By Joel Hall
House lawmakers on Tuesday voted to approve a statewide transportation sales tax proposal that includes funding for an Atlanta-to-Griffin commuter rail line passing through Clayton County.
House members voted to pass House Bill 277, which creates a statewide funding mechanism for transportation projects, and House Resolution 206, which provides a vehicle to write it into law.
The measure goes to the Senate, which has been working on a competing proposal.
Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) said that HB 277, if approved by the Senate, the governor, and the people of Georgia, would generate $25 billion over 10 years to cover maintenance and operation costs for a multitude of projects.
"I'm excited about it because I think it's great for Georgia," he said. "It was imperative that we pass transportation funding to address the critical transit needs of this state. HB 277 allows us to do exactly that, whether we are talking about rural Georgia, urban Georgia, or suburban Georgia."
HB 277 calls for a statewide, 1-cent sales tax increase until 2020 to fund Georgia's road, bridge, and rail infrastructure. HR 206, a resolution for a constitutional amendment adopting HB 277, would need to be ratified by Georgia voters before the measure can become law.
"I'm excited for the possibility for transportation funding throughout state, but particularly for the funding that will go to the Atlanta-to-Lovejoy and Lovejoy-to-Griffin commuter rail line," said Glanton. He said the project would bring commerce and connectivity to all of the cities in between.
Republican legislative leaders have been reluctant to back tax hikes to help Georgia fill a $2.6 billion deficit, but both chambers of the state Legislature have now adopted separate plans to allow voters to decide whether to adopt a 1-percent sales tax increase for transportation improvements.
The House plan passed overwhelmingly on Tuesday, setting up a showdown with the Senate over how the tax would be levied. It also revives a long-running debate in the Legislature over what kind of tax hike is needed to relieve Atlanta's traffic-choked streets, repair crumbling infrastructure and improve the roads crisscrossing the state.
"You're going to get the chance to decide whether you're going to move forward or backward," said House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, the chamber's top Democrat. "We can't afford to stand still. Let's give Georgia the chance to move forward."
While the House plan favors a statewide sales tax, the Senate plan would allow counties to band together to impose the tax, allowing some regions to opt out.
Glanton said he believes the House and the Senate will come to a compromise.
"I think that with anything else that moves from one chamber to another, those legislators and chambers have ideas of their own," said Glanton. "I believe the House and the Senate will create a conference committee to make a compromise that will benefit the residents of this state."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.