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:
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