To get Georgians moving, get Washington out of the way

Tens of millions of dollars generated from Georgia’s roads wind up in other states’ coffers. And a whole lot more is spent at the whim of Washington bureaucrats.

No wonder our transportation funding seems so bad.

As Georgians next year face a referendum on a 1 percent sales tax to fund new roads and mass transit, they could be forgiven for wondering why roughly $2 billion a year of gasoline tax revenues don’t suffice.

The answer is all too familiar:

We are taxed here. The money goes up to Washington. Not all of it comes back.

And we aren’t even allowed to decide how to spend most of the money we do get back.

There are a number of reasons this situation is no longer tolerable, if it ever was (it was hatched in the 1950s to create our interstate highway system). But first, let’s get specific, with some figures from the Georgia Department of Transportation:

  • Each year, Georgia levies about $2 billion of gas taxes.
  • About two-thirds of the money, some $1.3 billion, is sent to Washington.
  • Between $1.1 billion and $1.2 billion comes back to Georgia — 85 percent to 92 percent of what left the state.
  • Of the money that comes back, $800 million to $900 million is reserved for particular uses: widening this road, or repairing that bridge. And the state usually has to devote some of the money it does control to matching 10 percent to 20 percent of these “grants.” Add it all up, and Georgia has no say over the way we spend nearly half of the $2 billion in gas taxes generated in our own state.
  • Another $200 million to $300 million can be spent as Georgia chooses, as long as it’s spent on U.S. highways. So, we can use it for any purpose on I-285, but Ga. 316 is off-limits.
  • Something like $50 million comes back totally untethered.

Arguably, all those federal restrictions are more important than the $100 million or so we unwillingly donate to other states. (Arguably.)

The preparations for next year’s sales-tax referendum, with potential project lists being drawn for metro Atlanta and 11 other regions across the state, demonstrate the difficulty of aligning local priorities with scarce available resources.

And the daunting number of projects shows that our local priorities differ greatly from the way the feds have dictated tens of billions of dollars of spending over the years.

The Bush administration emphasized things like variable-toll lanes and buses. Barack Obama’s transportation chief, Ray LaHood, during a visit to Atlanta two years ago, spoke as if this administration has all but ruled out anything that doesn’t run on rails.

Why should either vision — or that of whoever occupies the White House next — stymie our own priorities?

Even when federal and local priorities overlap broadly, they’re often out of whack on the specifics.

The downtown Atlanta streetcar circulator, for example, is hardly the No. 1 thing on the minds of even local transit advocates. In fact, some of them privately confess worries that the $72 million project will be unsuccessful — and wind up reinforcing anti-transit attitudes in the region. But the feds were willing to shell out $47 million for it, so that’s what we’re getting.

This screwy way of doing business is up for reauthorization later this fall. Members of Congress who want to limit Washington’s power would do well to return this responsibility to the folks back home.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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345 comments Add your comment

Linda

July 29th, 2011
7:21 pm

Kyle, have a great weekend!

Dick

July 29th, 2011
7:56 pm

I don’t want my Governor deciding where the transportation money all goes. How many scandals have you read about through the years, where roads to nowhere(well, to the outgoing governor’s property) are strangely approved as the governor/elected official is on his way out? The AJC does a great job of exposing these type of stories, but lawmakers fail to make it illegal, and the public is beyond feeling disgusted.

Freshundra

July 29th, 2011
8:19 pm

“The downtown Atlanta streetcar … But the feds were willing to shell out $47 million for it, so that’s what we’re getting.”

Mr. John Lewis, he be coming through for his peeps again!!

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

July 29th, 2011
8:24 pm

“The downtown Atlanta streetcar circulator, for example, is hardly the No. 1 thing on the minds of even local transit advocates. In fact, some of them privately confess worries that the $72 million project will be unsuccessful — and wind up reinforcing anti-transit attitudes in the region. But the feds were willing to shell out $47 million for it, so that’s what we’re getting.”

