The House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve legislation that would allow counties to join together to solve regional transportation issues through a special purpose local option sales tax.
Georgia is facing a transportation funding crisis, with Department of Transportation revenues running billions of dollars and several years behind on already-approved projects. SR 845 is intended to allow voters to decide whether to levy a one-cent sales tax, also known as a T-SPLOST, to speed up transportation projects needed to relieve traffic congestion or improve roads and bridges in their areas.
The House made some amendments to the original Senate plan. If the conference committee is successful in ironing out differences between the two versions, the measure will still require a majority approval by Georgia voters in the November general election.
Significant differences between the Senate and House versions of the legislation include:
¥ The use of special transportation districts as geographic boundaries by the Senate, as opposed to regional commission areas by the House.
¥ An opt-out provision in the House version gives individual county commissions 45 days to vote for or against being included in the tax region once the plan is approved by the regional commission.
¥ There are differences between the two versions with regard to sales tax exemptions on food and other items.
¥ The Senate version requires that at least 80 percent of the sales tax proceeds be spent within the special transportation district, with 20 percent going to the state DOT, which must allocate at least 10 percent to regional mass transit. Under the House version, 100 percent of the tax collections must be spent in that regional commission for transportation purposes.
¥ This measure is seen as one part of an overall plan to address the Georgia transportation system's failure to keep up with the state's growing population. The legislature is also working to implement greater efficiency within DOT, an increased leverage of public-private partnerships and an expanded use of mass transit as parts of the overall solution.
Monday will be the 37th legislative day, with the 40th and final day of the 2008 session scheduled for Friday. There are still many issues remaining to be resolved, not the least of which is the $21.2 billion annual state budget for fiscal year 2009. The House of Representatives and the Senate have approved two very different versions of the spending plan, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, who will be in China the entire week, has hinted the state revenue estimate will have to be lowered. The governor has threatened to veto a budget that he considers "out of balance." The budget conferees will have plenty to iron out before the end of the session.
Meanwhile, there are differing proposals for tax relief and a number of other key issues under consideration. The final week of the session will be a very busy one for all members of the General Assembly.
In other action this week, House members voted to approve SB 385, which would allow limousine carriers to sell alcoholic beverages to passengers, only in areas where alcohol sales are legal and if there are no minors in the vehicle; and HB 77, which provides for tighter oversight of the installation of red-light cameras by local governments. The House agreed to Senate changes to the legislation, so the bill goes to the governor for his signature.
On a personal note, I would like to congratulate the First Presbyterian Christian Academy boys basketball team on winning the GISA state championship. Coach Darrell West and all of the Highlander team members have made Liberty County proud with their outstanding accomplishment -- the county's first state basketball championship in 43 years.
Williams (D-Midway) represents the 165th District (Liberty County) in the Georgia House. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372, 404-326-2964, 912-977-5600 or by e-mail at email@example.com.