Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Revised transportation bill quells some earlier criticisms

Remember all the way back to ... a couple of weeks ago, when state House leaders unveiled a transportation-funding plan that moved some local revenues to state coffers, and some folks got upset and pounded their figurative chests about sleight-of-hand and stealing from local governments, and I counseled everyone to just sit tight and see how the legislative process unfolded ?

Ahem (via my AJC news colleague, Aaron Gould Sheinin):

"Supporters of a House plan to raise at least $1 billion for transportation received a major boost Tuesday when the state's top organization of county governments agreed to endorse the bill.

"'We support the bill as passed the subcommittee yesterday and will continue to work on other recommended improvements,' said Clint Mueller, the legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

"The support comes after a unanimous vote of ACCG's policy board Monday night, Mueller said."

The counties are one of three types of local government with a stake in this debate, and probably the easiest to please regarding this legislation. Still, it's important to note the bill's revisions allow county and city governments to recoup the vast majority of recurring revenues from local sales taxes on motor fuel, which under the bill would not be allowed after a certain point in the future, as long as the revenues are spent on "transportation purposes," which the bill defines fairly liberally. (The specific date varies according to the kind of tax. Also, I say "vast majority" because there are a handful of local sales taxes that haven't been fully addressed yet.)

Take note of the phrase "recurring revenues." Here's what I mean by that: sales taxes that differ from SPLOSTs and E-SPLOSTs both because they don't require reauthorization by voters, and because they aren't levied to fund specific capital projects. SPLOSTs and E-SPLOSTs wouldn't be touched until their current authorization expires. Any such taxes approved in the future simply couldn't include motor fuel in their tax bases, and the list of capital projects they fund would consequently be a bit shorter.

Whether you think this is a good idea probably depends on whether you think transportation infrastructure deserves a higher priority among revenues from gas taxes than other types of infrastructure. After a couple of decades of funding new education infrastructure, among other capital projects, with gas-tax revenues, I think it's high time we set just such a priority.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.