Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sales Tax Is No Way To Fund Transportation Projects

Read the column here.

Note that the Atlanta special district is an entity unto itself and that a completely different set of rules apply to it.  For the purpose of my two columns on T-SPLOST, I limited myself to those applicable to Athens.

Banner-Herald legal ad:

Athens-Clarke County Composite Sample Ballot (complete with T-SPLOST referendum)

Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (HB 277):

Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (O.C.G.A. §48-8-240 through §48-8-256)

Northeast Georgia Regional Commission:

Northeast Georgia Regional Transportation Referendum Project List:

Northeast Georgia Regional Transportation Referendum Final Investment Report:

Department of Transportation’s 2012 Transportation Referendum:

AJC article subtitled “Share of transportation funds for localities does not require project list:”

Georgia Public Policy Foundation T-SPLOST Issue Analysis:

There are any number of web sites dedicated to the T-SPLOST referenda issue, both pro and con.  I will leave it to readers to search for them if they are so inclined, as they are easy to find.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Plenty Of Reasons To Worry About Transportation Tax Proposal

Read the column here.

I find so much wrong with the TSPLOST proposal, that my next column may well serve as a continuation of this one.

The tax should actually be termed TSPROST (R for "Regional") using the accepted convention, but even this would be incorrect. The actual language in O.C.G.A. is “special district transportation sales and use tax.”

The special district containing Athens, that of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, was created a half-century ago as a “focal point for regional issues concerning local government and to be a resource for those governments in a variety of specialized areas.” Interestingly, transportation is not enumerated among those specialized areas listed on the NGRC web site.

The amount of revenue returned to local governments will be determined by a formula employing the “LARP factor” ( from the Georgia DOT's Local Assistance Road Program). Per O.C.G.A., 48-8-242(6), this “means the sum of one-fifth of the ratio between the population of a local government’s jurisdiction and the total population of the special district plus four-fifths of the ratio between the paved and unpaved centerline road miles in the local government’s jurisdiction and the total paved and unpaved centerline road miles in the special district.” Centerline means the length in one direction, irrespective of the number of lanes.

TIA’s initial article ominously states that “This article shall be construed liberally to achieve its purpose.” Given our past experiences with SPLOST and E-SPLOST levies, that is precisely of what I am afraid.

Addendum - All of the material that I read in preparation for this column indicated that the situation was the way I described it, or at least that was my interpretation of it because maintenance/paving (or "resurfacing," if you prefer) was lumped in with the verbiage used and not split out into a separately administered category. Of course, this material dealt with TSPLOST as a political issue, not with the details of how various DOT programs operate.

Your comment set me to digging deeper, with the result being a convoluted thing. It appears that DOT funded local government maintenance and paving through LARP until 2010, when that and similar activities were consolidated within LMIG.

From the New Georgia Encyclopedia (2008). “Local Assistance Road Program helps local governments preserve their road systems by funding resurfacing activities. Each year, every city and county in the state is invited to submit a priority list of projects to the GDOT, which reviews requests and establishes priorities for resurfacing. In 2007 GDOT resurfaced 917 miles of roads under the program. Overall, there are 70,013 miles of city and county paved roads in Georgia.” See point number 2 under Support for Georgia Roadways,

From the Georgia Municipal Association (2010), “On July 1 the Georgia DOT began accepting new requests for local transportation needs through the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) Program. Both the State Aid program and the Local Assistance Road Program (LARP) are replaced by the LMIG Program. GDOT held a series of workshops during the month of June to help local government officials understand the new process of applying for funds under the LMIG program. . . The total amount available in the LMIG program for FY2011 is $96 million. SB200 stipulated that LMIG must be funded at between 10-20 percent of motor fuel funds. The amount for FY2011 is approximately 13 per cent . . . While LARP funds were restricted to resurfacing projects, the LMIG program is intended to provide more flexibility and can be used for a variety of transportation improvement projects, including patching, widening, turn lanes, rehabilitation, intersections, traffic signals, safety upgrades, culvert/bridge repair and sidewalk/bike lane improvements that are within the roadway right of way. Parking lots are an eligible project, but priority will be given to road and bridge projects. . . For FY11, there is no match for resurfacing projects and a 10 percent match for construction projects. Money spent on preliminary engineering, right of way, utilities, etc. are NOT counted toward the 10 percent match.” See

From the DOT, “Due to motor fuel funds being used for this program only certain types of transportation improvement projects are eligible. Project types include but are not limited to: patching & resurfacing, new location, widening, turn lanes, rehabilitation, intersections, dirt road upgrades, safety upgrades, culvert/bridge repair or replacement. . . LG will be expected to match at least 10% of the construction cost on all projects except for resurfacing/maintenance type projects. LG may count monies spent on preliminary engineering activities toward the 10% match. In addition, monies spent on any construction items not included in the GDOT contract, can go toward the 10% match. See points number 7 and 10,

For what it is worth, I did not find a clear explanation on the DOT web site of how this process has changed over time (that doesn't mean that it isn't there, but I didn't find it).

So, it appears that resurfacing used to be covered by the DOT under LARP, but no longer is under LMIG, and that the percentage of the local government “match” required for construction projects may vary in any given year.

Is what you are saying is that the local government "match" for maintenance and paving, currently at 0%, will go up to 10% if the referendum passes and up to 30% if it does not? If so, then the TSPLOST idea is even worse than I originally wrote.

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