Yes! Let’s run a streetcar on a questionable downtown circuit between sagging tourist attractions when the interstates are often almost completely gridlocked between the hours of 6am and 7pm. Has anybody in this town ever heard of COMMUTER RAIL? Just wondering.

yuzeyurbrane

July 29th, 2011
8:50 pm

My Kyle, isn’t it nice when we can cherry pick which Federal program we would profit from keeping the tax revenues here? You may or not believe we should all be treated as citizens of 1 country but study after study (including 1 published just the other day) have shown that poor states (e.g. the South in general and Ga. in particular) get more in total Federal tax revenues than they pay and that it is the richer ones (e.g. NY) that are on the losing end. The fact is Ga. would return to being an economic wasteland if it had not been for the Federal largesse we have received since 1932.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

July 29th, 2011
8:51 pm

Kyle, I would hope that having more local control over our transportation dollars would help, but I’m not necessarily so sure as Gov. Deal and Mayor Reed announced that the state had qualified for a federal “loan” worth hundreds of millions of dollars to build High Occupancy Toll lanes (HOT lanes or “Lexus Lanes”) within the right-of-way of the I-75/I-575 Northwest Metro Corridor in Cobb and Cherokee Counties.

I’m not a big believer in building new HOT lanes that are going to be highly unprofitable and will need heavy public financing in a set-up where the private partner in a private-public partnership will get the entire amount of very limited toll proceeds.

I also don’t like the I-85 project in Gwinnett County that is taking pre-existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes and converting them to HOT/”Lexus Lanes” as very few people are going to be willing to pay a premium toll amount to use a lane that they could use for free before if they had two or more passengers in their vehicle. That’s not to mention all of the bureaucratic hoops and new electronic equipment that a motorist will now need to use the lane for free with three or more passengers. It seems as if they (the state with the encouragement of the Feds) is trying to create an empty traffic lane on one of the busiest stretches of highway on the planet and by doing so will only serve to gridlock traffic even more in the remaining traffic lanes.

Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.....

July 29th, 2011
9:00 pm

$110 MILLION for a couple of “managed” traffic lanes in the I-85 Northeast corridor and over $1 BILLION for reversible “managed” HOT lanes in the I-75/575 Northwest corridor when there are perfectly viable existing rail corridors that run parallel to these busy roads that could be easily converted to run COMMUTER and interurban passenger trains WITHOUT additional taxpayer money if financed through the sensible use of USER FEES (intown parking fees, traffic citations, adequately-priced train and bus fares in the circa-2011 $3 to $6 range, etc).

Ray

July 29th, 2011
9:07 pm

I guess it’s only fitting for Kyle The Coward to tuck tail and run from the abortion of a ‘republican’ party.

Yeah, write about the roads…recipes…maybe Lady Gaga?

God I miss the real Republicans.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 29th, 2011
9:13 pm

What was your favorite Republican policy, Ray?

Dave

July 29th, 2011
9:22 pm

I don’t know if it all balances out with taxes going to and coming back from Washington; but, I think before you complain about the Feds you ought to know. We could fix it, secession didn’t work the first time around; but, maybe its worth a try – we wouldn’t have to pay back all that money that let us balance the state budget the last couple of years, at least for awhile before the Feds sent the Predators over our newly and briefly sovereign airspace.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: Thee Magnificent!!! mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

July 29th, 2011
9:31 pm

Kyle, it isn’t like the typical dummycrat can earn any money on his own.

geez.

Jefferson

July 29th, 2011
10:23 pm

What about the money the state takes of us for roads ? Not all of the taxes spent in Ga comes from Georgians, but you want to keep it all. The problem with roads is the gov’t get ripped off big time by the constrution and paving companies. Bids rigging thrives. Kickbacks. Racketeering.

Question Man

July 29th, 2011
11:01 pm

Is it true that some tax dollars generated in Atlanta end up in other parts of the state? If true, why should Atlantans want to pay taxes to Georgia since Atlantans are net payors? Maybe to be fair each neighborhood should keep the taxes it generates? Or maybe each of us should keep what we make and not pay any taxes? Who needs police or fire or schools or streets?

Road Scholar

July 30th, 2011
5:41 am

Kyle we have more needs in transportation than the yearly collection of “user fees” can fund. Are you saying that Ga doesn’t have enough roads in need of improvement/widening? Bridges? The numbers you quote at the beginning of the article is both the federal and state ga tax collected. We can use the state money for any roadway…for any use. We get back closer to 92% yearly of the federal funds. The 8 % left over goes to Washington to fund the Fed DOT for research and program oversight. They used to also go to earmarks.Remember those?

The one thing though that sticks in my crawl is the Fed bill in 1992 moved towards a better, even distribution of funds ( we used to get back 60% with states like Massachusetts getting $2 for every dollar collected there)( remember Tip O’neil?) and alledgedly less categories of spending. Since then the revenue collected has been flat, and programs such as the enhancment progrm, safeyt issues, safe routes to school etc. have been added w/o more monies, thus deluting the available monies available for other rograms. It is not that these programs are bad…it is that they were added as were others w/o their own dedicated funding.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
6:24 am

Ray
July 29th, 2011
9:07 pm

God I miss the real Republicans.
——————–

Still waiting for Ray to tell us what his favorite “real Republican” policy is.

