Though Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was unable to attend a breakfast meeting in Martinez on Tuesday to discuss the 1-percent sales tax referendum for transportation, the issue still dominated conversation.
Deal was scheduled to talk to the crowd gathered at West Lake Country Club during a breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Transportation Alliance, which is an entity of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce established to promote the sales tax. Due to cloudy weather, the helicopter set to bring Deal to the Augusta area was grounded.
Instead, Georgia Transportation Alliance Executive Director Doug Callaway told the group of about 45 people that a penny sales tax increase would generate jobs, create safer roads and promote local control from elected officials.
“What we have here is the best economic development opportunity in Georgia’s history in the past 35 years,” he said.
The upcoming sales tax referendum will go before voters on July 31. Residents in each of 12 Georgia regions can approve or deny the T-SPLOST in their districts.
The Augusta area district is made up of 13 counties, including Columbia and Richmond.
In 10 years, officials expect that $840 million will be collected in the CSRA Region.
If approved, 75 percent of those funds would go to regional projects. The additional revenues would be reserved for local projects, Callaway said.
“This is more like a business transaction,” he said. “We know what we’re buying. This is a good deal.”
There are eight Columbia County transportation projects listed on the referendum, including the extension of Riverwatch Parkway to Washington Road and improving Robinson Avenue in Grovetown.
If passed, the referendum would provide $621 million during 10 years for the entire region. If the sales tax did not raise enough funding, the Georgia Department of Transportation would be required to finish uncompleted projects.
Callaway said he understands that asking to raise taxes during a recession could prove difficult, but the benefits outweigh the costs.
“Most people think transportation is a snoozer until we don’t have it,” he said.