What may be the most contentious issue to hit the ballot statewide in decades is laced with carrots and sticks. Advantages can be turned into disadvantages dependent on one’s point of view.
The idea of a transportation special purpose local option sales tax is convoluted and shows a lack of political courage. Instead of imposing a statewide tax, lawmakers decided to divide the state into 12 regions. However, they did strike upon an interesting approach. Maybe a stroke of genius. Have leaders from each region pick the transportation projects they feel are needed. No more of the dreaded Georgia Department of Transportation giving take it or leave it options. The DOT is still involved but it has little say in which projects in the region get built. They all will. The when is decided locally. The region approach also has other advantages. If one region votes it down, that has no impact on the other regions.
This entire process has been employed because the state is out of transportation money. The gas tax has fallen victim to the recession and higher-mileage vehicles. Some have suggested raising the gas tax would be more appropriate because those who use the roads would pay rather than the entire population. But the cost of transportation hits everyone, driver or not.
The subsequent rise in cost, particularly on groceries, would hit everyone if the gas tax were hiked. On Friday, gas was priced at around $3.28 a gallon. Add 25 cents (what it would take to get equal funding without a T-SPLOST) to each gallon and see the public’s response. Lawmakers would been have committing political harakiri.
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Region 6 and its 11 counties stand to raise as much as $876 million over the 10 year course of the tax. For Bibb County, three projects stand out. The runway extension at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. The message is clear, that airport will never be suited for large-scale passenger flights. However, Timco and Bombardier, have already established aircraft maintenance facilities and a longer runway means the companies can seek contracts to maintain larger jets. That equates to jobs.
The deadly Interstate 16/Interstate 75 interchange is on the project list as is Bass Road widening. In Houston County there are several projects that will improve the Perry-Houston County Airport and the widening of a number of roads including Gunn Road and Houston Lake Road. All 11 counties will get what they desire.
This regional approach doesn’t sit well with some of our neighbors in Houston County. Rep. Larry O’Neal, has said he will not vote for T-SPLOST even though he voted to have the measure go to voters. County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker is also in opposition. We believe their view is a bit myopic and shows one of the great roadblocks to thinking regionally.
We believe the T-SPLOST should be approved. Middle Georgia stands to gain more than any region. The I-16/I-75 corridor will see the benefits from an expanding Port of Savannah. The reason Tractor Supply, Kohl’s, Sara Lee, Bass Pro, Best Buy in Dublin and Academy Sports in Twiggs County distribution centers are here is because of the transportation infrastructure that benefits every community in the 11 county region.
The measure isn’t a case of “Build it and they will come.” No, that’s a hunch. Rather, we know their coming and some are already here. If we don’t build it, they will go somewhere else.