As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week, Georgia's next governor will have some big transportation decisions to make – decisions that will affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of Georgia residents.
The candidates – Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp – say more must be done to tackle traffic and improve transportation across the Peach State. But they offer different visions of what should be done and how to pay for it.
The AJC asked each candidate questions about transportation issues and received written responses. Here are Abrams' responses. You can read Kemp's responses here.
Do you support dedicated state funding of mass transit construction or operations? What source of revenue?
Transit is a statewide necessity, from access to jobs to paratransit to non-emergency medical transport; however, Georgia’s leaders have largely left communities on their own to meet this critical need. As Democratic Leader of the Georgia House, I negotiated one of the state’s largest investments in transit in the 2015 transportation bill. In addition, I helped lead the effort to secure the option for communities to dedicate local sales taxes to transit. The state must continue to become a true partner with local communities in providing access. As governor, I ensure that the state remains a key investor in transit through our bonding capacity; general fund incentives where appropriate; and inclusion of transit as and permitted use of motor fuel taxes, without sacrificing our current efforts on roads, bridges, and economic development projects.
In 2015, Gov. Nathan Deal and the General Assembly approved $75 million in bonds for one-time grants for mass transit capital projects. This year they provided $100 million in bonds, all of which went to construction of bus rapid transit facilities on Ga. 400. Do you support continued bonding for mass transit capital construction? How would you select projects?
I proudly led Democratic negotiations to invest an unprecedented $75 million in transit as part of new transportation funding in 2015. As governor, I will continue our investment in transit construction projects through bond funding. We have the capacity within our bond limits to increase our commitment to transit capital construction, and I plan to include $150 million in bonds for transit.
This year the governor and the General Assembly approved HB 930, which created the ATL Board and allowed 13 metro Atlanta counties to raise sales taxes (with voter approval) for transit construction and operations. Do you support that legislation? Would you like to see any revisions?
I support the ATL Board and the new metro Atlanta transit opportunities. This effort is new, and we must allow operations to get fully underway before considering revisions. However, two critical issues are exploration of long-term solutions to financing and streamlined processes for inclusion of new areas as metro-Atlanta development continues over the next fifty years. As our current situation demonstrates, we must forge bipartisan leadership building out the region for growth and opportunity, recognizing the increasing density of the area and changing needs of inhabitants.
The House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding continues to study rural transit issues. Are you inclined to support additional legislation addressing transit funding and governance in rural Georgia?
Transit exists at varying levels throughout Georgia, but the state must take the lead on connecting metro Atlanta with the 13 hub cities that anchor the MSAs outside of Atlanta. We need better connectivity among hub cities and Atlanta and improved transit delivery within each hub. With limited access to medical care, the existence of food deserts and commuter travel to job sites, transit must be a statewide imperative. This will include short-term opportunities like bus and van pool transit and longer-term review of rail. I look forward reviewing the findings of the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding and collaborating with legislators to expand transit options statewide.
Last year the state auditor found GDOT’s project selection process should be more rigorous. Do you support legislation requiring GDOT to use cost-benefit analyses to select and prioritize projects?
Our transportation project selection process should be transparent and data-driven, and I will support efforts that improve our processes to achieve those goals. This includes identifying best practices to ensure that we leverage this process to grow jobs in affected communities to secure the highest return on investment for the multi-billion projects we approve.
The audit found many local officials believe politics – rather than objective criteria – plays a significant role in project selection. Would you de-emphasize politics in the selection of road projects for state funding? How? How would you increase confidence in the state’s selection process?
A transparent, data-driven procurement process is the primary solution to the issues raised by the state auditor. Not only would I support legislation to incorporate best practices, I would also institute a rigorous review of existing projects to ensure that no hidden biases have been at play in awarding contracts or selecting locations. To that end, the DoT would be charged with a more inclusive community engagement process to best identify concerns before projects are let.
Do you support all the projects Georgia’s Major Mobility Investment Program? Would you re-examine the project list?
I worked across the aisle in support of the 2015 Transportation Funding Act because I know that our economic growth and quality of life depend on a well-functioning transportation system. I acted then and will continue to act to relieve congestion and improve the mobility of Georgians. As governor, I will prioritize transparent, data-driven processes as well as aggressive community engagement in determining projects, including within the Georgia Major Mobility Investment Program.
Each year since the General Assembly approved HB 170, there have been efforts to repeal some of the revenue streams it includes to support highway and bridge construction. Would you support repeal of any of these revenue streams? Which ones?
If we revisit HB 170 revenue streams, I would reexamine our treatment of low emission vehicles. I co-sponsored legislation to provide a tax credit to encourage the purchase of such vehicles and would like to renew our efforts in that area. I also believe we should re-examine the hotel/motel fee assessed as part of the financing process. While I continue to support the underlying premise, we should whether it should be graduated rather than a flat fee. Lastly, HB 170 placed motor fuel taxes on public transit systems and school buses, which has the effect of diverting funds from these areas. Given the high cost of transportation for rural schools and the limits on current funding for public transit, I would review decreasing or removing the motor fuel taxes on transit and school systems.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC