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Does Talk of Actually Funding Transit Signal a Sea Change?

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In a seemingly contradictory scenario, the Peach State legislature is hoping to accomplish $1.5 billion worth of transportation improvements by way of simultaneous new taxes and tax cuts. As the AJC reports, the plan includes "a historic commitment to the growth of transit," which isn't hard to accomplish considering there has been almost no support for transit at the state level. While the report by the long-named Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding doesn't specifically outline how to fund the bevy of projects, they propose either reshuffling or supplementing existing channels of state income. No matter how it is achieved, there needs to be investment, though the report has already proven contentious, with some members of the group who compiled it refusing to sign the final version.

While the state ranks 24th in total area, we manage to have the tenth largest road system in the country. The statistic might seem excusable based on the fact that, according to estimates by the US Census Bureau, Georgia's population ranks eighth highest in the country. But according to the AJC, Georgia ranks 49th in state spending per capita on roads. That startling disconnect, coupled with a disparity of $74 billion in planned projects versus paltry funding sources in the next two decades, means that something has got to give.

And that giving — about $1.5 billion annually for the next 20 years — looks like it will be coming from Georgia taxpayers, in some form or fashion.

There's happy news in all of this. The report indicates that for every dollar spent on improving transportation infrastructure, between $4 and $7.80 in economic benefit is generated. With investments paying upward of 400-percent dividends, it seems like a pretty good deal. Plus, with repaired roads and better overall infrastructure, there is a chance for less traffic, more companies being interested in relocating (or remaining) in Georgia and a better quality of life for all of us.

But the biggest takeaway from the report is this newfound support for not only creating options for public transportation, but supporting MARTA and allowing it to choose more freely how to allocate its funds. (Here's a hat-tip to pressure from Big Business!) The AJC calls out the Republican legislature as being a bit obstructionist in the past, concluding that annual funding for statewide transit is paramount if Georgia is to remain competitive in the long run.

· Funding report calls for new taxes and tax cuts for transportation [AJC; subscriber]