Former foes find common ground on transportation

They were on opposite sides during the failed 2012 T-SPLOST campaign, but Tuesday members of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, the Georgia Chamber and other advocates announced common ideas to improve the state's lingering transportation issues.

The former foes want all of the state’s motor fuel tax to fund transportation. Their other recommendations include allowing counties and cities to hold their own penny sales tax votes for transportation, rather than grouping them with their neighbors in a regional format similar to the T-SPLOST proposal.

“We’ve got some folks who are interested in getting together and solving some problems,” said Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a new advocacy group that coordinated the announcement. “I knew despite the differences of opinion, we have common ground we can start out on transportation.”

Critics of the T-SPLOST didn’t like the lack of local control over creating the project list, which was negotiated by 21 mayors and county commissioners from 10 counties in the region. Some groups, such as the tea party members, said there was too much spending on mass transit. Other groups, such as the Sierra Club, claimed there wasn’t enough.

Ultimately, the tax failed nearly 2-to-1 in metro Atlanta, and for the most part, politicians have been loath to raise the issue again. House Bill 195, pending this year, would allow two or more neighboring counties to create special districts for the purpose of enacting a transportation sales tax.

Harper said the group sees the bill as a move in the right direction but would not offer a full endorsement because of issues with the wording.

The group also wants the state to use all of the motor fuel tax to fund transportation. Currently there’s a 4 percent tax on fuel — 3 percent goes to the Department of Transportation and 1 percent to the state’s general fund.

“Shouldn’t the tax on fuel actually go to fund transportation needs?” said Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots. “It would make sense that would be done.”