With voters having rejected a 1 percent sales tax increase proposal in 2012, the 2014-15 session of the Georgia General Assembly created a joint study committee to study and make recommendations for funding construction, maintenance, and repair of the state’s transportation infrastructure.
The committee’s final report, released December 30, declared “Georgia must take immediate and significant steps to increase its investment in transportation infrastructure,” noting Georgia ranks 49th in per capita state spending on road construction.
As revenue from fuel taxes decreases improving the state’s transportation network should prioritize “better planning” over “bigger budgets.”
The committee offered several options for raising transportation funding, including a $0.01 statewide sales tax increase and increasing the state gas tax from $0.07 to $0.10 per gallon
Minimum maintenance, consultants said, would cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion per year for the foreseeable future, more than the state could afford. The “full universe of transportation needs,” including passenger rail, would require up to $5.4 billion annually.
The committee’s report cited a study by Reason Foundation scholar Robert Poole which estimated the cost of national infrastructure repairs and additions to be approximately $983 billion.
The committee’s report did not mention Poole proposed a per-mile tolling system that would provide 99 percent of the necessary revenue.
Setting a Foundation
Funding the future of Georgia’s transportation infrastructure isn’t as difficult as some people portray it. Honing the infrastructure project’s focus and dedicating transportation funds to transportation solutions, eliminates the need to raise taxes.
Although Georgia ranks 49th in per-capita transportation infrastructure spending, it has the nation’s 23rd-highest gas tax. Less than 60 percent of the state’s gas tax is dedicated to transportation, explaining the disconnect between the state’s low per-capita spending rank and much-higher gas-tax rank.
Reforming the state’s tax laws would also help the government afford to repair more roads and bridges. By allowing the state to create smaller tax regions to focus on projects of mutual benefit and tax at fractions of a penny, more flexible and targeted taxes can help prioritize projects. This would help fit the tax to the needs of a project instead of allowing projects to expand to match revenues.
Finally, the state should set the legislative, legal, and technological foundation for a possible future involving autonomous vehicles, private-sector approaches to addressing people’s transportation needs, and a transition to user fees such as tolls and distance-based charges.
Benita Dodd ([email protected]) is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
“Getting Georgia Moving,” Kelly McCutchen, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, http://heartland.org/policy-documents/getting-georgia-moving/