ATLANTA -- While Atlanta business leaders were counting down the days to the upcoming July 31 referendum on a proposed transportation sales tax, U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica said he's still celebrating his victory a week ago, with the signing of the first new transportation law in years.
"This should be a celebration," said Mica, a Florida congressman who traveled to Georgia to address members of the Council for Quality Growth as they prepare for the tax vote.
The new federal law, he said, gives a few years of stability to transportation funding at the national level, for the first time in a long time.
The measure, which he wrote, also opens up new financing models and streamlines federal processes for state and local governments prepared to match federal dollars.
If the Atlanta region passes the proposed 1 percent sales tax, which could provide $8.5 billion in funding over the next decade, Mica said the new law will allow the state to partner with the federal government to leverage more dollars.
"I know it's tough," he said of the campaign for the tax. But he compared it to his own work on the bill, as a Republican dealing with a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House. The passage, he said, was like "giving birth to a porcupine."
"My mission was to get people working and get the legislation passed," he said.
Mica did not offer advice for voters, many of whom have objected to the tax and the project list it would support.
"I didn't come here to tell you what to do," he said. "The citizens of this region will make a decision."
But without the tax, he said, leaders would have a hard time taking advantage of the new federal funding.
"This bill is a revolution as far as providing an opportunity," he said. "If you aren't ready, (the money) will go someplace else. If you don't want Atlanta stuck in neutral, if you don't want Atlanta and this region going in reverse, you need to go forward."
The message was not lost on Tad Leithead, a business who is chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission board.
"The federal government helps those that help themselves," he said. "We heard that loud and clear just now."