I told you there would be a Plan B.
During the run-up to this summer’s T-SPLOST debacle — er, referendum — supporters of the $7.2 billion transportation tax implored voters to approve the measure, lest we remain mired in ever-worsening gridlock without end. In their telling, there was no Plan B.
They were technically correct: There was no alternative then sitting on the shelf. But such a pressing problem was never going to be ignored if Plan A failed.
Sure enough, a Plan B — or, more accurately, the first candidate for Plan B — was unveiled recently. It has much to recommend it.
The plan comes from the free-market thinkers at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and it includes $3.5 billion in new projects across the state. Here are some highlights:
Of particular note, the folks at GPPF think we can build these projects without creating a new tax or raising the taxes we already have.
Trust was a major issue in the T-SPLOST’s defeat, at least in metro Atlanta, and elected officials could begin to rebuild it by enhancing transportation with existing funding. The plan calls for tolls, but only on roads where there is new capacity (unlike the converted HOT lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett County).
It calls for converting the current gas tax, which includes a fixed-price excise tax and a sales tax whose proceeds rise and fall with fuel prices, into a pure excise tax that provides more predictability. At the same time, it would devote all gas-tax revenues to transportation; today, upward of $150 million a year goes to the state’s general fund instead.
Critically, the plan calls for re-prioritizing the money we spend on infrastructure. Local education sales taxes, known as E-SPLOSTs, have funded hundreds of new schools and renovations. In 2009, the latest year for which data are available, Georgia ranked eighth nationally in k-12 infrastructure spending and 22nd for all infrastructure. But we were just 41st in transportation infrastructure.
GPPF argues for allowing local jurisdictions to split those 1 percent taxes into fractional ones for education and transportation. It conservatively estimates this change could raise $190 million a year for new transportation projects.
In short, the plan calls for elected officials to make different choices when it comes to infrastructure and existing revenues. Sounds like a good start.
(Note: This column originally ran in the print edition of the AJC on Sunday, Sept. 30. I did not post it online at the time because I was out of the country and commenting was in moderation; I thought it would be better to wait until I returned and a discussion could take place on the comment thread.)
– By Kyle Wingfield