Janet: I hate this traffic! Imagine all the things we could accomplish if we weren’t sitting in traffic all day. Why can’t our political leaders do anything about this mess?
Ed: Well, they are trying. That’s what the T-SPLOST vote that’s coming up July 31 is about.
Janet: Oh, I heard about that. They’re wanting to add another penny sales tax, and 75 percent of it will go to Atlanta.
Ed: No, Janet, that’s not true. One hundred percent of the money raised in our region stays here and is spent on projects in our region. These funds cannot be used for projects in any other region.
Janet: Well, that’s not what I heard from the ladies I have tea with.
Ed: I don’t know how that rumor got started, but it’s simply not true. The money raised in each of the 12 regions in the state stays in that region — 100 percent of it. Seventy-five percent goes toward projects in the region and 25 percent is kept by the individual county it is collected in for projects such as resurfacing.
Janet: Well, maybe that’s where the confusion is. But really, Ed, another tax? Even if it is for transportation?
Ed: Keep in mind that Georgia is the third-fastest growing state in the nation, yet we rank 49th in per-capita spending on transportation.
Janet: Well, where have we gotten money for roads in the past?
Ed: The traditional state transportation funding sources have been Georgia motor-fuel taxes and available federal funds. The problem is these have been decreasing for years now.
Janet: Why are they decreasing?
Ed: Well, since 1982 the fuel efficiency of the average car sold in the United States has increased by 40 percent, which means we travel more miles using less gas. As we buy less gas, gas-tax revenue declines. Besides the fuel use decrease, revenue has not kept up with cost. The federal government hasn’t increased its gas tax since 1993, and Georgia hasn’t raised its motor fuel excise tax since 1971.
Janet: So if we vote for this 1-percent sales tax July 31, when will it start and how long will it last?
Ed: Collections will start in January 2013, and it will last for 10 years.
Janet: How much is expected to be raised in our Coastal Region?
Ed: Our region includes Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Long, Liberty, McIntosh and Screven counties and will raise $1.2 billion, along with $402 million to be distributed to local governments for transportation needs as they see fit.
Janet: How can we be sure the projects get built?
Ed: This is a “pay as you go” program, so project delivery will coincide with available funding. There is strict accountability in the law — a citizens’ review panel is set up for each region in which the tax is approved to provide oversight and monitor how dollars are spent. Each panel includes five members, appointed by the speaker of the house and the lieutenant governor. The panel must issue an annual report to the General Assembly detailing project progress and expenditures.
Janet: Who came up with the projects?
Ed: Each region’s project list was created by local officials. A regional roundtable composed of a county commissioner from each county and one mayor representing all of the cities in each county came up with the list.
Janet: So local people came up with local projects. What’s on our list?
Ed: There are 76 projects on the Coastal Region’s final investment list, including the widening of Highway 144 in a portion of Bryan County, widening Interstate 16 from I-95 to I-516, widening Highway 21 at the I-95 interchange and a new four-lane Hinesville bypass.
Janet: Wow, all of those projects are definitely needed! How can I find a list of the other projects?
Ed: Just log on to www.dot.ga.gov/transportationreferendum.
Janet: I’m still not sure that we need another 1 percent sales tax.
Ed: Remember, in order for Georgia’s economy to grow and for the state to remain competitive, we must continue to invest in new infrastructure.
Janet: Ok, I’ll think about it. I hate traffic! Honk! Honk!
Sen. Carter can be reached at (404) 656-5109.