State Lawmakers Grapple with Georgia’s Infrastructure Needs

State lawmakers charged with examining Georgia’s critical transportation infrastructure needs sat down for the first time Tuesday.

During the joint House and Senate committee meeting, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden told lawmakers the state has the 10th largest transportation system in the country. But he said Georgia spends less on capital expenses and routine maintenance than several states of similar size such as Ohio and Florida.

“We’re a great state, we have a pretty good transportation system, but we’re not going to be able to sustain that without some future investment in transportation,” said Golden.

He presented the committee with about $12 billion dollars in transportation projects that currently lack funding. Golden said it’s just a short list of the projects his department would like to see get done. But he said his capital budget is only $800 million per year, including federal money. (For a PDF version of Golden’s PowerPoint presentation, click here).

As lawmakers look to meet those needs, committee co-chairman Sen. Steve Gooch, R- Dahlonega, said all funding options are on the table.

“Part of the challenge is that people don’t want to see increased taxes, and we’re not necessarily asking today to increase taxes. We’re going to look at what is our current tax structure, how can we make it better and how can we make the dollar go further.”

Following Golden’s presentation, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said raising the motor fuel tax, both on the state and federal level, will help Georgia stay competitive in the global economy.

“If you’re going to continue attract business, attract economic development, provide jobs for people that you represent, we have to deal with this infrastructure program. We have to have the resources,” said LaHood. “If America is going to be number one we need an increase in the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in two decades.”

The federal gas tax is set at 18.4 cents per gallon and is the primary revenue source for the Highway Trust Fund. Because the tax hasn’t changed since 1993, the fund has teetered on insolvency for years.

Adding to the problem, LaHood said, is Georgia’s gas tax is one of the nation’s lowest. (For a breakdown of Georgia’s gas tax relative to other states, click here).

Georgia House Transportation Committee Chair Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, said the state needs to step up.

“Whatever the way that we come to fund transportation, it’s not going to be an easy vote. It never is and those are tough votes you have to step up and make,” said Roberts.

A representative of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce also spoke at the meeting and said the state’s business community is fully behind efforts to boost infrastructure funding.  

The committee will meet at least seven more times before presenting a plan to Gov. Nathan Deal in January. The next meetings are as follows:

  • Aug. 25 – Columbus
  • Sept. 2 – Tifton
  • Sept. 3 – Macon
  • Sept. 30 – Augusta
  • Oct. 1 – Savannah
  • Oct. 28 – Rome
  • Oct. 29 – Blue Ridge