Last week, the Georgia General Assembly, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan effort, passed legislation that allows voters to decide in regions throughout Georgia if they want to approve a 1 percent sales and use tax for regional transportation investments.
As a broad overview, the legislation creates 12 regional districts across the state. “Regional roundtables” comprised of local elected officials (county commissions chairs and a mayor from each county) will develop a project list to be voted on by citizens in the 2012 general primary.
This bill has the potential to benefit Fayette County in multiple ways. First, our county is a commuter county, with over 60 percent of our workforce leaving the county to go to work each day. Our hard-working, taxpaying citizens, in large part, use regional roads and infrastructure such as I-85 in South Fulton or I-75 in Clayton to head northward, and I-85 in Coweta or I-75 in Henry and Spalding to head southward.
Those roads and much of the supporting state roads and regional transportation infrastructure are out of Fayette County, but currently have significant negative impact on the lives of our citizens as congestion gets worse and worse in our region.
Georgia’s lack of funding for transportation has placed us 48th out of 50 states in transportation funding. And that has resulted in multiple employers deciding NOT to locate in our region because of congestion and the gridlock that is gripping the Atlanta region. And Fayette’s economic health is inextricably tied to the health of Atlanta and Georgia in general.
While we are working hard to grow jobs in Fayette, the reality is that 70 percent of Fayette’s workforce comes into the county each day while the aforementioned 60 percent leaves to go to work. That means that jobs are at stake and are tied to our ability to plan for and fund transportation solutions in the region, not only within our own community.
This recently passed legislation is not perfect by any means. But the final legislation gave Fayette two votes out of 21 in our region, which greatly exceeds any per capita percentage we would get based on our population “fair share.”
That means our elected officials have a chance to carry forward what our citizens view as the major projects that will help prepare for the future both inside our county and throughout the region. Beyond the projects of regional significance, this legislation designates another 15 percent of the funds for strictly local projects.
And no, despite what some would have you believe, this bill in NOT a ploy to bring MARTA to Fayette. For Fayette, this is about moving people, moving products, and keeping our economy and our jobs healthy so we can effectively compete with other regions around the country.
Not surprisingly, the significance of this legislation wasn’t lost on our economic competitors. Articles about the legislation’s passage have already appeared in online newspapers as far west as San Francisco and in business magazines in both the United States and Canada.
As our local community elected leaders begin the task of determining which transportation projects and programs they might want to construct or operate with a regional sales tax, we need to remember that our economic competitors, as well as potential employers thinking about re-locating to our region, will be paying close attention to what we do.
For everyone, this ultimately gives us hope that we can spend more time with our families and less time in traffic.
Virginia Gibbs, president
Fayette County Chamber of Commerce