A three-year journey came to an end this year as the Georgia State Legislature finally came up with a plan that will address our state’s growing transportation needs.
Stuck in the confines of deciding between a statewide or regional approach to our transportation needs, the legislature has been deadlocked the past few years and unable to compromise on a plan to offer our citizens.
With the passage of HB 277, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, Georgians will now have an opportunity to vote on a funding mechanism to pay for transportation improvements.
This is extremely good news and could not come at a better time as our state, which currently has the second lowest transportation revenue per capita in the U.S., is grappling with a rapidly deteriorating transportation system that threatens our future economic development and job creation.
HB 277, or T-SPLOST as many refer to it as, creates 12 special tax districts or regions within the state that will all create a project list of highway and transit projects and allow voters in that district to approve or reject a one-percent sales tax during the statewide general primary in 2012.
If approved by the voters, the 1 percent sales tax will be levied for a 10-year term with the stipulation that all of the money raised in the district must be spent in that district. No local government in the district will be allowed to opt out of the tax, even if voters in their county vote against the plan.
Each of the 12 regions will have a Regional Roundtable that will include the chairman of each county commission and one mayor from each county, who is elected by the mayors of all the cities in the county. This means that each county will have two votes on the roundtable.
In addition, each roundtable will elect five members of the roundtable who will serve on an executive committee along with three legislators selected by the chairman of the House and Senate Transportation Committees, who will be non-voting members. The T-SPLOST is set up to be implemented in four phases – criteria development, project selection, voter referendum and project delivery.
The first phase, criteria development or assessing what projects will give the best value for the money and have the most public acceptance, began on Aug. 3, when the state director of planning sent draft criteria for project consideration to local governments for comments.
Once he receives the comments, the director of planning will finalize the district criteria, and the Regional Roundtable will meet to approve the criteria.
Next comes the project selection when local governments will submit potential projects to the director of planning, who will work with the executive committee of each Roundtable to develop a final project list. Two public hearings will be held on the final project list for each region before it goes to the full roundtable for approval in October of 2011.
This is where it becomes somewhat tricky. In order to make certain that the final project list is fair and equitable throughout the region, the project list must be approved by the roundtable. If it is not, a “special district gridlock” is declared and the district cannot call a new vote for 24 months and local governments will be forced to match 50 percent of their DOT grants from statewide funds.
If the project list is approved by the roundtable, then it goes before the voters on Aug. 21, 2012, for their approval. If the list is approved by the voters, collection of the T-SPLOST begins at least 80 days from the election and the final phase, project delivery, begins. If the project list is not approved by the voters, it cannot be revisited for 24 months and the local governments must match 30 percent of their DOT grants from statewide funds.
Each Regional Roundtable will play a vital role in the T-SPLOST process as they will be charged with coming up with a project list that is fair and equitable for each county in the region and appeals to the voters.
For years we’ve wanted local control of our tax dollars. Finally with the T-SPLOST, we’ll have it.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Room 302-B, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.