By Walter Jones –
ATLANTA – Georgia should come out a winner in the federal transportation bill before Congress because of the state’s willingness to boost taxes to build and fix roads, one of the bill’s authors said Monday.
And freight corridors – and the jobs coming with them – in places outside metro Atlanta will also benefit, according to Rep. Rob Woodall, a member of the House Transportation Committee. He was appointed last week by House Speaker Paul Ryan to the conference committee that will work out differences with the Senate over its version of the six-year funding bill.
Woodall, a Republican from Lawrenceville, told real-estate developers belonging to the Council for Quality Growth the six-year programs authorized by the bill give emphasis to areas with significant congestion like interstate highways around Atlanta. Population density is another factor that triggers spending.
But he said people living in places like Athens, Augusta, Savannah and Brunswick shouldn’t feel left out.
“The short answer is no. There is going to continue to be the historical emphasis on spreading money by congressional districts around the area, based on population,” he said.
Since each district has the same population, they should get similar base funding.
“The difference is some of these major freight corridors,” he said. “What have we done to get I-16 ready for Panamax ships? That’s a lonely stretch of road. It doesn’t have a big voice in terms of federal transportation policy, but critically important, not just to people who live along it, but also to the entire Southeastern region.
“I’m optimistic that you’re going to see a greater investment in some of these projects that might not be as glamorous as a big new bridge inside the (Atlanta) Perimeter,” he said.
The House bill begins a shift toward having local and state government raise the funds to maintain highways and concentrating federal money on infrastructure expansion. By Georgia raising its state gas tax this year – and regions in the state like Augusta’s that voted for a transportation sales tax – the state is poised to benefit more from federal spending in the House plan than in previous transportation bills, he said.
During the question segment of the luncheon, former state Rep. Emory Morsberger said, “Gas prices are down. It seems like the ideal time to raise the user fee called gas tax to fund our infrastructure.”
Woodall replied that neither the House nor Senate version of this year’s transportation bill raises the gas tax, even though he said inflation has eroded it since the last increase during the Reagan administration. Voters’ lack of trust makes politicians hesitant, he said.
“We can’t raise gas taxes today because folks don’t believe that the gas taxes they paid yesterday, that they’re getting their money’s worth from it,” Woodall said.
Instead, both bills use what the congressman called accounting gimmicks.
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