Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013
By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – The General Assembly’s 2010 vote to impose a penalty on regions that failed to pass a transportation sales tax last July was a mistake comparable to succession, according to testimony a subcommittee heard Tuesday.
The Roads & Bridges Subcommittee of the Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony but didn’t vote on Senate Bill 73 which would remove the penalty in the form of different rates to supply the local share of project in regions that passed the tax compared to those that didn’t.
The government of Augusta-Richmond County, for example, only has to pay for 10 percent of a transportation project while the state pays the remaining 90 percent since it is in one of the three regions that approved the tax. The city of Atlanta, on the other hand, has to put up 30 percent because that region soundly rejected the tax.
The bill’s author, Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said it’s un-American to penalize citizens for not taxing themselves.
“Over the last 154 sessions, I believe the General Assembly has made some really great decisions. We also made some, probably if we look back, bad ones, including succession, including many things that we look back on now and question,” he said. “This is one of those we question that maybe we should have done it a little bit differently.”
But Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, argued the sales-tax vote was based on the idea of local control, and that regions that rejected it made their own decisions. They can hold another vote in two years if they want to escape the penalty, he added, including metro Atlanta where traffic is the worst.
“It was a local opportunity to decide,” he said. “I don’t know how much babysitting we can give the whole state.”
Sierra Club lobbyist Neill Herring testified for repealing the penalties, saying they amount to metro Atlanta, which pays half of the gasoline tax, subsidizing smaller counties.
“This is a way to get tax money out of the larger counties,” he said.
Albers asked the subcommittee not to vote on the bill because he wants to have information first that proves Herring’s point. Subcommittee Chairman Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican who was on the State Transportation Board during the sales-tax campaign, said he would schedule a vote when Albers said he was ready.