The Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding held its second meeting this week in Columbus, Georgia. The meeting comes at a critical juncture as the Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), a source of funding on which Georgia heavily relies, is on the brink of insolvency and only limping along following a 10 month patch that passed Congress hours before the projected loss of funding. Even without the challenges posed bythe HTF, Georgia was already facing a precarious funding situation. With the HTF’s funding shortfalls, the state is faced with the uncertainty of federal funding for several state projects.
The Joint Study Committee, which was approved during the last legislative session by the Georgia General Assembly, was created under the premise that only 50% of Georgia’s needed transportation funding can be met with current levels of funding. As a result, finding new and innovative funding sources for the transportation budget is of primary concern to the committee.
Sam Wellborn, a member of the GDOT Board of Directors, echoed sentiments expressed by Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, telling the committee that Georgia’s gasoline tax must be higher. Georgia has one of the most extensive highway systems in the country, but not enough money to maintain it. The issue of a possible tax increase was also brought up at the first study committee meeting on August 5.
Another potential funding source suggested at the committee meeting is the creation of another TSPLOST in addition to raising the gas tax. The committee noted that Columbus and Augusta, which both passed TSPLOST in the 2012 referendum, could be viewed as success stories that the state could try to model to get a second TSPLOST passed.
An advantage of hosting this Study Committee meeting in Columbus is that committee members could actually see road construction and projects happening. Senator Brandon Beach, a member of the study committee and a Council Board Member, elaborated on this advantage: “I was personally impressed and excited to see the construction and things actually happening. Because of Columbus’ TSPLOST, everyone, including citizens, is excited about the infrastructure changes and seeing tax dollars at work. The success of the TSPLOST has even led to an increase in the annual budget for transportation, allowing for even more investment in transportation and infrastructure.”
From an economic standpoint, Beach adds, “If we don’t address our infrastructure problems, companies will leave the area, not to even mention potential growth. We need to invest funding to increase mobility and decrease congestion so that roads are better for employers and employees. This is something that other cities, like Nashville, use against us to attract industry.”
These are just two funding sources to consider, and neither of them alone will not solve the state’s estimated $74 billion funding gap. Additionally, Georgia is behind several neighboring states in terms of transportation spending. As presented at the first meeting, GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden highlighted Georgia’s relatively low capital expenditures compared to other states, as well as the fact that Georgia ranks 49th out of the 50 states in transportation spending per capita. These challenges, combined with federal funding uncertainty, is bearing much pressure on this Joint Study Committee.
The sixteen members of the Joint Study Committee are as follows:
- House Committee on Transportation Chair, Representative Jay Roberts
- Senate Transportation Committee Chair, Senator Steve Gooch
- House Committee on Appropriations Chair, Representative Terry England
- Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Jack Hill
- Representative Jon Burns
- Representative Mark Hamilton
- Representative Calvin Smyre
- House Citizen Appointment, Edward Lindsey, Atlanta
- Senator Brandon Beach
- Senator Tyler Harper
- Senator David Lucas
- Senate Citizen Appointment, Steve Green, Savannah
- Georgia Chamber of Commerce Designee, Michael Sullivan
- Metro-Atlanta Chamber of Commerce President & CEO, Hala Moddelmog
- Association County Commissioners of Georgia Executive Director, Ross King
- Georgia Municipal Association Executive Director, Lamar Norton
The study committee is expected to deliver recommendations to the legislature by the end of November. Hopefully between now and then the committee formulates meaningful and impactful solutions to the region’s transportation challenges that may stand a chance in the next legislative session.
The Joint Study Committee’s remaining schedule is as follows:
|Meeting # 3 – Tuesday, September 2: Tifton, GA|
|Meeting # 4 – Wednesday, September 3: Macon, GA|
|Meeting # 5 – Tuesday, September 30: Augusta, GA|
|Meeting # 6 – Wednesday, October 1: Savannah, GA|
|Meeting # 7 – Tuesday, October 28: Rome, GA|
|Meeting # 8 – Wednesday, October 29: Blue Ridge, GA|