Legislative Week 5:  
Council Testifies before House Transportation Committee and More Below

This is the Legislative Week 5, 2015 Edition of the Council's "Under the Gold Dome," a weekly publication covering the 2015 Georgia General Assembly Session.  As a reminder, this publication comes out each Friday during the Session. 

The main focus for the Council this week was once again the transportation funding legislation.  As the Session moves on, it is expected that a bill will emerge from Committee, but the question of when remains on the minds of many lobbyists and legislations alike. With an adjournment schedule now set, the clock is truly ticking.

The House Transportation Committee heard on Thursday, February 12th, but did not take a vote on the substitute version of   House Bill 170, the transportation funding bill.

Highlights of the substitute include:
  • Conversion of the Sales Tax on Motor Fuel to an Excise Tax, adjusted annual to keep pace with fuel efficiency of vehicles;
  • Phases out all local sales taxes on motor fuel (through local SPLOSTs) after their current levy. This allows local governments to honor their bond obligations and delivery of projects already approved by their voters.
  • Institutes a user-fee of $200 for non-commercial alternative fueled vehicles and $300 for commerical alternative-fuled vehicles;
  • Provides that a county may levy a 6-cent excise tax on motor fuel by simple ordinance. This tax would be for use on all transportation purposes.
  • Repeals the $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles.
Council Chairman Tim Lowe provided testimony before the House Committee in support of the legislation that funds much of the $1.5 billion needed for transportation and infrastructure.



Chairman Lowe told the Committee, 

 

"As part of our legislative package, approved by our Board of Directors, we have Transportation as a top Priority, as the Council has been engaged in the transportation discussion for many years, and currently on the Board of the Georgia Transportation Alliance. 

 

As an organization, the Council has pledged to support recommendations by the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding and to support funding mechanisms that fully fund multi-year transportation and infrastructure needs.  We believe that the solution to transportation funding will not be found in a single silver bullet, but will take a multi-pronged approach to address the $1.5 billion dollar critical need to maintain the state's 4,200 bridges, road maintenance and enhancement and expansion of our current transit systems.

 

Let's face it; transportation and economic development are linked.  Georgia citizens need to understand that it is going to take all of us to sacrifice a little to achieve the funding needs we have that will continue to keep this state, with the world's busiest airport and 4th largest port, as well as the #1 place to do business competitive. 

 

We believe the combination resources provided for within the legislation is the right approach to begin fully funding our transportation needs. I can commit to you that the Council, our Board of Directors and our over 250 company members stand by to support you and our local governments, as we continue to work on a multi-faceted solution that will keep Georgia moving forward.  The Council for Quality Growth thanks you for your leadership on this issues and please do not hesitate to call on us for assistance and support."


As the AJC reported, "Those supporting the bill Thursday included the Council of Quality Growth, the Georgia Transportation Alliance and the Georgia Economic Developers Association."  

To read the full AJC coverage, Click HERE.

To continue to keep Georgia as a the leading state for new business,  as this bill continues to move forward through the General Assembly, we are asking Council members to contact their legislators. Let them know the development community stands by to support them as they address this issue and make the tough decision. When elected officials hear from Council Members, those who are in the weeds daily in economic development, that truly makes a difference.  


 

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has established a simple Action Center Page, which allows the business and development community representatives to send a quick message of support to their State Representative and Senator.  To utilize this convenient and easy website, click HERE.

 

The House and Senate have set a schedule that has the legislature in Tuesday - Friday next week ending at Legislative Day 19 on Friday.  "Crossover Day" Day 30 is set for March 13th with the current schedule set to "Sine Die" Day 40 on April 2nd.  To view the full legislative schedule, click HERE
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Senate Bill 59: Public-Private Partnerships (P3)
Legislation the Council for Quality Growth along with many partner organizations supports, Senate Bill 59, the Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act (P3), currently sits in the State Senate.  Many other states, in particular Virginia where the models originated, have embraced greater use of public private partnerships.  As the population of Georgia continues to grow, there is an increasing need for the construction of new public facilities, including schools, hospitals, emergency response centers, prisons and courthouses.

However, due to the recession, budget constraints have limited the delivery of many of these needed projects. There is not a structured, open process under current law for government to select private sector partners to construct buildings and other infrastructure.    

 Read More
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Council for Quality Growth Spotlight:

 

A New Federal Approach to Transportation Funding

 

While still focused on transportation at the state level, the Council is highlighting a new and innovative idea at the federal level that not only seeks to solve transportation issues, but also encourages companies to reinvest in the United States

 

An immediate concern for Georgia is the dwindling resources to fund critical transportation infrastructure needs.   Resolving Georgia's transportation needs by finding alternative solutions is a top priority for the 2015 legislation session.  The state is effectively seeking an estimated $1.5 billion in new revenue for transportation infrastructure.  

