House Speaker David Ralston said Thursday that the State Legislature must address transportation needs this year, although he didn’t endorse any specific funding proposal.
“The one thing we can’t do is to do nothing,” Ralston said at a press conference looking ahead to the 2015 legislative session. “There’s never going to be a better year than this year to do something. This can’s too big to kick down the road anymore – that’s the mindset that I’m asking people to have.”
Ralston said “I’m not going to endorse a specific package today. We need to not get into a lot of bickering of what it ought to look like. We ought to find a consensus on a reasonable long-term solution and see it through.”
A special legislative committee recently issued a report containing different options to meet a transportation funding shortfall. The committee found that the state needs an additional $1 billion to $1.5 billion at the minimum just to adequately maintain existing roads and bridges.
Ralston commented, “$1.5 billion is a lot of money, but we have a lot of needs,” observing that school buses and families are driving on deteriorating100-year-old bridges which is “something that gives you pause.”
Options listed by the committee included a 1-cent state sales tax dedicated to transportation and increasing the state’s motor fuels tax. At present, the state has a 7.5 per gallon excise tax, as well as a 4-cent gasoline sales tax.
Another possibility is giving the state Department of Transportation all of the proceeds from the four-percent gas sales tax. At present, 1 percent of the tax goes into the general fund, approximately $180 million a year.
Ralston said that “we could see a package that has a lot of different components. I’m open to looking at a combination of things to get us to where we need to be.”
He also said he’s open to the state giving support to mass transit, another issue raised by the committee’s report. The panel didn’t recommend transit funding but called on the Legislature to “acknowledge the need for additional investment in transit systems around the state of Georgia.”
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