Road tax expected to be tough sell

Road tax expected to be tough sell

April 22nd, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

CALHOUN, Ga.-Northwest Georgia officials are discussing ways to muster support for a transportation tax that won't be on the ballot for another year and a half.

And while they praised the levy, an added 1 percent sales tax to support road, aviation and transit projects, they admitted they face a challenge.

"It's going to be tough, but it needs to pass in Whitfield," said Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb, speaking after Thursday's Northwest Georgia Regional Commission meeting. "We've got to address infrastructure somehow. Nobody's been able to tell me a Plan B."

Voters in the 15-county Northwest Georgia region will cast ballots on the tax in November 2012. Other regions in the state also will vote, but the verdict for each will be independent of others. The tax is expected to bring in about $1.2 billion in Northwest Georgia over its 10-year lifespan.

Northwest Georgia commission members discussed the importance of passing the tax in the region's four biggest counties: Paulding, Bartow, Whitfield and Floyd.

Commission Executive Director William Steiner compared the process to a presidential election, saying that getting support for the tax in those counties would be like a candidate winning California, New York, Texas and Florida.

"Some states are going to vote against you, but when it all adds up you have more votes," Steiner said.

Rome City Commissioner Buzz Wachsteter said he couldn't predict which way Floyd County will go. If the economy rebounds and anti-spending feeling dissipates among voters, the tax has a chance, he said. But if the economy continues to drag, it will be an uphill battle.

"It's the will of the people. Who can say?" he said.

Tea party leaders in Catoosa and Gilmer counties said they hadn't explored the tax yet, but in general they didn't like the sound of an extra tax.

"We don't want to raise taxes when we can cut spending," said Joyce Barrett, a tea party member from Gilmer County.

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said some counties, including Dade, could have other 1 cent sales tax levies for education or other projects on the ballot. If that's the case, Rumley said, voters willing to pay an extra penny might split on the two taxes so neither has majority support and both fail.

"It's going to be a tough sale," said Rumley, who called the transportation tax the greatest thing that could happen to Dade County's aging infrastructure.

The county leaders won't be alone in trying to push the tax. Steiner said the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is planning a marketing campaign to sway voters.

The Chamber announced this week the creation of its Georgia Transportation Alliance to push the tax.

Joselyn Baker, a spokeswoman for the Chamber, said the list of projects probably will be the biggest factor for voters and the alliance will point out the benefits of those projects.

"Obviously, there will be some messages that are statewide and some that will be local," Baker said Thursday.

The first draft of the project list includes $2.6 billion in requests, ranging from an $800 handrail for a Chattooga County sidewalk to a $600 million highway improvement project in Floyd County.