LaHood Offers Blunt Assessment of Georgia’s Ability To Secure Transportation Funding

Georgia has two choices: get representation on a transportation committee in Congress, or get used to crumbling roads and bridges.

That was one of the blunt messages delivered this week to state lawmakers by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman, spoke before a group of lawmakers tasked with drafting ways to address the state’s $74 billion shortfall in transportation funding over the next two decades.

He said it will only get worse if Georgia remains a state with not one elected official on the Senate or House transportation committees.

“You’re all politicians and you all know how decisions are made around here. If you’re not in the room, you’re not going to be heard, right?” said LaHood.

The issue is especially relevant as Congress looks to stabilize the federal Highway Trust Fund, which helps pay for more than half of Georgia’s road and transit projects. Congress recently provided the fund with a $10 billion band-aid, but that’s only enough to pay for projects through the spring.

U.S. Rep Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County, had been a member of the House transportation committee but switched to banking in 2011. In addition to banking, he also sits on the House steering committee, which determines committee assignments. Westmoreland told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that one of his goals is to get two members of Georgia’s delegation on the transportation committee by next year. 

Meanwhile, to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, LaHood and Georgia’s Democratic congressmen have expressed support for an increase of the 18 cent-per-gallon federal gas tax, which hasn’t changed since 1993. However, several of Georgia’s Republican congressmen want to slash the tax, shrink the size of the fund, and give states more leeway to handle transportation revenue on their own.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, agreed Georgia would benefit from having greater representation on a transportation committee, but he stressed, first and foremost, the need for state and local officials to better understand the importance of infrastructure funding.

“It’s not whether you have someone on the committee or not. You can’t have a Georgian on every committee. But what you have to have is coordination with your state and local officials to work with everyone in the delegation to make things happen.”

Once that occurs, Scott said, Georgia will begin moving forward on transportation.

“Simply because we don’t have a member on a specific committee that in no way should take away from our clout because you have some very smart and capable members of the House who have sway on other committees,” said Scott. “Whoever is on transportation has a bank in their community or they’ve got a credit union in their community and they know David Scott sits on the banking committee.”