Senate for its consideration.

Williams represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House of Representatives. Contact him during the legislative session at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, Ga., 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by e-mail at al.williams@house.ga.gov.
 

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