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Local legislators back transportation plan

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Area lawmakers are voicing support for a state transportation bill, reportedly designed to alleviate traffic congestion in Georgia on a region-by-region basis.

Legislation was introduced in the State Senate Monday asking local governments to impose a special tax for road projects. The money would be generated through a 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

The bill, if passed, could produce as much as $1.2 billion for the state, according to the Associated Press.

The proposed legislation allows counties to create a list of projects, and allows residents in those counties to vote on whether to fund them with a 1-cent sales tax.

If such a measure is passed at the local level, it would be presented to voters in the region for possible passage in 2010. State Sen. Gail Buckner (D-Jonesboro), is a co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill introduced by State Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga).

Buckner called the measure a "progressive and positive move" toward easing "critical" transportation woes in Georgia. "If we pass this legislation, it will give us a great opportunity to bring our transportation problems under control," said Buckner. "It will help stabilize us."

The metro Atlanta area has one of the worst average, commute times in the nation. Georgia, according to the Associated Press, spends the second lowest amount of money, per capita, on transportation.

Mullis' plan would create a 10-county region of Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties. It is projected to generate $850 million a year in new transportation revenues. Other areas of the state would have the ability to create their own regions, as well.

Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) said he supports Mullis' proposal, because it gives counties, like Henry, "the option of controlling their own destiny." He said lawmakers have a responsibility to work toward improving transportation in Georgia.

"We're choking on traffic, and we have to do something," said Douglas. "The Senate's plan is a good plan."

Republicans in the State House of Representatives are backing a different type of transportation initiative, in the form of a statewide plan for allocating funds dedicated to transportation efforts.

Douglas said he strongly opposes the House proposal, because it would be accompanied by a hefty price tag for voters. "Their bill would create the largest tax increase in the history of Georgia," he added. "The prospects for that bill are very dim. I wouldn't vote for it."

Sen. Buckner said the Senate plan is superior to that of its House counterpart. She said she appreciates Mullis' "big picture" approach.

"Bundling together our efforts within a region is more effective than implementing a piecemeal transportation plan," she said. "When we work together, it's better than doing a little bit here, and a little bit there."

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.