 

Georgia is contemplating solutions to aid in bringing in revenue for the next 20 years and beyond.  New revenue sources and methods of funding can potentially allow Georgia to keep up with the growing population by addressing issues related to road congestion, by increasing access to industry and economic development locations, and by reducing Georgia's reliance on federal funding. While the General Assembly is currently considering several options,  a long-term plan is needed to help fund transportation infrastructure.  

 

The state needs to address the transportation funding shortfall quickly and practically.  Georgia is home to the world's busiest airport, the nation's tenth largest road system, and the fourth busiest container port in the United States.  These strategic advantages give Georgia the ability to create jobs and attract new businesses.  We primarily fund our transportation needs by the state motor fuel tax and federal funds.  Despite the robust growth that the Atlanta Region and the state of Georgia as a whole have experienced over the past decade, Georgia has maintained one of the lowest levels of motor fuel taxation in the nation.  

 

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), the 2014 fiscal year motor fuel budget was $1 billion.  GDOT also received roughly $1.2 billion annually in federal funds, which is roughly 54 percent of GDOT's annual budget.  By comparison, federal funds comprise only 27 percent of Florida's budget.  The 2015 fiscal year budget Georgia transportation funding breakdown is as follows:

  • Capital Construction Projects
    • o   State Matching Funds: $2.3 billion (24 percent of the program's budget)
    • o   Federal Funds: $6.2 billion (76 percent of the program's budget)
  • Capital Maintenance Projects
    • o   State Matching Funds: $60 million (32 percent of the program's budget)
    • o   Federal Funds: $1.2 billion (76 per cent of the program's budget)

As you can see, the reliance on federal funds creates numerous challenges in meeting Georgia's transportation needs.  As Americans are driving fewer miles each year in cars that are more fuel efficient (cars that do not require gasoline or diesel), the heavy reliance on motor fuel taxes has created a long-term funding challenge.  Commuters have grown to demand more fuel efficient cars, more transit and ride-sharing options, and businesses have expanded the ability of workers to work remotely or from home.  All these options have made sustaining the previous level of revenue impossible.  

 

These trends have occurred over a period in which the federal government has not raised gasoline and diesel taxes since 1993.  Indexing the motor sales tax may be a viable option.  Over the last decade, Florida has met their system maintenance and expansion obligations by indexing the motor sales tax, resulting in a net increase of $4.5 billion.        

According to GDOT, Georgia currently ranks 49th in terms of state spending per capita on roads; therefore more state investment in transportation is needed.  Road congestion on major highways costs the state billions each year in lost productivity.  These problems are only expected to grow as Georgia continues to experience rapid population growth.  Georgia's current infrastructure investment significantly constrains the state's ability to meets its obligations over the next twenty years.  The funding gap is seriously expanding with projections totaling $86 billion, leaving a $74 billion unfunded balance.    

 

Since State gas tax revenues can only be spent on roads and bridges as required by the Georgia Constitution, any state transit expenditures must come out of the State General Fund.  This fund receives revenues through the sale of general obligation bonds and Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, (GARVEE) bonds, and through partnerships with local governments in state-funded projects.  The development of new toll lanes could help facilitate and help expand infrastructure improvements but this alone is not enough.  

 

Another tool in the toolbox is a solution which incentivizes infrastructure bonds.

 

This has been introduced by Maryland's 6th District Congressman John Delaney is the Partnership to Build America Act.  The idea has strong bipartisan support for proposing financial legislation to help provide capital for rebuilding our country's transportation, energy, communications, water, and education infrastructure.  The Partnership to Build America Act could potentially leverage $50 billion to provide up to $750 billion in loans and guarantees effectively establishing the American Infrastructure Fund, or AIF.  

 

Rather than using appropriated funds out of the federal budget, the Partnership to Build America Act uses a bond sale.  U.S. corporations would be incentivized to purchase these Infrastructure Bonds by allowing them to repatriate a certain amount of their overseas earnings tax free.  Repatriation is the act of an individual or company bringing foreign capital into a home country and converting it to the domestic currency.  An individual or company who repatriates capital is usually converting foreign earnings (returns on foreign investment) into their home country's currency.  

 

Domestic corporations are frequently taxed on the profits that they repatriate, a factor enticing the firms to leave their profits overseas.  A similar tactic was used in the passing of the American Jobs Creation Act in 2004, where a repatriated tax break allowed foreign earnings to be taxed at a rate of 5.25%, significantly lower than the usual corporate tax rate of 35%.   

