There are indications that the state is working on a “Plan B,” after the Transportation Investment Act was rejected in all but three regions.
And the indications are that “Plan B” will not to be anyone’s liking in this area. Count on any fix to the state’s transportation woes to focus on Atlanta.
Allen Burns, the executive director of the Coastal Regional Commission, had championed the merits of the transportation special purpose local option sales tax, the funding mechanism for the TIA. But voters in six of the 10 counties, including Effingham, said no, and emphatically so, to the one-cent sales tax.
T-SPLOST’s defeat can be attributed to a couple of factors — an anti-tax sentiment that was too much for T-SPLOST backers to overcome and a distrust of the state lawmakers to properly administer the project list.
Burns said he had to fight the perception that T-SPLOST revenues generated from the coastal region would be diverted to Atlanta, even as recent as a week before the vote.
I can vouch for our local lawmakers and their dedication. As for the remaining brethren of the 236-member General Assembly, I cannot vouch for them all. There are some I will not vouch for at all.
It’s understandable to question where taxes are going, not only to what level they might rise but also to what end they are being used. The prospect of higher taxes is a real possibility, one no one relishes facing.
With T-SPLOST, though, the benefits of the extra penny were substantial and real. The Effingham Parkway would have eased congestion on Highways 21 and 80. The sales tax also would have led to an overhaul of the 21/I-95 interchange. The two-lane highway to Tybee Island would have been expanded and been made safer. There would have been projects to make I-16 and I-516 easier to traverse.
Effingham stood to get $122 million for its list of road projects, and a 10 percent state match would have pushed the total to nearly $133 million. The Effingham Parkway’s four phases are projected to cost $131 million, and the Old River Road/I-16 interchange replacement is ticketed for $13 million in costs.
The county and the cities would have gotten another $40.2 million for road work and improvements that had nothing to do with the project list. That’s $173 million for roads — roads that could have eased the congestion on Highway 21 and Highway 80.
Other communities would have benefited — the Hinesville bypass, which has been discussed for a decade, would have come to fruition.
It takes considerable capital and resources to get roads built. On one of the local evening news broadcasts, a T-SPLOST opponent said there are taxes for this and taxes for that so surely there must be money for all these roads.
That notion displays a remarkable level of political naivete. Here’s why cynicism actually helps — because there are few things politicians love more than being able to show their constituents the road they were able to get built, fixed or paved or a bridge built or fixed. Doing that leads to the most gratifying of political capital and resources — votes. If there was money to build the roads and make the improvements that are needed, it stands to reason that our politicians would find that capital and those resources.
A few years ago, the state budget was over $21 billion. At the nadir of the economic collapse, the state budget went back to $16 billion. That’s $5 billion out of the state budget, with cuts to education, human and social services and transportation, among other areas.
As capital and resources are restored to the state budget, education and human and social services will be first up for replenishment. The number of people unemployed and underemployed for extended periods of time means the state’s human and social services are being used even more — and will be until more people get back to work.
Raising the motor fuel tax to make up for the lack of the T-SPLOST could mean as much as 25 cents more a gallon. For instance, if you fill up twice a week, at 15 gallons a trip to the pump, 25 cents more a gallon means $390 a year in extra motor fuel tax.
For your T-SPLOST cost to add up to $390 a year, you would have to buy the equivalent of $39,000 in taxable goods and services.
From fiscal year 2004 to FY11, the state’s motor fuel tax receipts averaged around $900 million a year. But that won’t cover the nearly $18.7 billion worth of projects scheduled to be done through the T-SPLOST.
If you’re one of the 70 percent of Effingham residents who work in another county and you voted against T-SPLOST, you’re going to be stuck in that congestion for the foreseeable future. If you have lamented the lack of job opportunities in the county and a tax base that isn’t as broad as you wish, T-SPLOST would have led to replacing the Old River Road overpass at I-16, meaning prospects wanting in on the IDA’s tracts there wouldn’t have to worry about getting their trucks in and out safely. It would have made those tracts that much more attractive to potential industries and companies.
So many leaders across the state had pinned hopes for needed road projects on the T-SPLOST. And now?
“We don’t know how we’ll go forward from here,” Burns said. “We’re waiting to see what the next steps are.”
The T-SPLOST can be brought back for a vote in two years. Right now, it seems unlikely.
“I don’t know if it will be resurrected or not,” Burns said, and it’s likely he will not recommend another run at T-SPLOST. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Right now, it doesn’t appear as if anyone else does either to get these projects done.