Next Tuesday, the people of this state have an opportunity to invest in our future.
We get to decide if we will continue to be a state envied and imitated by our competition or if we will cede our leading status to others, allowing them to attract the jobs and economic investment we critically need.
Yes, I am referring to the regional transportation referendum that will be on the ballot. And no, I do not believe that I am exaggerating the impact the result will have throughout our state.
The connection between transportation and our economy has been proven throughout history. Our ports, roads and airports each have played a role in not only attracting companies but allowing them to be successful by moving their customers, goods and employees. None of those projects were inexpensive, but we all have experienced the return on investment. The choice before us today is if we will leverage that investment for even greater success, or if we will sit idly by and hope that yesterday’s effort still will be good enough tomorrow.
Ronald Reagan understood just how important investing in transportation was for our nation’s future. In fact, even as the country was struggling economically, he supported transportation funding, saying that it was “an investment in tomorrow that we must make today.” He was criticized by many, but it was the right thing to do.
No organization works harder to keep our tax burden down than the Georgia chamber, but we members also believe that passing the regional transportation referendum in July is the right thing to do.
You only need to look at the facts to understand our position. While Georgia ranks among the top 10 states for road miles traveled within our borders — and that is before we double the number of trucks coming in and out of the Port of Savannah once it is expanded — we rank second to last for investment in transportation. Now tell me: if we are not willing to invest in our own state, why should potential new companies?
The funding we have depended on for decades both for repair and expansion — federal appropriations and the gas tax — is on a steady decline. It is no secret that the federal budget is incredibly out of balance, and as costs such as health care continue to rise, fewer funds will be available for transportation projects. We already only get 91 cents back for every dollar we send to Washington from our gas tax, and as new higher efficiency standards for vehicles are put into place, people will be buying less gas, which will drive down not only what we get back from D.C., but what we collect here in Georgia.
Some have suggested the $19 billion that would be generated should all 12 regional transportation referenda pass could be raised in other ways — specifically, by adding more toll roads or raising Georgia’s gas tax. Well, I’m not sure how many roads you would have to toll, but it would take a 27-cent-per-gallon increase on the gas tax to come close to raising the same amount of money. If you think a 1-cent sales tax will impact your budget, just think about that next time you are filling up.
Agreeing to a new tax is not easy, but in this case, as President Reagan said, it is common sense. We know what projects will be built. In fact, thousands of Georgians helped design the project lists. We know exactly how long it will last, and it cannot be extended without another vote by the people. And we have the added protection of local oversight to make sure that funds are spent in the way they were intended.
We have seen what Georgia can accomplish when we invest in transportation. Together, by voting yes next Tuesday, we can make sure that our future is as successful as our past.
Clark is the president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.