The House and Senate had agreed to take a one-week recess after the House passed its version of the FY 2009 budget so that the Senate could undertake its budget work, so we were only actually in session for two days last week.
However, the Senate moved so quickly with its version of the budget that by last Friday the House and Senate had adopted their respective versions and appointed the conference committee that will work toward reaching a compromise version.
I am particularly disappointed that the Senate version left a very large austerity cut to education funding in place and am hopeful that this can be addressed.
The other major piece of legislation taken up by the House last week was SR 845 concern-ing transportation funding. No doubt you have seen news reports concerning the shortage of funds we as a state are facing on our transportation needs. A study committee to investigate this was appointed following last session and met during the intervening months.
These and other efforts culminated in SR 845 being brought before the House.
For sake of a quick review, the main two proposals at the beginning of the session were 1) a state wide additional one percent sales tax to fund transportation and 2) giving individual or contiguous counties the option to adopt a local one cent sales tax to fund local transporta-tion projects, as in a SPLOST.
For various reasons both of these struggled to find support, and neither appeared to be gaining the traction needed to garner the votes needed to pass.
This resulted in the compromise approach contained in SR 845. Essentially, this looks a lot like a SPLOST approach but would be based on the twelve regional development dis-tricts in the state.
In other words, instead of a county by county vote, the two elected officials from each county on the districts regional commission would develop a list of projects in that district and submit the proposal to the counties making up the district.
The county commission of each county would then have the opportunity to decide whether to participate in the proposal or opt out. If they decided to opt out, the extra penny sales tax even if ultimately adopted across the district would not be collected in that county.
In addition, SR 845 as presented in the House would dedicate the fourth penny of sales tax on gas to transportation purposes. Right now the state collects the regular four cent sales tax on gas, but only three of the four cents are dedicated to transportation. The fourth goes into the general fund and can be spent on whatever the General Assembly desires.
It is estimated that this change would make about $170 million a year available for things like local road projects and other transportation needs.
However, it is important to keep in mind that this is a proposed constitutional amend-ment.
Thus, even if a compromise version is reached with the Senate, it would still have to be approved statewide by the voters in November in order for this mechanism to be allowed. Then, the regional commission would have to propose the list of projects, the county com-mission would have to opt in to the proposal, and the referendum would have to pass across the district before the extra penny would be collected.
This proposal is certainly not without its problems. However, right now it is the only game going that will make additional funds available for transportation.
This is a vital issue in a state that is growing as rapidly as ours, and it is important for us to get something done.
As always, please feel free to contact me with your views on these and other issues facing our state. I can be reached by phone at 404-656-6372 or by email at:
I appreciate the honor of serving you in the Georgia House of Representatives.