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Group wants rail tied to $1B sales tax(Macon,GA)

Started by airforceguy, September 17, 2010, 02:19:01 AM

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Group wants rail tied to $1B sales tax

If a decade-long, $1 billion regional transportation sales tax passes, local planning officials want to have the option of helping commuter rail projects.

That was the first suggestion Wednesday made toward tweaking state guidelines for the regional sales tax, which voters will consider in August 2012.
The draft guidelines limit public transportation funding to services already running this year, and passenger rail isn't mentioned in a section that talks about freight rail traffic.

The discussion came in a Wednesday committee meeting of the Macon Area Transportation Study group. Bibb County Engineer Ken Sheets said statewide rail service would require more money than the regional taxes would raise.

Jim Thomas, who leads the MATS group, said he'd already heard the rail request even before Wednesday's meeting began. MATS' comments will go to state officials, who are creating guidelines for what kinds of projects could be funded. More comments could be made next week at a MATS policy committee.

A regional planning agency, which hasn't yet been formed, will be able to further alter the state guidelines.

Other suggestions from the MATS technical committee: making it clear that bridges could get money and that roadwork projects included costs of moving power lines and other utilities.

But the regional sales tax is likely to encounter strong opposition. In a separate interview Wednesday, Houston County Commission Chairman Ned Sanders argued against the entire sales-tax effort. He said it's still not clear whether the regional transportation sales tax would be allowed to exceed the state's 7-percent cap on sales tax, meaning county government or the school system could lose their funds.

Sanders also said it's voters who would approve the regional sales tax at the same time they consider renewing county and school system sales taxes, which keep the money in the community. Sanders is critical of the regionalization plan, which would shift control of funds to Atlanta to be spent somewhere in an 11-county Middle Georgia region.

"We don't need someone from Atlanta telling us how to take care of our roads, because we take care of our roads,"  Sanders said.

Sanders said Houston County has allocated nearly $30 million of its own sales-tax collections to accelerate state work on Houston Lake Road and Ga. 96.

The regional transportation sales tax also will face other opposition. Jamie Webb, who leads the MATS citizens advisory council, was appalled to learn that voters may not see a list of projects when they're considering which way to vote.

"That just seems patently illegal,"  Webb said.

But Tony Rojas, executive director of Macon Water Authority, pointed out that the sales tax would have a significant stick.

If voters or a regional panel reject the measure, local taxpayers' share of state repaving projects would skyrocket, from 10 percent to 30 percent or even 50 percent.

"It's got disincentives to make you do it,"  Rojas said.

In the 11-county Middle Georgia region, the regional sales tax is projected to raise just over $1 billion over 10 years. One-quarter of that money would go to local governments. Three-quarters of that money would go toward a list of projects picked out by a regional panel of mayors and county commission chairmen.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.


so where does this rail line goto?  WR AFB to Macon? it's hard to see rail being succesful anyplace in just the middle GA region.  imo, it'd have to be tied into Atlanta and/or Savannah to work as a plan. 


Quote from: SSF on September 17, 2010, 11:45:43 PM
so where does this rail line goto?  WR AFB to Macon? it's hard to see rail being succesful anyplace in just the middle GA region.  imo, it'd have to be tied into Atlanta and/or Savannah to work as a plan.  
There doesn't appear to be much, if any, coordination between state and each of the 12 regional authorities to appear unified and stay "on message".  As noted above, Macon officials have a very local view of the SPLOST.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Georgia Senate Committee on Intermodal Rail and Transit has a much more grandiose vision of having Atlanta become a "Hartsfield Airport"-type hub for a network of high-speed rail lines (Sept. 15 GPB News):

"[C]hairman of the senate committee on inter-modal rail and transit Democratic Senator Doug is hopeful dollars won't be as hard to find in the future.

He says high-speed rail projects could be on the 2012 ballots as part of a new funding bill which lets voters decide if they want to be taxed a penny for transportation projects.

"If we pass the sales tax, the regional SPLOST, that is being talked about, come July 2012 for each of the 12 different regions... that's a major way of how some of those are going to be funded," says Stoner ....

The DOT is also getting ready to put out a request for proposals to build a station where all the high-speed lines would come together in Atlanta.

"Kind of like how Hartsfield is for airlines," says Stoner, "this would be for high speed rail and all types of rail, really, not just for here in Georgia, but for the whole southeast.""

In the absence of a unified position regarding where the money will go, it's hard to see Georgia voters approving the sales tax.


Current controversy over extension of GA 400 tolls until 2020 will probably be bad news for proposed 2012 sales tax:

"H. Lamar Willis, who has served on the Atlanta City Council's transportation committee for nine years and used to chair it, said he had heard nothing from the state about the toll issue. He said the possibility the Ga. 400 toll would stay makes him wary of assurances now on another issue: the regional transportation tax referendum to come in 2012.

He is concerned whether his area will be treated equitably in a 10-county regional tax. Speaking of the revenue stream, he said, "Once they got it they have not given us, I think, an adequate place at the table."

Clair Muller, who served on the City Council from 1990 to 2010 after fighting Ga. 400, agreed, calling into question whether voters would be able to trust that the projects promised on the referendum will actually get done.

"I think as we move forward [it's important] that we be able to trust a list of projects, and trust what the department is saying before we go to the polls to vote,"  she said." (

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