Transportation funding bill slowed by budget work

Lawmakers tasked with hammering out a deal on transportation funding say they’re trying. But the mammoth task of fixing the state budget is sucking some of the air out of the room.

“We’ve got about four budget bills we’ve got to do” that take precedence over work on transportation, said Tommie Williams, president pro tempore of the Senate and a member of the conference committee working to make a deal.

That doesn’t mean they’re not trying. The conference committee has seriously taken up the possibility of doing a constitutional amendment, Williams said, and it is in talks with Democrats about how to get their support. "If we can't get their help, we'll go back to a [regular] bill," Williams said.

As originally proposed, the transportation funding legislation would divide the state into 12 regions and require each region to hold a referendum on a 1 percent sales tax to fund a list of transportation projects within that region. Gov. Sonny Perdue and some lawmakers are at odds about whether a local government could opt out of a region and its tax.

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber, and that means getting at least some Democratic votes. It also means the governor’s signature would not be required.

All the same, “at the end of the day you want the governor on board,” said Rep. Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), chairman of the House Transportation Committee and a member of the conference committee. “You don’t want somebody out there who’s the governor of the state actually opposing something on the ballot.”

Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said the governor “disagrees with having a vote in 2010 because you will not have a statewide plan developed" in time. A constitutional amendment would probably go to the voters in 2010.