Fayette tells state to concentrate on roads, bridges, no gas tax hikes


The Fayette County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to send a message to state legislators about taking a more careful look at its transportation funding priorities.

The action came at a special called meeting March 4, six days after a contentious discussion at the last regular board meeting over when the issue should be addressed.

The 20-minute meeting covered only one agenda item, and none of commissioners commented on the resolution except for its author, Steve Brown, whose remarks made up roughly 15 minutes of the meeting.

The board moved to adjourn immediately after the vote, to applause from the citizens in attendance.

While the resolution mentions House Bill 170, which has been passed by the Georgia House of Representatives and is currently under consideration in the Senate and under fire from various groups around the state, Brown said that it was not just about that piece of legislation.

Board Chairman Charles Oddo thanked Brown and Vice Chair Pota Coston for their work on the resolution over the past week, saying that they invested a number of hours so that the group could meet sooner rather than later to act.

For a moment there was a question about whether there would be any discussion, one of the main sticking points that caused strife at the previous meeting. Oddo immediately called for a motion while Brown asked if he could introduce the resolution. Commissioner Randy Ognio moved to approve it and Brown seconded, opening the discussion phase.

Brown thanked all of the “concerned citizens” who were in attendance at this meeting as well as the Feb. 26 meeting, along with those who called and emailed their support for the resolution.

He also specifically thanked Coston for her offer to discuss the resolution with him.

“She grilled me for three and a half hours on each and every clause,” he said. “That’s the way it should be. We should be required to define and defend our positions.”

Brown commended Ognio for “advocating for free speech in a public forum” as well as his position on transportation issues.

“He’s a man of principle and he demonstrates that every day,” he said.

The remainder of Brown’s remarks were about transportation issues in general and much of what is included in the resolution, which he said does not tell anyone how to vote on HB 170 but takes “a broad look at transportation funding.”

He took a swipe at “a local airline,” saying he was delighted that it was able to report a $4.5 billion profit in 2014 and its 80,000 employees will receive more than $1 billion in profit sharing.

“They do not need state tax credits for aviation fuel,” he said, adding that he applauds the legislature that has so far removed those credits.

Brown took a moment to comment on House Bill 186, which he said he opposes because it reduces transparency in government. His position is opposite that of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which has encouraged its passage, and he said he would never support or oppose something simply because a group wanted him to.

After the meeting, Oddo was pleased with the overall result.

“I had no doubt the commission would work through issue and come to a conclusion on the resolution addressing issues in HB 170,” he said.

“The meeting, and the work leading up to it, demonstrate the ability of this commission to come together for the good of Fayette County. In its final form, the resolution contained language all the commissioners could support. To that, I’d simply offer my thanks to each of my fellow commissioners for their efforts that culminated in our action Wednesday,” Oddo said.

Among the items addressed in the resolution:

• A report was cited showing that Georgia is ranked among the top states in the nation for the overall condition of its roads.

• The issue at the state level is often not about funding as much as how the money is spent.

• Potential changes in funding should be structured to avoid perpetual tax increases.

• Using earmarked money for other purposes has been a problem and should be discouraged.

• Congress is currently considering a 10-15 percent increase in the federal gas tax, while Georgians would benefit more from lower fuel costs.

• Right now about 25 percent of that federal money goes toward mass transit in certain metro areas which shows no signs of relieving traffic congestion, and the state legislature should pass a resolution calling for the reappropriation of federal gas tax revenue for roads and bridges.

• A survey was cited stating that only three percent of the metro Atlanta population commutes via mass transit.

• Local control is best when using government funds for transportation, although the T-SPLOST model “is a one-size-fits-all program and is less likely to succeed.”

The resolution concluded by asking that the state “endeavor to become a national leader in transportation reform by making transportation a priority in the state’s budget, adopting specific plans dictating which projects will receive funding, concentrating on road and bridge infrastructure, eliminating proposed projects such as transit rail with no rationale for implementation or justification based on certifiable traffic congestion relief standards, avoiding cost soaring federal mandates with the state taking over the portion of the federal gasoline tax.”

The document also calls for state lawmakers to avoid harming county and city governments and school boards through its actions.