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Vote is a Local Solution to Transportation Crisis

March 21,2012

From www.ajc.com

Many conservative voters are quick to adopt a “no-new-taxes” mindset. While this is a legitimate argument in our current federal environment, a smarter exercise is to decide “what is” and “what is not” a legitimate constitutional function of government, and how do we pay for it?

On July 31, a regional transportation sales tax referendum will give Georgia voters a historic opportunity. Residents, region by region, will vote on a local tax, for local transportation projects, with 100 percent local control. It likely will pass in some regions and not others. It is a classically conservative approach to funding a legitimate, core function of government.

This referendum is a bottom-up, local solution to our transportation budget crisis. Locals decided the project lists with public input, the voters decide at the ballot box, and then local residents benefit from their own investments.

Transportation investments have long been an essential responsibility of state and federal governments. Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of transportation to our security and economic well-being.

Beginning with Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, through Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, our leaders have long realized that transportation drives economic activity and saves lives. The last time the federal gas tax was increased strictly for transportation was under Ronald Reagan in 1982. He characterized it as “not a tax increase,” but a “user fee” adjustment.

Despite the fact that Georgia is the third-fastest growing state in the nation, it is 49th in per-capita spending on transportation.

State gas tax revenue, our primary source of transportation funding, continues to decline. We face a transportation funding crisis.

Addressing this crisis will enhance our economic competitiveness, make roads safer and bring jobs. 

According to the Federal Highway Administration, every $1 billion invested in highway construction supports 27,823 jobs and generates up to $2.5 billion in economic activity. This accounts for 9,537 construction jobs, 4,324 jobs in industries that directly or indirectly supply materials and services for construction projects and 13,962 jobs supported when those employed spend their incomes.

Of the revenue raised in each region, 75 percent will go toward the lists of regional projects and 25 percent will go back to cities and counties for local transportation projects. Every penny raised locally will be spent on local projects with local oversight.

Solving this crisis with a consumption-based, fair-tax mechanism, voted on by the people, limited in time and with accountability and oversight is not only the right direction, it’s a conservative solution.

Jared Thomas is former Georgia director for Americans for Prosperity.