Politics & Government

Transportation overhaul OK’d, but roads funding stalls

ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers struck a late-night deal Friday over a transportation overhaul that would give state politicians vast control over infrastructure dollars. But plans for a new one-cent sales tax to fund hundreds of road projects appeared dead as the clock neared midnight.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said "it would take a miracle" to strike a deal.

"The pulse is fading fast," he said.

House leaders back a statewide sales tax, while the Senate supports a tax that could be imposed regionally.

Failure to reach a compromise will mean problems for MARTA.

The transportation funding bill had been linked to a measure that would allow the Atlanta transit agency to dip into its' reserves to meet a budget shortfall. MARTA officials have warned they may have to cut services to six-days a week without the change. MARTA supporters have warned that could be disastrous for workers who depend on the rail line and for tourism in the city.

Separately, a transportation makeover, which passed the Senate 33-22, comes after heavy lobbying from Republican leaders who argued that granting the governor and lawmakers new powers over transportation funding would help transform a dysfunctional bureaucracy into one that is more accountable to voters.But it didn't go as far as Gov. Sonny Perdue's original proposal, which would have replaced the 13-person state transportation board elected by legislators with a new agency appointed by Georgia's most powerful politicians.

Instead, the version passed by the House and adopted by the Senate late Friday retains much of the same setup with some key changes.

It creates a new planning division in the Department of Transportation that would submit the agency's budget to the governor. And it would also give lawmakers more direct control of up to 20 percent of the annual transportation budget which amounts to around $400 million this year.

Perdue and legislative leaders have long sought more authority to determine which infrastructure projects are funded. They have bristled at the current system, which gives the state transportation board not politicians the final word in choosing projects.

But critics have worried it would create a more cumbersome bureaucracy.

Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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