Debate has intensified recently on the July 31st transportation referendum. Opponents have come out protesting, among other things, the increase in taxes.
Election season is in full swing now and candidates at all levels are promising to reign in government and limit taxes. However, many proponents of the transportation referendum, (myself included), would consider themselves limited government types who want to see taxpayer money spent responsibly.
So that brings us to a pivotal question: Is building our transportation infrastructure a legitimate function of government? I say yes, and I rarely find anyone who disagrees regardless of political philosophy.
The Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 277 in 2010, which enabled the July transportation referendum. I would submit our legislators had great foresight in addressing the most contentious aspects of the referendum. The tax will sunset in ten years. Money raised in a region will stay in the region. Local mayors and county commissioners selected the projects. All of this is indisputable.
One aspect of HB 277 that is not receiving much press is the crunch local governments will be under in the event the referendum does not pass in their region. Currently, local governments can apply to the state for Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG). If a local government’s project is selected by the state, the local government will be asked to put up a minimum 10 percent matching funds.
Take a $100,000 maintenance project for example. The state may agree to let the project but stipulate the local government put up $10,000 of its own. The local government has available funds, agrees and the project is let.
However, a provision in HB 277 requires that local governments have to put up 30 percent matching funds on LMIG projects if the referendum is not approved in that region. This is worth repeating. If a region does not approve the referendum, all local governments in that region will be required to come up with nearly three times as much money to address local projects through LMIG.
If the referendum passes a region, HB 277 mandates that only a 10 percent match would be required from local governments in that region. This discrepancy is not an insignificant amount of money.
Some may say the state is holding local governments hostage with a provision like this. I would argue the state is incentivizing and rewarding those who want to do something to help themselves. Is this not at the heart of conservative principles of government? Should we expect the state to equally pick up the tab forever for those who do and those who refuse?
Additionally, HB 277 mandates 25 percent (15 percent in metro Atlanta) of money generated in a region will be disbursed back to local governments for projects of local significance.
In summary, if the transportation referendum passes a region, it will give local governments additional money and maximum flexibility to tackle local problems. If it does not pass, local governments will have less money and minimal flexibility to tackle local problems. This is not to even mention the approved project lists that will make our roads safer and make our state much more business competitive.
Passage of this referendum is good for our infrastructure. It is good for our state’s competitiveness. It is good for our local governments. I encourage everyone to learn more at connectgeorgia2012.com.
Jimmy Cotty, executive director of Georgia Concrete & Products Association