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Taxs failure could mean a status quo for transportation
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A voter rejection of the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation may send a sour message to politicians concerning taxes. But what does it mean concerning roads?

Asphalt will still get poured: A major project, the widening of Ga. 347 from McEver Road to Old Winder Highway, is planned to start in South Hall next year.

But what about future projects. How will they develop, if at all?

These are questions that plague transportation planners, as they ponder worst-case scenarios beyond July 31, the referendum's date.

Probably a slower pace awaits construction projects, as Georgia and other states deal with dwindling motor-fuel taxes and a financially struggling federal government, officials said.

"We have to live with what we get from federal and state gas taxes, unless the General Assembly or Congress decides to find other avenues of generating revenue," said Todd Long, the Georgia Department of Transportation's planning director.

Long, who at one time served as the Gainesville-based District 1 engineer, has spent this year working with government leaders throughout the state to develop project lists for voters to consider.

"I think you will continue to see a renewed interest in tolling," Long said. "You will also see more attempts to develop more efficient ways to collect the current gas tax."

Earlier this year, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization updated its federally required long-range transportation plan without factoring in approval of the sales tax.

The 2040 plan features $2.1 billion in transportation projects, with funding coming from federal, state and local sources.

The primary local source is the county's special purpose local option sales tax, which has to be approved by voters.

Jeff Carroll, the MPO's South Carolina-based consultant on the project, has said planners were allowed to consider the county's SPLOST as a revenue source because it has had past success - but not so the transportation tax.

The plan also states that Hall will have about $3 billion in transportation needs over the next 30 years, "which means we have a shortfall," said Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the MPO.

"This referendum provides the public an opportunity to address that shortfall to some extent and it also allows (the MPO) to prioritize projects and make a significant difference in addressing safety, congestion and connectivity," Yamala said.

In a March transportation forum at Gainesville State College, Long said the chief funding source for transportation in America has been the gas tax, which hasn't been adjusted for inflation in decades.

Add to that people driving less and driving more fuel-efficient cars and "you have a recipe for disaster."

"We could have less money for transportation 10 years from now than we have today," he said.

University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said the state legislature "could bite the bullet and just appropriate funds for (roads) and use taxes as necessary, but they're not going to do that."

"A number of (lawmakers) didn't even want to ... allow people to tax themselves," he said.

"We've got so many legislators now who have sworn never to vote for a tax increase and even on things that most Georgians would be perfectly fine to tax - things like alcohol and tobacco."

State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said more proposals could emerge from under the Gold Dome.

"There could be other bills drafted, but anything that deals with taxes is going to be a hot topic," said Gooch, who previously served as the area's representative on the DOT board.

"Nobody in the legislature wants to raise taxes, so I think (the issue) is going to have to be driven by some voter initiative, whatever that is."