Ramsey-backed bill would halt regional T-SPLOST
It could be the beginning of the end for a 1 percent regional transportation sales tax proposed for Coweta County and the other nine counties in the Three Rivers Region.
A bill was introduced this past week to sack the sales tax entirely, replacing it with a system in which counties would be able to enter transportation sales tax agreements with neighboring counties for regional transportation projects.
The problem with the metro Atlanta project list for the sales tax is it won’t do enough to address road congestion, said Peachtree City Rep. Matt Ramsey, a co-sponsor of the bill.
“When this process started, it was discussed as a response to Atlanta’s admittedly horrible congestion problems,” Ramsey said. “But look at the final list: there are many, many, many projects that won’t even make the slightest of dents in our regions and our counties and communities.”
The existing transportation sales tax project list for metro Atlanta has been assailed as being too heavy on transit funding, with more than $3 billion planned for rail and bus projects, with a like amount set aside for roads.
The new bill, authored by Cobb Rep. Ed Setzler, would give local communities the freedom to determine if they would benefit by partnering with neighboring counties for transportation solutions, Ramsey said.
The current proposed sales tax, however, forced all 10 metro Atlanta counties to bargain with each other, and could result in counties paying into the tax even if their voters defeat the measure. The new bill, in contrast, “gives the counties the ultimate say in whether or not they want to participate in the process,” Ramsey said.
It is far too early to tell if the effort will win support in the legislature, Ramsey said, acknowledging that some heartburn will come with the concept of eschewing all the legwork performed by the 21-member Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable.
“At the end of the day there is going to be a lot of pushback because of the time and effort that people have put into this,” Ramsey said. “This is such a big, big issue that I think it would do us well to take a step back, realize there is a better way forward and let’s consider all our options.”
Road congestion is a major issue that’s recognized by all, no matter their political ideology, Ramsey noted.
HB 938 would ditch the July sales tax referendum in favor of putting a constitutional amendment before voters in November as to whether regional sales taxes for transportation purposes should be authorized.
If the voters approve the constitutional amendment, HB 938 would allow any two or more counties contiguous to each other to create a joint transportation sales tax proposal, which would be subject to a voter referendum in each county.
The project list would be hammered out at meetings between those counties and would require approval from the governing authorities of each county in an intergovernmental agreement. If a county rejects the project list, that county would not be subject to the tax.
Should a county opt out of the proposal, the remaining counties would go back to the drawing board to negotiate a new project list, according to the legislation.
The bill also calls for a public hearing to be conducted on the proposed project list prior to the counties’ final vote to create the local referendum that would authorize the transportation sales tax. Also, the list must be reviewed by the Georgia Department of Transportation to make sure it is consistent with any statewide strategic plan.