Senate passes regional plan for transit funds

ATLANTA - One of two proposals aimed at significantly boosting transportation funding in Georgia for the first time in decades cleared the Senate on Wednesday with a head of steam heading to the House.

"We're making history," Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, told his colleagues. "For too many years, we've been wondering what to do ... This resolution takes action."

Senators overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that would allow a county or group of counties to ask their voters whether to levy an additional 1-cent sales tax for highway and transit projects.

The regional approach the Senate favors toward transportation funding is competing with legislation before the House calling for a 1-cent statewide sales tax dedicated to transportation needs.

The Senate legislation is modeled after the special purpose local option sales tax measures that voters across Georgia have approved in large numbers in recent years.

As with the SPLOST proposals, voters in a county or region wishing to levy a transportation sales tax would be given a list of projects the revenue would fund.

Mullis said traffic-weary voters in metro Atlanta would be especially likely to support a local or regional sales tax for transportation improvements.

"If they're stuck in traffic and can't get to their work places or families, they're going to want to move forward," he said.

Under the legislation, 80 percent of the revenue generated would go to the counties imposing the sales tax to be spent in their communities.

The state Department of Transportation would collect the other 20 percent, with half of that money dedicated to transit improvements.

However, senators amended the resolution Wednesday to require that the transit money also be spent within the county or region imposing the sales tax.

During Wednesday's debate on the resolution, some senators questioned a provision giving the General Assembly until the end of next year's session to adopt accompanying legislation spelling out how the revenue would be collected and spent.

That's months after voters would decide the fate of the constitutional amendment.

But in the end, the measure passed 51-4 and was sent on to the House.