Here in Macon we’ve been given many gifts -- people willing to serve their neighbors, a strong sense of community and opportunities to develop businesses and the jobs they sustain. We’ve also been given another priceless gift, what has been called “the gift of location.” Georgia is an economic power among the states, and we’re right in the middle of it and ideally located to take advantage of growth throughout the state. However, the value of our location is directly dependent on the transportation system that connects us to the rest of the Southeast and our local economic vitality is equally dependent upon the quality of our local transportation infrastructure.
On July 31, voters across the state will make a decision. Do we invest in the necessary improvements and upgrades to our transportation networks, or do we squander the opportunity and do nothing? I intend to vote to invest. Here’s why.
First a little background: Facing tremendous needs for transportation funding across the state, in 2010 the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation to provide for that funding through authorization of 12 regional transportation special purpose local option sales tax (T-SPLOST) referendums. The regional approach was determined to be fair to the entire state and avoid the perception that all of the money would be spent on relieving Atlanta traffic. And each region will be provided the opportunity to pass or reject the transportation funding and tax.
In the past year, these 12 regions across Georgia have created lists of important transportation projects to improve our roads, bridges, highways and ports. In our Middle Georgia region comprised of Baldwin, Bibb, Crawford, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Pulaski, Twiggs and Wilkinson counties, we have done the same; a regional roundtable of local elected officials from the counties and municipalities in our region have collaborated to develop a list of the most important projects that will bring the most value to our region. Local residents have been in control from the beginning. Once the projects were chosen by local committees, they were later approved by transportation officials at the state level.
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When Middle Georgia approves the investment on the July ballot we will benefit in two ways. The first 75 percent or $561 million of the new revenue would be assigned to the local projects approved by the local roundtable. The remaining 25 percent or $187 million will be given directly to the region’s towns and counties to spend on local projects selected by local officials.
So now we have a transportation plan, locally developed, ready to fund our most important transportation needs and we have the funding mechanism available to ensure that our vital transportation infrastructure is able to serve us well into the future. The next step is the decision to fund these projects that we selected for ourselves in our region. Along with other matching funds, the investment -- to come from a 1 percent increase to our sales tax -- would fund over $1 billion in improvements across Middle Georgia.
The reasons I am supporting this effort are plain. First, this is to be the major source of state transportation improvement funding, to reject it will dramatically reduce any state spending on transportation in our region. Second, our economic dependence on transportation. We have already made plain the importance of transportation to our local economic vitality. The success in job creation in our area highlighted by the newly announced Tractor Supply, Kohl’s, Bass Pro Shops, Sara Lee and others -- is directly attributable to our location leveraged by good transportation infrastructure. Without continued funding for improvements and maintenance, we will not be able to continue to recruit new logistics industry to Middle Georgia, and worse, we might begin to lose what we already have.
Finally, local control. I believe the best government is that which is closest to the people. The improvements we’ll be voting on in Macon and Middle Georgia are what I call a smart public investment, local people making decisions about what needs improvement and how to pay for it. What’s more, local residents in each region will be on accountability committees to make sure the projects are completed on time and on budget.
I’ve spent much of my career helping our community grow and thrive. In my roles as chair of the Macon Chamber of Commerce and on the board of the Georgia chamber, I have seen the importance of transportation to our region as we recruited new industry here. As a member of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Competiveness Commission, we traveled the state to look at policy issues to make Georgia a competitive state for business. In our listening sessions we heard time and again the importance of transportation to economic vitality.
The benefits of investment are essential to our economic future. Georgia communities will stay well-connected, congestion will be relieved in many places and economic growth will continue, along with the jobs we all depend on.
I hope everyone in the Middle Georgia region will see this as another gift -- the opportunity to assure our continued good fortune by providing local funds for local improvements to transportation. The plan is wise and the financing fair, but it won’t happen unless we vote for it. Please join me in persuading our neighbors to seize this opportunity. It’s not one we can afford to miss.
Robbo Hatcher is a resident of Macon.