Transportation bill pro and cons

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The House Transportation bill has dominated headlines, and drawn its share of critical fire, since its introduction recently. Today, a member of the transportation infrastructure committee that developed guidelines for the bill answers detractors with a call for much-needed action. In turn, the leader of a statewide cities group suggests a broader search for revenue, rather than the current legislation, which he says would decimate city budgets. We also hear from a electric-vehicle advocate who questions the need to charge user fees of owners of alternative vehicles.

Help wanted: Critics need not apply

By Edward Lindsey

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. — President Theodore Roosevelt, in his “Man in the Arena” speech.

The Georgia General Assembly’s Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding recently published its findings calling for an increase in annual transportation spending of $1 billion to $1.5 billion. In doing so, it recognized a strong transportation infrastructure lies at the heart of our state’s future success, and we ignore its present weaknesses at our peril.

In response, the Georgia House leadership has placed on the table its transportation plan, and the long knives of opponents have quickly emerged. An alphabet soup of organizations are cranking out their calls to respective members to oppose the plan including GSBA (Georgia School Board Association), GMA (Georgia Municipal Association), ACCG (Association County Commissioners of Georgia) and, of course, the usual assortment of naysayer organizations who can collectively be labeled by the acronym CAVE (Committees Against Virtually Everything).

These organizations so far have one thing in common: They denounce the House leadership plan on the table but offer no viable alternatives despite the fact our transportation woes endanger our safety, dampen our quality of life and impede our economic development. It is time for these organizations to understand:

1. Almost half our roads and bridges are rated in fair or poor condition; this means our school children are riding on unsafe roads.

2. Our city residents are stuck in some of the worst commutes in the country.

3. Our economy in every county suffers without a strong transportation network when businesses cannot get the goods, customers and employees they need to grow and prosper.

4. While government should not try to do everything, there are a few things it must do well, like transportation, and that costs money.

The Georgia House leadership plan does the following:

• It phases out the practice of allowing state and local governments to divert sales taxes collected on gasoline to their general funds for spending on non-transportation items. This has crippled our ability to meet our transportation needs. Approximately $180 million in state gasoline taxes and $500 million in local gasoline taxes are diverted to state and local general funds each year. It is time for gas taxes to be viewed as a user fee devoted exclusively to transportation.

• It abolishes sales taxes on gasoline and replaces them with an excise tax that, under our state Constitution, must be used exclusively for transportation purposes. This provides security against future elected officials jeopardizing our long-term transportation needs by siphoning off money for their short-term pet projects.

• It devotes $100 million in bonds to mass transit, the state’s first major investment in this vital part of our transportation needs.

• It provides local governments with the ability to directly raise money for local transportation needs.

• It imposes a $200 user fee on alternative fuel vehicles ($300 for commercial vehicles) to ensure these vehicle owners pay their fair share toward transportation.

The Georgia House leadership plan is not perfect – few proposals ever are – and constructive debate at this point is critical in developing the right transportation plan for our state. It is time for GSBA, GMA, ACCG, CAVE and others to move beyond their “just say no” criticisms and offer meaningful alternatives if they do not like the one presently offered.

We need at this moment a lot more leaders who dare to enter President Roosevelt’s arena and “actually strive to do the deeds” to protect our future, and a few less mindless critics who are merely “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Edward H. Lindsey, a Republican, is a former Georgia House majority whip.

Dream big on statwide revenue

By Lamar Norton

Transportation – moving people and goods from place to place – is important to the economy of our state. It’s also important to our quality of life. Who among us have not found themselves sitting in traffic, unable to get to their child, work or home because traffic is backed up? It’s frustrating and stressful and not the way we want to live.

Local government leaders get that. They have not only talked about the need and challenges of funding transportation for years, they have put their money where their mouth is. In the last 10 years, local government funding of transportation projects has consistently outspent state funding of transportation.

The transportation funding plan introduced last week, though, will strip local governments of the ability and flexibility to continue making needed improvements and repairs to our transportation infrastructure.

The plan proposes taking the local share of revenue generated from local option sales taxes collected on motor fuels and redirecting it to state coffers. In 2013, local governments – cities, schools and counties – collected $516 million in revenue from sales taxes on motor fuel sales. This bill would redirect that $516 million to the state, leaving local government to find other ways to make up the difference.

