|05-28-10 - TSPLOST funding can pay for needed road projects|
For immediate release -- May 28, 2010
TSPLOST funding can pay for needed road projects
It should be obvious to anyone driving in the southeastern states that: 1) Georgia has the best highways, and 2) Georgia's highways are deteriorating rapidly. The highways built and maintained in the 1990's are in desperate need of repair as we enter into a new decade. Asphalt lasts about ten years, but budget shortfalls in recent years have necessitated a patchwork repair program that has not kept up with wear and tear.
I have long believed that user fees should be the primary method of funding services demanded by the public, but the current 7.5 cents excise tax and 4% sales tax on each gallon of gas is not sufficient to maintain our roads. For the past four years the General Assembly has been discussing and rewriting transportation funding legislation. This past Session HB 277 was passed, not because it pleased everyone, but because something has to be done and this bill was the least objectionable to most Legislators.
What’s new and different about the proposed TSPLOST? First, you get to vote on whether or not to fund transportation with a one-percent TSPLOST. The TSPLOST will be unusual. It will be a “regional” general purpose sales and use tax and will last for 10 years. The vote will be taken during the general election of 2012. Like the LOST, ELOST, and SPLOST, the TSPLOST would tax groceries. Non-Hartsfield-Jackson plane fuel would be taxed as would boat fuel, but fuel for on and off-road vehicles, including your personal vehicles, would be exempt.
HB 277 establishes 12 special tax districts based on existing regional commission boundaries. Lumpkin and Dawson Counties are in the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission (GMRC) and will participate with the other counties in this district. Each region will establish a "Regional Transportation Roundtable" with each county having two members: the commission chair and one mayor. Each roundtable will select five members to serve as an executive committee, with no more than one member from any county. The GDOT Director of Planning (DP) will coordinate the regional planning process.
Even though the TSPLOST vote isn't until 2012, some local government planning is required right away. Within 60 days from the Governor's signing HB 277, the DP must develop, get approval, and provide local governments with "recommended criteria" for development of an "investment list" (Read: road projects). Local governments have until September 30 to comment on the recommended criteria. Approval of the criteria and amendments, and election of executive committee members, shall require a majority vote of the members present and be reported to the DP.
Currently, local area road projects (LARP) require local government matching funds of 50 percent. This legislation provides some huge advantages for counties to cooperate by lowering that match to 10% if the region meets certain timetable requirements and the TSPLOST is approved.
One hundred percent of the funds collected stay within the region. It is estimated that GMRC transportation district would collect about $70 million per year. Twenty five percent of the money would be dispersed to counties based on proportion of population and highway miles within the region. These funds could be used for the 10% local match, thus making many more projects viable.
The roundtables have until August 15, 2011 to submit their "investment lists" to the local governments. Two public hearings and local votes must be completed by October 15, 2011. If a region fails to commit to an "investment list" or fails to implement the TSPLOST, their LARP match would remain at 50 percent for at least two years. The next opportunity for a region to vote on a TSPLOST would be in 2014. The monies that counties normally receive from non-TSPLOST would continue per current distribution.
Please note that the TSPLOST monies are in addition to the other highway funds generated by fuel taxes, and 25% of the TSPLOST is dispersed based on population and highway miles. That bears repeating because while urban counties have the people, rural counties have the highway miles and generally would not generate enough sales tax dollars for the required DOT match.
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