ATLANTA — Gov. Sonny Perdue said Thursday he will recommend an extra $300 million for transportation projects this year, then push for regional votes in 2012 to add another penny to local sales taxes for more roads, bridges and mass transit.
The vote would be taken statewide, but votes would be counted separately in individual regions. That means metro Atlanta and other areas could decide whether to charge an extra penny on the dollar to pay for transportation projects throughout the region.
Those projects would be chosen ahead of time, with input from local leaders, much like the way individual county special purpose local option sales tax referendums are handled now. But the Georgia Department of Transportation and its planning director, put in place last year at Perdue’s insistence to focus on a statewide transportation plan, would be heavily involved in those discussions.
There are 12 of these regions, based on districts for the regional planning commissions that already work with local governments.
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A map provided by the governor’s office puts these counties in Macon’s region: Bibb, Houston, Peach, Crawford, Monroe, Jones, Putnam, Baldwin, Wilkinson, Twiggs and Pulaski.
Those counties would be tied together by a vote. If a plan gets majority approval throughout the region, sales taxes would go up a penny throughout the region, even if a majority of voters within a specific county voted against the tax, Perdue said.
As for the extra $300 million Perdue wants to spend more immediately, a list of those projects will be included in the budget proposals Perdue will release today, his office said.
The state would generate that $300 million by selling bonds that would be paid down later. But instead of repaying that debt through motor fuel sales taxes as is generally done on transportation projects, the state’s general fund would be used.
That frees up more money for transportation, a major priority for many state business leaders, particularly those in the Atlanta region. Gridlock there has become a detriment to growth and quality of life.
But the plan also requires future governors and legislators to decide how to pay for the debt. And that gives state leaders a chance to change the government’s priorities, shifting money to transportation and presumably away from other areas.
“We are not where we should be (with transportation infrastructure),” Perdue said Wednesday. “And this is the opportunity to realign — this is what government ought to do. It realigns our priorities of the general budget to pay for infrastructure that people can’t do for themselves. ... We shouldn’t be doing things people can do for themselves.”
The General Assembly, in session at the state Capitol now, still will have to approve this money before any bonds are issued.
It also would have to sign off on Perdue’s idea for regional referendums, though the proposal is similar to one discussed by House and Senate leaders for several years now.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who heads the Senate, said he has been “very encouraged” by conversations with Perdue and new Speaker of the House David Ralston. But he stopped short of endorsing the governor’s plan, saying he looks forward to “further discussion.”
State Sen. Jeff Mullis, chairman of the Senate’s transportation committee, said he thinks the plan will pass and will end up looking “pretty close” to what Perdue discussed Thursday.
The House’s transportation chairman, Jay Roberts of Ocilla, agreed. But both transportation chairmen and the governor agreed there are a lot of details still to be worked out.
For the Democrats, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, of Dublin, was concerned that Perdue’s plan would move forward to the detriment of mass transit, particularly the Atlanta-to-Lovejoy-to-Macon commuter rail line that’s been on the drawing board for years. Moving that project forward, and then others like it, should be the focus, said Porter, who’s running for governor this year.
Perdue said he’d like to see this $300 million in the budget each year for the next 10 years, for a total of $3 billion in new transportation money. Whether to do that, though, would be decided each year by the governor and General Assembly. Because this money wouldn’t come from the state’s motor fuel taxes, it wouldn’t have to be spent in a balanced way all around that state.
That could mean more money in the beginning for metro Atlanta, where the worst traffic problems are.
“(But) by the time we get through with 10 years, you can be very strategic around the state,” Perdue said.
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.