More later, but here’s the press release just issued – there’s no mention of it, but clearly the timing is intended to help the July 31 vote on the transportation sales tax:
Fulfilling his promise to commuters, Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that he will have the state pay off its bond debt on Dec. 1, 2013, and move rapidly after that to remove the Ga. 400 toll by the end of that year. This will stop collection four years earlier than previously planned.
“Ga. 400 commuters have paid more than their fair share already, and this is the earliest we can bring it down without paying a penalty for early repayment of the bonds,” Deal said. “When the Ga. 400 toll went up, the state of Georgia promised commuters that it wasn’t forever. If we don’t keep that promise, we lose the faith of the people. We face many challenges when it comes to paying for new capacity, particularly in the Atlanta region. There are no easy answers, no secret pots of money, but it is imperative that governments build the trust of their people. As your governor, I will keep the promises I make to you.”
The Ga. 400 toll was originally scheduled to come down after 20 years, ending in 2011. In 2010 – after then-candidate Deal promised to end the toll the following year – the state issued new bonds tied to the toll revenue in order to pay for needed improvements in the Ga. 400 corridor, including a new connector to I-85. The $40 million in new bonds were issued Dec. 1, 2010, and they mature June 1, 2017. But at the three-year mark the state can repay the bonds without a penalty. Further, the state needs time to plan for physically bringing down the gates and the dramatic restructuring that will be needed in the toll area.
“As I have said many times before: I inherited a situation where we could not bring down the gates immediately, and we face a situation where we would have to pay a penalty for early repayment,” Deal said. “This timeline gives commuters a finish line, while still allowing us to meet our obligations. Moving forward, we’ll need to continue to work on long-term solutions to congestion in the 400 corridor. And I look forward to doing that in a transparent fashion that commuters can trust.”
The governor’s proposal requires approval of the State Road and Tollway Authority.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider