Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Transportation and Education

Those who follow this blog won't be surprised by this assertion: I believe greater investment in secondary and higher education and a dedicated source of transportation funding are the two most critical things that can happen for our region in the year ahead.

Recently, some interesting news has emerged on both fronts.

Last Friday, the Atlanta Regional Coalition for Higher Education (ARCHE, for short) released a fascinating statewide poll on taxpayers' perceptions of higher education funding. Among the key findings: that taxpayers will pay higher taxes to support higher education. Investments in higher education, especially in Athens and UGA, are investments in the future of the whole state. They also pay off for the entire local community, and should be protected at all costs. More details on the survey here. Full disclosure -- ARCHE is a client of my company's, but I would have blogged it anyway.

Yesterday, Rep. Vance Smith officially rolled out his transportation plan (called the 20/20 act), which calls for a 1% sales tax to fund state transportation. His plan would raise $25 - $29 billion for Georgia transportation over the next 10 years. This is almost as much money as the Obama stimulus plans to spend nationwide! Now that we know the details of Rep. Smith's plan, I have to respectfully disagree with the ABH and others who argue that a regional solution is superior at this point.

A regional approach might be best in Atlanta -- where there is a strong sales tax base, an effective regional planning body, and a vision for transportation, but out here, there is a void in that area. Just putting together a regional coalition would be a mess. Smith's bill is incredibly comprehensive. There are transit upgrades. Dedicated LARP funding and state aid for counties and cities. $400 million for regional airports. $1 billion for bridge improvements. Funding for the Brain Train and 316. 441 would be improved from Athens to I-16 for freight transportation. Additionally, it would allocate $1,000 per local resident as well to local cities with populations over 15,000, meaning Athens-Clarke would be in line for more than $80 million over the next 10 years for locally driven projects. More details here + maps. It is hard to be opposed to such a rich proposal, and seems to offer strong value for "one penny," especially when many of those pennies come from people passing through our state.

While I prefer the statewide plan at this time, I also firmly believe that something is better than nothing, and that we definitely need to move some sort of transportation reform out of the legislature this year.


Matt said...

On one hand I agree with you about the difficulties in setting up a regional system on anything - I'm still waiting.

But on the other hand, I have real concerns with the state collecting all of this money, and then a panel of people appointed by the Gov, LT. Gov and Speaker deciding what projects are most beneficial. It sounds like a plan for politics as usual, just now with more money. I'd rather see them dole the money out on a per capita basis into regions the state sets up (like the water planning regions) and let locals control how they want their money spent. The Athens area already has a regional transportation group, MACORTS, that could do this relatively quickly.

As it's been presented, areas of the state that aren't in political favor (ahem, cough, cough, Athens, cough, cough), may be on the short end of the stick when it comes to money being doled out.

Brian said...

I agree with what you are saying about areas out of favor, but I'm pretty sure the project list is part of the legislation, meaning it is set "in stone" if this is passed. I would not support it if it was just a "wish list" used to get votes for fear of the bait and switch.

I am probably being a bit naive to assume it will stay this way, but I have real concerns about whether this region could generate the funds via the TSPLOST mechanism. Your idea about allocation to the regions is interesting, but still concerns me as it could create a balkanized planning process.