Last week the first meeting of the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding took place on Tuesday with a capacity crowd on hand, quite indicative of the topic’s importance. The meeting comes at a critical juncture as the Federal Highway Trust Fund, of which Georgia relies quite heavily upon, is on the brink of insolvency, only limping along following a temporary 10 month patch that passed Congress mere hours before the projected doomsday. Having already been in a precarious situation without this additional burden, Georgia is now 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 General Assembly, was created under the premise that only 50% of Georgia’s needed transportation funding can be met with current levels of funding. Therefore coming up with new and innovative funding sources for the transportation budget is of primary concern to the committee.
It was evident during the first meeting that changing the way state motor fuel taxes are used may be on the horizon. This stems from one of the more sensible ways the state could obtain more funding by diverting all of the state’s motor fuel taxes towards the taxed item itself, transportation. Currently, Georgia’s fixed motor fuel excise tax is 7.5 cents per gallon in addition to a 4% gas sales tax. Out of this, 1% of the gas sales tax goes into the state’s general fund and is not used for transportation, this being the so called fourth penny. However, considering the average sales tax in Georgia is 6 to 7 percent, that leaves 2 to 3 percent of gasoline taxes not dedicated to transportation. By diverting these additional sales taxes imposed on gasoline, an estimated $700-$750 million of additional funding could be obtained for the state’s transportation budget.
This is just one important funding source to consider as this alone will not solve the state’s estimated $74 billion funding gap. Additionally, the state is behind several peers in terms of transportation spending. As presented at the meeting last week, GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden highlighted how Georgia’s relatively low capital expenditures compares to other states as well as other discouraging statistics such as Georgia’s 49th ranking in spending per capita. All of this, 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 President & CEO, Chris Clark
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
Under the House Resolution which created the committee, it is expected that recommendations to the legislature be delivered 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 # 1 – Tuesday, August 5: Atlanta, GA|
|Meeting # 2 – Monday, August 25: Columbus, GA|
|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|
To view GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden’s presentation from the first meeting, click HERE.