Also in 2013, cities and counties spent approximately $1.3 billion on transportation projects. Clearly, city and county leaders have made good use of the tax dollars entrusted to them.

In my lifetime, there has been one great social change – the civil rights movement – and three economic milestones. The first economic milestone predates me, but its impact continues to make economic waves in our state: the establishment of the Atlanta airport. This was a fork in the road for Atlanta and all of Georgia, as it moved our state into the next century for travel and business.

Second was the creation of the HOPE Scholarship, which not only improved education at the pre-K level, but provided educational opportunities and incentives for our youth to stay in Georgia. Third and most recently is the deepening of the Savannah port. When completed, that project will impact trade, commerce and jobs well into the future.

Today, we have another opportunity to create an economic milestone. If we solve our transportation funding problem, we can create a state no other state in the Union can compete with for jobs or economic opportunities. We have the leadership in place – our governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, chairs of the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding – and research institutes to help define where new revenue will come from to solve this problem.

The transportation study committee made 12 recommendations in its final report. House Bill 170 primarily focuses only on one of those, and relies on what everyone agrees is a shrinking revenue source. Let’s look more broadly. Let’s dream big, but be practical. Today, the issue is transportation. But it’s also education. And the loss of rural hospitals and trauma hospitals.

Why not develop a statewide revenue plan that addresses these issues? Georgia deserves a plan that looks at the big picture and puts funding to needs to create the same economic impact as Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, the Savannah Port and the HOPE scholarships. City leaders look forward to working with our state leaders to make this happen.

Lamar Norton is executive director of the Georgia Municipal Association.

Let’s save EV tax credit

By Don Francis

Widespread adoption of electric vehicles would save drivers billions of dollars in fuel costs and greatly reduce emissions. We need smart government policies that incentivize investment in clean vehicle technology to get there. Unfortunately, support for electric vehicles in Georgia is under attack in the General Assembly.

Electric vehicles are helping drivers save money, reduce the nation’s dependency on imported oil, and cut vehicle-related emissions. Spurred by smart policies like the Georgia Low Emission Vehicle Income Tax Credit, our state has become one of the fastest-growing markets for these vehicles. Atlanta has the second-highest percentage of plug-in EV registrations among major U.S. metropolitan areas, and Georgia has the second-highest number of plug-in EVs of any state in the country — an estimated 20,000.

The benefits of electric vehicles extend beyond merely providing consumers with more choices in the showroom. Analysis shows EVs save Georgia drivers $10 million a year in fuel, avoiding the purchase of 4.5 million gallons of gasoline and reducing emissions. Continued support of the electric vehicle tax credit would help these savings grow even larger, as more models are introduced and sold in this state.

Electric vehicles cost less to fuel compared to gasoline vehicles and, according to state and national analyses, spending less on fuel allows households to spend more on other things. EVs thus provide direct economic benefits to Georgia by enabling their owners to direct their fuel savings to local businesses that create local jobs.

Moreover, the money electric vehicle drivers spend on electricity goes to power companies that employ Georgians and pay local taxes. In contrast, most of the money drivers spend to fill up conventional gasoline vehicles pays for crude oil, which is extracted and refined outside Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development prepared an economic analysis that determined the tax credit yields a net positive cash flow for the state. For every 1 percent of petroleum-based miles traveled in Georgia displaced by electric vehicles, approximately $210 million dollars remains in the state. This equates to approximately $2,000 in annual fuel savings reinvested in the Georgia economy, more than compensating for the initial $5,000 EV tax credit by the state.

Despite the economic and deployment impacts of the tax credit, detractors say the credit is too expensive for the state budget, that it over-subsidizes electric vehicles to the detriment of other programs and residents, and that EV owners do not pay their fair share of road use taxes. Recently proposed solutions include reducing the value of the credit, capping the number of incentives the state approves annually, or eliminating the credit.

House Bill 122 would eliminate the current tax credit for electric vehicles as of July 1. Fortunately, a bill to continue and expand the tax credit will soon be offered. Responding to concerns expressed by the Legislature in previous years, the current tax credit would be lowered to 10 percent, capped at $3,000, for battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt, and $2,000 for plug-in hybrids like the Ford Fusion PHEV and Ford CMax Energi with smaller battery capacities.

Georgians need to ensure the pro-tax credit bill passes.

Don Francis is executive director of Clean Cities Georgia.

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