Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged Georgia lawmakers Tuesday to “get a little courage” and raise the state’s motor fuel tax. He was addressing the inaugural meeting of the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding at the Capitol.
There was standing room only in the large hearing room where various interests – including the Georgia Forestry Association – were on hand to hear State Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Keith Golden and others detail the status of Georgia’s transportation needs and express the inability to meet the state’s transportation needs at current funding levels.
Former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood, who spoke in Atlanta this week at the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding at the Capitol.
Currently, two-thirds of the money spent on road and bridge construction projects in the state comes from the federal government. A sharply divided Congress has been unable to agree on a long-term transportation funding bill since the last one expired in 2008, and has instead put in place a series of temporary patches. The result is a $74 billion shortfall in Georgia’s transportation funding needs over the next two decades. “The state must get away from its dependence on federal funding,” argued Golden.
LaHood emphasized that it is critical that Georgia be represented on the House and Senate Transportation Committees in Washington. Currently, Georgia has no members on either committee.
“Transportation is the biggest economic incentive for any state; you’ve got to be in the room” LaHood said.“You don’t get elected to make easy decisions; you get elected to make hard decisions that move the state forward,”
Georgia is 49th in the nation in per capita funding on transportation. Speakers during the ‘open mic’ portion of the meeting represented almost exclusively metro interests. However, in his comments to the committee, GFA president Steve McWilliams emphasized the need to give equal consideration to all interests, whether urban or rural. He focused on the need to provide greater funding for local roads and bridges that support 8,000 timber harvests each year.
“These timber harvests are an essential part of an industry that has a $29 billion economic impact in the state each year,” he said.
McWilliams suggested three areas that the study group should consider to generate additional funding for local roads and to insure that money that is put into roads and bridges provides the maximum benefit:
- some portion of special local sales tax measures could be mandated for road maintenance;
- state funding for local roads could be conditioned upon whether roads are built and maintained to specifications that support all types of commerce; and,
- for the sake of safety and efficiency, repair and replacement of deficient and obsolete bridges in rural counties should be considered a priority.
Additional hearings are scheduled around the state before the study committee prepares its recommendation for legislative action in the 2015 session. Locations and dates announced by the committee include: Columbus, August 18; Tifton, September 2; Macon, September 3; Augusta, September 30; Savannah, October 1; Rome, October 28; and, Blue Ridge, October 29. GFA urges members of the forestry community to show up and share concerns and recommendations with the study committee.