News, updates, commentary and more from BikeAthens. BikeAthens is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Athens, GA. BikeAthens promotes transportation and land-use policies that improve alternative modes of transportation, including pedestrian, cycling, and public transit options. The mission of our organization is to make alternative transportation a practical, convenient, and safe option for all citizens of Athens-Clarke County.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Budget woes & transit talk

Also in the current Creative Loafing, an article about the state's overall budget crisis and the debate over transit in Georgia and how to pay for it.

While the whole piece is worth a read, here's the gist :

[Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute] says Georgia, which has one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, is in a “structural deficit.” For the past 10 years, the Gold Dome’s addiction to cutting taxes while doling out incentives to businesses cost the state an estimated $1.5 billion annually.

Contrary to what most GOP power-hitters say, Georgia has a revenue problem, Essig says, not a spending problem, and the decades-old habit of bending over backward in terms of tax credits, incentives and exemptions has left the state no better off.

“The problem is [the budget’s] lacking any bold vision,” Essig says. “The elected leadership has to tell Georgians what it takes to develop first-class health care, first-class education and first-class transportation — and be honest about ways to raise revenues to do it. And if we’re not going to do it, then to stop promising that goal.”

AMID CONCERN OF THE state’s budget woes, there will be other issues that demand lawmakers’ attention — some say immediate attention.

Chief among them: the ever-pressing challenge of the state’s notorious congestion problem.
Last year, a lack of funding to build roads, repair bridges, and introduce much needed public transit to our auto-dependent state was one of the biggest hurdles the General Assembly tried to overcome. Look around and you can see the problem was far from solved.

In the run-up to this year’s session, the state’s most powerful business leaders echoed their call for lawmakers to create a new funding source for transportation. The most popular idea — a 1 cent sales tax that counties could levy on themselves to fund road, rail and bridge projects — is a slightly altered version of legislation that failed by three votes in the Senate just minutes before the General Assembly adjourned in 2008.

Judging by Perdue’s recent speech to lawmakers, however, we’ll still be sitting in gridlock come next year. He says he’ll support a new transportation tax when such a plan makes “business sense.” Last week, the governor proposed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s countless transportation agencies, parroting last year’s line that the different groups are in need of reform before they receive more money.

Nonetheless, lawmakers are giving transportation funding another go. Last week, Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, introduced legislation that would revive the regional sales tax funding mechanism. Members of the House want a statewide 1 cent sales tax, a move that Cagle says isn’t likely to pass in the Senate, over which he presides. If either moneymaking mechanism were to succeed, it would require a state constitutional referendum on the 2010 ballot. In other words, there won’t be any new funds for a while.

Perdue has indicated a willingness to fund public transit, if not MARTA specifically. The Georgia Regional Transit Authority, which Perdue oversees, has been appropriated $11.6 million by the governor for new buses to shuttle commuters from intown to the suburbs. The agency requested the funds last year as well, only to be rebuffed by lawmakers.

In terms of commuter rail, Perdue received a tongue-lashing from U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., because the governor didn’t include in the budget funding for a rail line between Atlanta and Griffin, a project he said he’d support during the state’s gas shortage last year.

The good news: Lawmakers are lining up to support a bill that would allow alcohol to be sold in stores on Sundays. It won’t solve the deficit — an additional day of booze revenues would only generate $4.8 million in taxes — but it would at least provide more options for drinking away your economic sorrows.

Get in touch with your elected officials to let them know you support an increase in general support for public transit, sidewalks, and bicycle infrastructure in Georgia, as well as a 1 cent sales tax (aka TSPLOST) dedicated to funding transit & rail.

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