I suspect it’s the one where Republicans don’t control either chamber of the legislature or the White House. Sorry Ray, Americans decided last November that was a huge mistake and that your Idiot Messiah and his liberal fascist, America-hating agenda had to be stopped.

Ken

July 30th, 2011
7:24 am

People like Lil BB are what guarantees a second term for Obama, keep up the good work.

Ayn Rant

July 30th, 2011
7:32 am

Kyle, your provincial way of thinking doesn’t befit a citizen of a great nation. We are, I hope, a real nation, not just a bunch of quarrelsome, mismatched, archaic states. So, federal transportation projects span all states. The interstate highways in neighboring states are essential for moving Georgia-made goods to market, and for connecting families that are scattered across states. It would be foolish to allocate highway funds by state, rather than national interest.

Overall, Georgia and the other poor (“red”) states get more federal money than they pay out, even though these states are ungrateful for the provenance of the prosperous (“blue”) states. So, stop whining over the few cents per gallon you pay to support the highways of America.

The only government worse than the US federal government is any of the 50 state governments. While the state unemployment rate increases, the hot issue in the Georgia Legislature is Sunday alcohol sales. Explain that!

Joe Friday

July 30th, 2011
7:46 am

We pay more in transportation dollars than we get back? And money we do get back comes with strings attached?

I’m persuaded. Let’s secede from the union. Then, we can forget about trains, privatize the roads, and tax drivers with tolls.

We won’t mind paying more in tolls than we paid in gas taxes because we won’t call it a tax. We’ll call it a toll. That makes all the difference.

And we Georgians don’t cry about smog and congestion either. I say, bring it on.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
7:56 am

Ken: People like Lil BB are what guarantees that what happened in November 2010 will happen again in November 2012, keep up the good work.
——————–

Fixed.

Joe Friday

July 30th, 2011
7:56 am

Incidentally, people should know that Tea Partier Kyle Winfield is softening the ground with this post for the next big Tea Party fight in Congress. The gas tax he’s writing about is scheduled to expire on September 30.

Will House Republicans have a routine debate in Congress over renewing it? No. Our transportation dollars are on the list of hostages to be taken in a series of hostage negotiations initiated by this crowd.

Goodbye, federal tax dollars. Hello toll roads. Hello privatized Georgia.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
8:11 am

We don’t need any more “routine debates”. We need debates that result in reducing deficits, cutting spending, and improving the economy. “Routine debates” are what got us $14 trillion in debt, $1.5 trillion annual deficits, and 9% unemployment.

I hope you’re right and Republicans refuse to have a “routine debate”.

jconservative

July 30th, 2011
8:14 am

“Still waiting for Ray to tell us what his favorite “real Republican” policy is”

My guess is that Ray’s favorite “real Republican” policy” was the Bill Clinton impeachment where Ray was the presiding officer during the impeachment hearings in the House.

Just a guess.

independent thinker

July 30th, 2011
8:16 am

Okay so our boy Kyle is against big gov,ent spending and waste in DC . I assume that is not red lined to any particular area of the federal budget . The right wing zealots claim they want to reduce federal spending but none of them or the Republicans in general want to to touch the waste in military spending. The following is a prime example of what happens when you give cart blanche to the military(as part of Saint Ronnie’s deficit spending on an arms race with the Soviets for unnecessary military weapons later scrapped}:

“””””””””””In the era of massive belt-tightening budget cuts, the story of two never-completed, unused Navy ships now being sent to the scrap heap after costing U.S. taxpayers $300 million is a case study in Pentagon waste.

