ATLANTA — Georgia's ailing transportation system could finally see some additional cash as Gov. Sonny Perdue on Thursday said he would propose $300 million in borrowing for road projects next year.
The governor also said he wants Georgians to vote in 2012 on whether they want to boost the sales tax by one-cent to fund transportation projects.
Under Perdue's plan — which must be approved by the state Legislature — the whole state would vote on the sales tax hike. But the votes would tallied, and the money spent, in individual regions. Some regions could approve the tax increase and would then have money to spend on local projects. Others could reject the increase and would not see any additional funding.
Perdue unveiled the proposal at a state Capitol news conference Thursday. He called the proposal "the ultimate democratic referendum on investing in transportation" saying that voters would be able to inspect a list of road or transit projects the tax dollars would fund before they cast a ballot.
Perdue last year was able to muscle through an overhaul of the state's transportation bureaucracy and said he finally has confidence that the money will be spent wisely.
Metro-Atlanta suffers from some of the worst commute times in the nation and business leaders have complained that the region's notorious gridlock has made it difficult to recruit and keep companies.
Spending on transportation in Georgia has lagged well behind the state's explosive population growth. Georgia spends the second lowest per capita in the country on transportation, ahead of only Tennessee.
Road projects in Georgia are funded mostly with money from the state's gasoline tax. But those revenues have tumbled due to the recession.
The state Legislature must also sign off on the $300 million bond package for road projects which will be included in the state budget blueprint Perdue will unveil on Friday. The governor typically proposes about $1 billion in borrowing. The state's bond rating has remained strong throughout the recession which has allowed it to continue to secure low interest rates.
Perdue is in his final year in office. But he said he would exhort state legislators to commit to spending $300 million a year for transportation projects for the next 10 years for a total investment of $3 billion.
And he said the spending would act as a stimulus for Georgia, which has been hemorrhaging jobs.
"It puts people to work while it helps to get people to work," Perdue said.
For the last two years, legislators have come close to passing a sales tax referendum similar to the one Perdue proposed on Thursday but each time they have come up short. Those plans would have placed the measure on the ballot for voters in 2010.
Perdue said he wants to wait until 2012, in part, to give the economy "time to heal."
Legislative leaders had no immediate comment on Perdue's plan.
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