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Transportation and tourism highlight of the week

POSTED: February 4, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Session is now officially in full swing as lawmakers filed key bills this week.

  

Committees are gearing up to work out the details of assigned legislation, an important part of the legislative process where each bill is carefully examined and revised to be most effective. 

  

There is no doubt that the Senate Transportation Committee is going to be extremely influential this session, and this week was no exception.

  

We made great strides in solving Georgia’s transportation problems by passing legislation to fund transportation projects across the state. Taking a regional approach, voters will be given the choice of levying up to a 1 percent sales tax in their county or region to fund transportation projects.

  

This solution is flexible enough to meet the needs of the entire state while putting control in the voters’ hands. This allows voters to first decide if they want to levy a special-purpose local-option sales tax (TSPLOST), and if so, if they want to be represented by their individual county or in conjunction with two or more counties.

  

Only one defined region will be established, and that includes 10 Metro Atlanta counties to be governed by the Atlanta Regional Commission. A regional approach ensures that transportation funding is not solely funneled to Metro Atlanta, and that communities across the rest of the state get the transportation relief they need.

  

Voters will also decide what projects need funding most. Who better to prioritize needed projects than the people who utilize those transportation options on a daily basis? 

  

The TSPLOST bill would generate up to $850 million in funding each year for the metro area and up to $1.2 billion for the entire state. If this bill is passed in the legislature, a Constitutional Amendment question will be on the November 2010 ballot for Georgians to voice their opinion via a vote.

  

Now that the bill has passed out of the Transportation Committee, it will go to the Rules Committee where to be slated for a vote on the Senate floor.

  

This TSPLOST will help generate additional revenue for the Department of Transportation, which is facing a significant funding gap for FY 2009.

The department also is seeking additional funds for the Investing in

 

Tomorrow’s Transportation Today program, commonly known as IT3, which brings the state transportation agencies together in a partnership with the General Assembly and others to develop a transportation system to fit Georgia’s growing needs.   

  

Now I’d like to take a step back from legislation to highlight a particularly important annual event for Georgia and our economy.

  

In honor of Georgia’s second-largest industry, I am excited to report that we celebrated Tourism Day at the Capitol, where members of the tourism industry presented the state with a check for $845 million in state tax revenue generated by tourism-related expenditures.

  

This is an exceptional achievement, and while our state faces tight economic times, I am encouraged that the Department of Economic Development is working hard to ensure that this part of our economy continues to thrive.

  

Georgia generates $34.1 billion directly from tourism, and an additional $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues and $6.3 billion in resident wages are also derived through tourism. Tourism is also responsible for 241,800 jobs in Georgia.

  

The budget continues to be a key consideration in all legislative discussions, and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees are hard at work going through agencies’ budgets line by line to ensure we are funding the most important programs for Georgians.

  

Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties.  He may be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at chip.pearson@senate.ga.gov.

 

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