Smith says 1-cent transportation tax not likely

It was a discussion the first week of December at a meeting of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) about a possible 1-cent sales tax for regional or statewide transportation projects being included on the November 2010 ballot. ARC member and Fayette County Commission Chairman Jack Smith said issues exist with both ideas and that neither are likely to be approved.
The occasion was the 3rd Annual Regional Roundtable meeting that included a discussion on the need for transportation projects and the potential for a regional or even a statewide version of a 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for Transportation (T-SPLOST) that would require voter approval.
Such a move, said Smith, depends on the state legislators. He referenced four legislators at the meeting, two of which thought a statewide initiative would not have sufficient votes. The other two legislators seemed to agree with that assessment, Smith said.
Commenting on the possibility of the passage of a T-SPLOST initiative, Smith said he doubts whether either a regional or a statewide referendum issue would pass voters’ muster.
A portion of the meeting dealt with the various transportation issues affecting metro Atlanta. One of those issues dealt with mass transit, including rapid transit.
Smith said he was not a proponent of mass transit, adding that it is not feasible for Fayette County. Such a plan, if ever enacted, would be feasible for high commuter traffic areas such as the I-85 corridor from Atlanta to the new Kia plant in west Georgia, Smith said.
“The issue with transit is paying for it,” said Smith.
Even if the General Assembly puts the question on the ballot, likely to be a regional proposition, and voters approve it, another fundamental question would have to be addressed.
That question pertains to who would control the funds raised from the tax. And beyond that, how do you separate or accommodate the various regions of the state whose transportation needs overlap, Smith questioned.
“The issues pertaining to Atlanta cannot always be separated from those that exist in other areas of the state,” said Smith. “So you have to be able to have the ability in your region to affect what happens (there) and you have to have the ability to affect what happens outside your region.”
Citing an example, he noted the flow of goods from the Port of Savannah and how those goods are transported. As Georgia’s population (now the country’s ninth most populous state and closing in on Michigan) and its economy continues to expand in coming decades, transportation plans would have to account for the continuing increase of freight into and out of Atlanta.
Inside that transportation framework, Atlanta and Savannah, for example, become increasingly linked through the corridors that include I-16, I-75 and I-85, Smith said.