Georgia voters on July 31 widely rejected the state’s pitch for a penny sales tax increase that could have delivered as much as $18.7 billion in funding for transportation. The Transportation Investment Act measure did pass in three of the state’s 12 regions, however, providing roadbuilders a modest boost in funding, estimated by the Georgia Dept. of Transportation at roughly $1.8 billion over the next 10 years.
Numerous state and local politicians had lined up in favor of the increase, including Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. But the Georgia Tea Party opposed the measure vigorously, calling the proposal the largest tax increase in the state’s history. Opponents also questioned whether the added funding would actually ease Atlanta’s congestion woes. The Sierra Club and the Georgia NAACP had also lined up against the effort.
The Atlanta area would have gained the lion’s share of funding. GDOT estimated the 10-year penny tax would have generated nearly $8.5 billion for the area. Local officials had approved a list of projects estimated at more than $7 billion, with about half of that amount slated for transit. The ongoing $2-billion Atlanta BeltLine project, for instance, would have received about $602 million to build about 10 miles of new light-rail lines.
Prior to the vote, BeltLine designer Ryan Gravel told ENR Southeast that he expected the Atlanta election to be close. But that proved to be wishful thinking, as more than 60 percent of metro voters rejected the sales-tax increase.
Gov. Deal issued a statement bemoaning the results. “It’s certainly disappointing that we won’t have the resources to accomplish all the projects needed to get Georgians moving quicker,” the governor stated, adding that officials will now need to focus on the state’s “most pressing needs.”
Deal added that the vote “slams the door on further expansion of our rail network any time soon. Neither I nor the legislature has much of an appetite for new investments until there are significant reforms in how MARTA operates.”
The statewide vote over a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, was conducted via a series of regional elections, and will be enacted in the three regions that approved the tax increase. These districts and their respective estimated funding increases include: the Central Savannah River Area, $841 million; the Heart of Georgia, $399 million; and River Valley, $594 million.
By district, some of the largest projects that will be funded via T-SPLOST include: Central Savannah—a $50.2-million project to widen SR 28 in Columbia County; Heart of Georgia—a $101.9-million widening of U.S. 1 in Toombs County; and River Valley—a $58.3-million road improvement project in Muscogee County.
“I think those regions will see great returns on their investment,” Gov. Deal said in his statement. The governor added that these regions will only need to provide a 10-percent local match for future projects, whereas the other nine regions that rejected the tax will need to provide a 30-percent match.