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Ga. Senate unveils plan to provide relief to roads
Penny Sales tax for Web
In this Herald file photo from 2008, a Georgia Department of Transportation worker is shown doing prep work on the Bypass. A proposal in the Georgia legislature would add a penny to the sales tax dedicated to road construction. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file
    ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers are again pressing for a one-cent sales tax to help provide relief for the state’s clogged roadways.
    State Senate Republican leaders unveiled legislation Monday that would permit regions — including one that would encompass 10 metro-Atlanta area counties — to band together to charge a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects. Residents in the affected areas must vote to approve the tax hike.
    The proposal puts the Senate on a collision course with the House, where Republican leaders are pressing to boost the sales tax by a penny across the whole state.
    Legislative leaders have said passing a transportation funding plan is a top priority this year.
    Spending on transportation in Georgia has lagged well behind the state’s explosive population growth. Georgia spends second lowest per capita in the country on transportation, ahead of only Tennessee. And without a new source of money, things don’t look like they will improve soon. The state Department of Transportation is facing a massive budget shortfall, and gas tax revenues used to fund road projects have plummeted.
    Metro-Atlanta suffers from some of the worst commute times in the nation and business leaders have said the region’s traffic gridlock has dissuaded some companies from setting up shop.
    State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis said Monday if communities throughout the state adopted the one-cent sales tax hike it could generate roughly $1.2 billion annually for road, rail and aviation projects. In metro-Atlanta, the tax would translate into about $850 million a year, he said.
    The Senate plan is similar to one that fell just one vote short of passing in the final minutes of last year’s legislative session.
    ‘‘This year we’re much more optimistic,’’ said Mullis, R-Chickamauga. ‘‘The key for our success is doing it early.’’
    If the plan receives an OK from state legislators, it would still need the approval of voters statewide in 2010. If it’s approved at the polls, it would create one 10-county region for metro Atlanta made up of Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties. Other areas could combine to create their own regions.
    The appropriate local governing body could then create a list of road and other transportation projects and would vote on whether to levy a one-cent sales tax to fund them. If they vote yes, the proposal would go to Georgia voters in the region who must also endorse the tax hike.
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