Requisitioned by the U.S. Navy in 1985, the two oil-hauling ships, the Benjamin Isherwood and the Henry Eckford, “have never gone on a mission, were never even completed, yet they cost taxpayers at least $300 million,” the Virginia-Pilot’s Scott Harper reports.
Now the “ghost ships” are headed from their dock on the James River in Virginia to a Texas scrap yard to be dismantled, Harrop writes. And there’s one more catch–the United States awarded a $10 million contract to dismantle four ships, including the Eckford and the Isherwood, to a UK firm, so no money from the reclamation will return to the United States.
The two vessels were part of a $567 million request for three oilers put out by the Navy, The ships are now being scrapped, rather than refurbished, because they do not meet modern specs. “”””

That and over 1000 military bases creates an ongoing drain on the economy to fund the never satisfied military industrial complex. You would think world War II never ended. So how much of this bloated military budget is being cut by the Republicans ?? zero.
At least the Reid plan assumes there will be massive reductions in the budget for decreasess in military spending due to the unwinding of ten years of two unfunded wars.But how many new bases in Iraq and Afghanistan? How many no bid contracts to Halliburton and others?? How many unnecessary naval ships are continuing to be built? Does anyone even care? Maybe a tax on the rich directly tied to military spending would force the right wing zealots to focus where the real waste is ongoing and never ending . Would Kyle ever dare to touch this topic in exploring big government waste? After all what is a measly $300 million if you are trying to scare the commies. By the way how is their econ,y doing without all that military spending? And you still believe we won the cold war.

Sean Smith

July 30th, 2011
8:17 am

I’m sure the folks in Iowa don’t really want to pay for port deepening in Savannah, which should be a private enterprise, but I noticed a bunch of Georgia Republicans in Washington with there hand out begging for money…… Hypocrites

Clinton "Skink" Tyree

July 30th, 2011
8:24 am

There’s one thing the Republicans have really excelled in and that’s education. Look at the SAT scores for 2010 and you can readily see how effective they’ve been.

But in an Oligarch, education is only beneficial for the rulers — the Oligarchs — and rest are just workers that need only to know how to perform menial tasks or to do what they’re told.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
8:25 am

Vote Democrat, Sean, surely THEY would have refused the federal money.

Hypocrite.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
8:27 am

Oligarchs understand that for a decent education, public schools are not an option. They’ve been run by Democrats for the sole benefit of their union thug supporters for decades.

Ken

July 30th, 2011
8:59 am

So where do Republicans go to school?

carlosgvv

July 30th, 2011
9:09 am

One of the main reasons most of us are so against any new taxes is because we don’t trust our Govt. to properly spend the current taxes they are collecting now. Somehow, many of our politicians can’t seem to understand this.

The truth

July 30th, 2011
9:10 am

Lil’ Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)
July 30th, 2011
8:25 am

you are a racist!..It is killing you that for 8 years Republicans screwed America up so bad, that Whites had to vote for a black man!,,,get over it and get a life!

Crenshaw8

July 30th, 2011
9:17 am

Trolling for Dollars. Trolleying dim trolls around the city. How quaint.

:-(

July 30th, 2011
9:22 am

Unfortunately there are a lot more people who think like Kyle in Georgia… which is why the Atlanta metro will never get anywhere.

Barry Umm Teleprompter

July 30th, 2011
10:00 am

If you like the way the gas taxes are handled, wait till you get a load Obama care!!

Fletch

July 30th, 2011
10:03 am

Kem – have to agree with LBB – have you been following any of the events surrounding the school systems in the Democratic stronghold that is Atlanta? Lost accreditation, fraud, cheating – how can you all even defend this? Sorry, this doesn’t happen in Republican cities – name one example. Personally, this repub is sending his kids to private school out of necessity, not by choice.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
10:06 am

The truth: you are a racist!
————————

And you are yet another example of flaming intellectual weakness with nothing to fall back on except for your “racist!” poutrage.

Fletch

July 30th, 2011
10:11 am

There it is! You’re a racist if you don’t vote Democrat! Glad we got that figured out.

retired early

July 30th, 2011
10:19 am

Kyle

How about commenting on the major reason the DOT budget is underfunded….Georgia has the LOWEST STATE PORTION of the MOTOR FUEL TAX. The feds tax motor fuel, and so do all the states…and I am not talking about “sales tax”. Georgia, once again……is lowest in yet another category that concerns economic develop.

Point/Counterpoint

July 30th, 2011
10:22 am

Fletch – “There it is! You’re a racist if you don’t vote Democrat! Glad we got that figured out”

Actually you’r an idiot if you ONLY vote Democrat or Republican.

jconservative

July 30th, 2011
10:23 am

The truth July 30th, 2011 9:10 am

“.It is killing you that for 8 years Republicans screwed America up so bad, that Whites had to vote for a black man!,,”

Rich comment. This is funny!

A Honkey

July 30th, 2011
10:37 am

you are a racist!..It is killing you that for 8 years Republicans screwed America up so bad, that Whites had to vote for a black man!,,,get over it and get a life!

