Valdosta City Council Tim Carroll sent a message Saturday with an attached letter from City Manager Larry Hanson to the sponsor of HB 170, strongly opposing that stealth tax hike. This is in addition to the resolution the Valdosta City Council passed against HB 170.
Carroll’s cover letter:
Attached is a message Mr. Hanson prepared and sent to Rep. [Jay] Roberts regarding the proposed State Transportation Funding legislation or HB 170. Rep. Roberts is the lead sponsor of this bill.
As many of you have already heard, the Valdosta City Council adopted a resolution against the current proposals in this bill. While you can see more details in Mr. Hanson’s message, suffice to say if passed as it is currently written, it will take local funds and send them to the state. Taking over $12 million from local motor fuel sales tax funds from Lowndes county, the cities including Valdosta, PLUS both school systems is not a good option for our community.
I hope each of you are concerned and will educate yourselves on this issue. Your city leadership is engaged and vocal. We have been communicating with the county and both school systems. I would like to ask each of you to learn all you can and contact our state delegation and others you may know in state leadership regarding this bill.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I will update all of you as this bill works toward its’ final form and possible adoption.
Thank you for your time regarding this important issue,
Councilman District 5
City of Valdosta
Here is the attached letter to the bill’s sponsor:
This correspondence is sent with the utmost respect for the leadership you are providing on the transportation funding issue. I attended several meetings with you during the time the T-SPLOST initiative was underway, including meetings to discuss projects and explain the purpose and intent to elected officials, appointed officials and citizens. There are always and will always be naysayers no matter the proposal, but I admire you for stepping up and providing leadership on this issue. As co-chair of the study committee, you did reach out to all those who wanted input and give all areas of the state a voice. That is also recognized and appreciated. I applaud the committee for their efforts and I think the greatest success of the committee is the fact that its work has opened the eyes of Georgians to the transportation funding need and crisis we have in this state. It is a credit to you and the committee that the debate is no longer about whether we need additional transportation funding but what the best way is to provide such funding. That is a huge hurdle that has been crossed and you are owed gratitude for the change in attitude towards the subject of transportation funding.
The study committee provided findings in its report to the Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor beginning on page 17 of the report. I find it noteworthy that the first recommendation is as follows and I quote: “A minimum of $1.0 — 1.5 billion in new annual transportation infrastructure investment is needed to address the challenges outlined above and produce the following results.” To me, the key word in that recommendation is the word “new.” The report goes on to provide a smorgasbord of twelve funding options to be considered. Number 9 of those 12 options seems to be the primary focus of HB 170, however it is the only one of the 12 options that stated it should be a “long term” solution. HB 170 proposes to re-allocate all the local government sales taxes on motor fuel to the state by eliminating the local sales tax and replacing it with a state excise tax. This re-allocation of existing revenue from local governments to the state seems inconsistent with the study committee’s report and its primary conclusion to identify “a minimum of $1.0 — 1.5 billion in new annual transportation infrastructure investment…” And it certainly falls far below the report’s findings of needing $1.0 — 1.5 billion in new revenue, because over $500 million of HB 170’s proposed revenue generation comes from local governments and therefore cannot be correctly portrayed as new revenue. HB 170 does not mention recommendation number 6, to “implement a one-cent statewide sales tax which would generate approximately $1.4 billion dollars each year.” This despite the fact this option actually generates the amount the study committee determined was needed, all of which would be new revenue, as the committees report recommended.
Let me again applaud you for the time, effort and commitment you have given on this matter and for being willing to step up and provide leadership on this important subject. I cared enough about the matter to be present at the press conference when you gave a general overview of the bill and I thanked you for your efforts as you left the press conference. I know this is a difficult issue and one that has many differing viewpoints. I applaud you for being willing to step up and lead on the subject. I also believe that is it never enough to merely oppose something, but it is equally important to offer something. To that end, I would like to respectfully offer some suggestions for your consideration.
