Steele: Too early to be be limiting Fayette’s options
There has been a great deal of discussion around the region and within our county concerning the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, often referred to as House Bill 277.
The state of Georgia, particularly in our area of the state, faces a number of critical issues relating to its transportation system and ever-increasing congestion.
As a state, our per capita expenditures for transportation rank us near the bottom nationally. The reason might be varied, but we fund highway costs primarily from motor fuel taxes. This funding has been trending down for quite some time. With more efficient vehicles, higher priced fuel and the recession, motor fuel taxes have been negatively impacted.
Our state legislature has been trying to develop alternate funding sources for transportation for three years. Their desire was to develop new funding sources that were the least onerous on the taxpayer and where the taxpayer would have the final decision.
During the 2010 legislative session they did just that with the passage of HB 277. Many would say it is not perfect law and many people would like to amend one section or another. However, it is the law that we have to deal with and now the ball is in our court.
HB 277 is enabling legislation. There is nothing in the bill to be voted on by the people. It provides a blueprint or process by which the 12 districts of our state may each develop a transportation project list that would address some of their more pressing needs.
The process has about 15 steps that must be followed in order. We are between step four and five at this time, and there is no meat on the bone.
Thus, people commenting on whether they are for or against the proposal are offering personal opinions without any basis of facts.
They either have a bias for or against a 1-percent tax, which is certainly their right, but it has zero to do with addressing our transportation needs.
It is particularly troubling and of great concern when some of the folks sharing their personal opinions are charged and duty-bound to help develop a meaningful plan for the voters to consider.
In the interest of brevity, we can step through the process, skipping those steps which are administrative and of little interest to the voters.
Step two directed the state Department of Transportation’s director of planning to develop a draft criteria document outlining what type of projects might be considered.
Step four required the state fiscal economist to develop an estimation of the total amount of funds that might reasonably be expected to be collected over the 10-year period.
By Nov. 10, 2010 the 21 members of the Regional Transportation Roundtable are to be selected. These 21 members consist of the county commission chairperson from each of the 10 counties and a mayoral selection from each county plus the mayor of Atlanta.
Tentative appointments have been made for these positions, but any can be replaced if they prove to be unwilling, unable or incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities.
Sometime after Nov. 15, 2010, the first meeting of the RTR will be held. In our district that meeting will be Nov. 17. At that time the RTR will accomplish their first two tasks, approve the criteria determining the type of projects that will be considered and elect a five-member executive board.
Finally, we can then start to talk about or submit transportation projects that conform to the criteria for consideration of the RTR.
These first submissions can best be described as a “wish list” as they are not fiscally constrained.
Going forward, the RTR in consultation with the planning director and the state fiscal economist must pare the list down to one that can be paid for with the 1-percent sales tax receipts, i.e., fiscally constrained.
When local representatives say, “There is nothing in the plan for us,” they are abrogating their responsibility and duty to ensure that there is something in the plan for our voters to consider.
The voters of Fayette County are the ultimate decision-makers, and they are entitled to have options and not be limited by one person’s personal bias.
The draft project list will be submitted by Aug. 15, 2011. After several months of review and comments the final project list will be completed by Oct. 15, 2011.
Thus it is readily apparent that the voters will not have something to hang their hats on until then and will have months to reflect on what they think is best for them and our region. The ballot question voters will see at the 2012 primary election will read:
“Shall Fayette County’s transportation system and the transportation network in this region and the state be improved by providing for a 1 percent special district transportation sales and use tax for the purpose of transportation projects and programs for a period of ten years?”
The project list will be available after Oct. 15, 2011.
The city of Fayetteville will be developing a list of potential projects, taken from approved transportation plans, that might be considered by our voters and ask people to prioritize their desires and offer other projects they think would benefit our area. This survey will be on line in the near future.
All information in this article has been taken from HB 277. The quotation marks reflect sections that were lifted verbatim from the law. For those individuals that might have trouble sleeping at night, you may go to www.legis.state.ga.us/legis and download the entire 39 pages of the bill.
[Ken Steele is the mayor of Fayetteville. He has served on the Fayetteville City Council since July 1994. He also was elected this year to head the Georgia Municipal Association, the lobbying group for Georgia’s cities.]