You’re right about this. I feel so guilty Bush and slavery and oppression. Though never participating in any of the three,I’ve never participated in either, I feel the burden of responsibility so I regularly whip myself in the back with a heavy chain lined with razors so I can profusely bleed for the sins of my forefathers.

And in turn claim my preference and vote for an individual solely based on his race even though his economic philosophy and statist nature are repulsive to the core. But he is a black man. Well almost, so 50% of my guilt still resides within me. I’ll put my balls in a vice for that.

Dealmaker

July 30th, 2011
10:42 am

There was a reason the Founding Fathers rejected the Articles of Confederation and adopted the Constitution. They found that it was not practical for each state to act like it own country ignoring the other states. There are some issues such as transportation that benefit from an integrated solution designed to benefit the entire system instead of a single state. When the Interstate Highway system was created during the 50s it was funded by all the states. All of the states and our society as a whole benefitted from it. Kyle lacks the vision to see beyond the Georgia borders for solutions that will be good for not only Georgia but the country as a whole. The next thing we will be hearing from Kyle is how Georgia should consider session from the Union to avoid paying Federal Taxes. After all that’s what other conservatives like Rick Perry want for Texas.

GT

July 30th, 2011
10:51 am

We have a road tax in Georgia that is not levied in other states. Trucks fill up in Tennessee and try to make it across our states without another fillup, because of the price of disel fuel and add on tax here. Local businesses dry up because of it as the same trucks that cause traffic jams in Atlanta bypass our local establistments trying to get through the state with no stops.

I always get tickled at our great desire for local control. The things this state controls now are in absolute dysfuntion. How much of this money do you think would go to its original purpose if the state took it over. The Hope Scholarship fund comes to mind. You would begin to see weight increase in an already fat politican and lots of pot holes in the middle of interstate highways. Georgia is not a leader it is a follower, who needs to be lead. Immigration laws come to mind.

Another Vet

July 30th, 2011
10:52 am

Lil BB

My favorite republican program was in 1982. Reagan recognized his tax cuts were generating huge deficits, so he raised taxes. He passed the biggest tax cut in history in 1981 and the biggest tax increase in history in 1982. He increased taxes several more times before he exited stage right. I give him credit for recognizing his mistake and trying to correct it.

Fletch

July 30th, 2011
10:57 am

Point/Counterpoint – huh? Nothing to do with my statement.

GT

July 30th, 2011
11:03 am

Well said, Another Vet.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
11:51 am

“for 8 years Republicans screwed America up so bad”
——————-

Guess what never happened during our President Bush’s eight years? 9-10% unemployment, $1.5 trillion deficits every year, $14 trillion in debt, record high levels of Americans on the dole, and record low numbers of Americans employed.

Your boy’s a failure.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

July 30th, 2011
11:52 am

To get Georgians moving, get Washington out of the way
6:43 pm July 29, 2011, by Kyle Wingfield
—————–

Thinking bigger…

To get America moving, get the Idiot Messiah out of the way.

yuzeyurbrane

July 30th, 2011
12:13 pm

Kyle, you are not old enough to remember all of Ga.’s sordid track record when it comes to corruption and highway funds, but ask your daddy and I’m sure he will confirm that Ga. has no peer in that regard. I can only imagine the stinky deals that will flow if we continue to privatize our highways. For example, as has already happened in Texas, lobbying by private road operators to kill funding for the building or maintenance of public roads that might compete, the loading of expenses on the govt. part of the deal a/k/a the privatization of profits and the socialization of risks.

John

July 30th, 2011
12:14 pm

“The downtown Atlanta streetcar circulator, for example, is hardly the No. 1 thing on the minds of even local transit advocates. In fact, some of them privately confess worries that the $72 million project will be unsuccessful — and wind up reinforcing anti-transit attitudes in the region. But the feds were willing to shell out $47 million for it, so that’s what we’re getting.”

Why are we getting it? Because we asked for it. Seems like your trying to paint a picture that the streetcar project was conceived and drawn out by the federal government and forced upon us. It’s a project conceived here, it was sent to the federal government to secure funds to build it and it was approved by the feds.

GHWB

July 30th, 2011
12:29 pm

Guess what happened as a result of our President Bush’s eight years? 9-10% unemployment, $1.5 trillion deficits every year, $14 trillion in debt, record high levels of Americans on the dole, and record low numbers of Americans employed.

Our boy’s a failure.

Finally! Lil BB dares to utter the truth. Good show! Bravo.