I believe the best and most fair way to address transportation funding is through a one-cent statewide sales tax. There are a number of reasons for this. One, the citizens of Georgia get to make the determination as to whether they wish to tax themselves by offering this option as a statewide referendum. Therefore the General Assembly will not be raising taxes, and the consequences of HB 170 that would force local governments to raise taxes would not occur. There would be no losers. In my opinion, a sales tax is the fairest tax because one’s requirement to pay is based upon one’s ability to spend. Those that purchase the least pay the least and those that purchase the most pay the most. Having a statewide transportation SPLOST is also the most pure form of democratic government. The people of Georgia decide if they want to tax themselves. With my belief that you and the committee have done a remarkable job of educating Georgians of the need to address transportation funding and the consequences of not doing so, I truly believe a statewide referendum would pass. The people would vote to tax themselves because a compelling and persuasive argument has been made to them. Neither the General Assembly nor local governments would have to vote to raise taxes. And best of all, $1.4 billion in new funding is achieved, both the amount the report concluded was needed, as well as the fact it would all be “new” funding, as the report concluded was needed. The statewide transportation SPLOST could be initially proposed on the referendum as an 8 year tax. This would allow the 4 regions that passed T-SPLOST to continue their tax, and not be double taxed during the remaining 8 years of their voter approved referendum. The rest of Georgia would pay the new SPLOST and it would sunset at the same time the 10 year T-SPLOST referendum expires in those 4 regions. That will give adequate time to review the success of the tax and then make a determination as to whether to make it a permanent statewide sales tax at that time. Since it would be a state tax, the state can and should have full control over how it is allocated. There would be no harm to any party, including schools, which seem to be harmed by all other proposals I have heard.
I really like the concept of the Infrastructure Bank, as well as the concept of matching grants to local governments. The best way to encourage the behavior wanted is to incentivize it. The state could offer matching grants to local governments from the state SPLOST, thus encouraging and rewarding local governments that are willing to put more transportation funding in their local SPLOST and the use of other local funding sources for transportation. Local governments can also typically deliver projects on a faster timeline that the state. This is not a criticism of GDOT, but the agency has never been provided with an adequately staffed Planning Division and they must also operate under more federal and state requirements than local governments do. I would estimate that a state delivered transportation project of any magnitude has a nearly 10 year process from concept, environmental, right of way, preliminary design, preliminary construction estimates, final design, final estimated costs, bid, award, and construction. Many of these items are outside the agency’s control and result from federal mandates GDOT must follow. These mandates often add years to a project’s timeline and force projects to be overdesigned and therefore more costly than need be to meet the local transportation need. Local officials know local needs best and can listen directly to local voters who live and work on the local roads being affected. In this concept, the state and local governments are partners in the funding and delivery of transportation projects and not adversaries.
I would urge you not to use the LMIG formula for distributing funds to local governments, unless the formula is modernized. The current LMIG is unfair to cities and unfair to communities that have used their transportation dollars to pave roads, rather than merely maintain dirt roads. It is hard for me to justify that dirt roads are part of a comprehensive state transportation network. Dirt roads are local roads and should be funded, in my opinion, by local revenues. This is more of a maintenance and operation (M&O) issue that a capital expenditure issue. The current LMIG formula is 2/3 centerline road mileage and 1/3 population. This means a dirt road counts the same as a four lane arterial collector because both have one “centerline.” A more fair way to distribute LMIG funds would be lane mileage, not centerline road mileage. I assure you no local government is resurfacing one lane of a four lane road. All four lanes must be resurfaced, or widened or built. Traffic volume also wears out municipal streets faster than rural roads. To me, a more fair formula would be to allocate funding based on 2/3 lane mileage and 1/3 population. Neighborhood streets and dirt roads should be excluded from LMIG funding or funded at one-half the level of paved roads. Collectors, arterials and other such primary roads that are clearly part of a comprehensive transportation network should be the focus of state funding. In any event, lane mileage, not centerline mileage should be the factor used. Vehicles drive on all the lanes, not just one and all must be maintained and replaced. A distribution formula could also guarantee a minimum level of funding to all cities and counties.
In closing, I hope these suggestions will be received in the manner they are intended. I am sincere when I say I appreciate your courage and your effort to bring this issue forward. You and the committee have done a tremendous job educating Georgians and changing the debate from whether funds are needed, to the best and most fair way to generate such funding. We will always have the vocal few who oppose everything, but I believe the overwhelming majority of Georgians are prepared to provide more funding to meet the needs for their own economic well-being, their quality of life and our states future. I stand ready to work with you and all involved to come up with final recommendations that benefit all and harm none.