 

For every dollar invested in the bonds, assuming a 1:4 ratio, a company repatriates $4.00 tax-free for every $1.00 in Infrastructure Bonds purchased.  The $4.00 can be spent by the companies however they choose.  The aforementioned leverage potential of $50 million and providing up to $750 million in loans or guarantees is a 15:1 ratio.  The financing would foster more Public-Private Partnerships which at least 25% of the projects financed through the AIF must meet the public-private partnership model.  The Partnership to Build America Act upgrades America's crumbling infrastructure. 

 

There are several individuals who agree this bill can upgrade the infrastructure.  Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced this piece of legislation in the upper chamber in January 2014, with bipartisan support.  Fast forward to the third week of January 2015, Congressman Delaney filed the bill ahead of the President's State of the Union to make it clear new policy remedies bringing both parties together is feasible. 

 

The Partnership to Build America Act could help fund Georgia's infrastructure

 

The benefits of the Act are outlined below:

  • A creation of a large-scale infrastructure financing capability with zero federal appropriations
  • A creation of jobs short-term and helps the U.S. remain competitive from a transportation perspective
  • Allows for repatriation of overseas earnings and tax savings
  • Allows for U.S. Corporations to help the economy grow jobs
  • Encourages and creates a framework for growth in public-private partnerships
  • Allows for state and local governments to project decisions

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the current state of the U.S. transportation infrastructure a grade of D+.  Congressman John Delaney and Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick wrote, the legislation would create an infrastructure finance entity, capitalized by $50 billion from the private sector in exchange for a tax break on repatriated earnings, which can be leveraged to provide $750 billion in infrastructure financing in transportation, water, energy, communications, and educational facilities. This will make it cheaper for states and local municipalities to finance their infrastructure projects.


 

An innovative solution, like Partnership to Build America Act, is potentially what is needed as another tool in the tool box to help fund Georgia's infrastructure funding issues.  A federal option, outside the Highway Trust Fund, could help alleviate the burden felt by motorists who end up paying for toll lanes. 

 

Ultimately, a larger role will be placed on states to help fund transportation improvements but taking action now and passing this Federal legislation can facilitate economic change by helping transform our transportation infrastructure.  Funds will be disseminated down to the state and local level which potentially can help alleviate the funding gap issues Georgia will be experiencing in the future.  

 

Another tool in the toolbox such as this will help Georgia obtain the resources to better handle highway congestion.  

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Council for Quality Growth's Board of Directors State Government Affairs Task Force Established
The Council Board of Director's has established the 2015 Government Affairs Task Force, consisting of members of the Council Board of Directors. 

The Task Force is charged with establishing the Council's Legislative Agenda, as well as directing the Council and providing input on legislation before the Georgia General Assembly.  

Click HERE to view the full Government Affairs Task-force. 
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Council Seeks Legislative Legal Intern 

To view the Legislative Legal Intern description above, 
Click HERE



CLICK HERE
 to view a PDF version of the Council's Legislative Agenda.

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Georgia Senate Press Office: Senate in a Minute

During Session, the Georgia Senate Press Office films a daily recap of the Georgia Senate's actions.  


 

CLICK HERE to view the daily recaps for the 2014 Session.

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House of Representatives Floor Notes


 

Each Session day the Georgia House publishes a recap of the legislative day that occurred in the House.  

 

CLICK HERE to view the daily recaps for the 2014 Session.

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Council's Legislative Bill Tracking
Below is a listing of filed bills, including their sponsor, location and bill analysis.  This represents legislation the Council is actively involved with or that is of interest to Council Members.  

If you have a specific question about a piece of legislation, email  Director of Government Affairs and Policy at JT@CouncilforQualityGrowth.org

House Bills

House Bill 4: Interbasin Transfers
Sponsor: Rep. Harry Geisinger (R) 
House Committee: Natural Resources and Environment
Status: House Second Readers
This bill removes the restriction in Georgia law for inter-basin water transfers from all rivers with an annual average flow of 15 billion gallons of water a day,  if the county where the river flows agrees to the water withdrawal.
Council Position: Support

House Bill 14: Acceptance of Federal Funds with General Assembly Approval
Sponsor: Rep. Scott Turner (R)
House Committee: Appropriations
Status: In Committee
This bill would prohibit any local government or agency or state agency, bureau, board or commission, public entity, department or office from accepting federal funds with out the expressed approval of the General Assembly.  This could be interpreted to include Community Improvement Districts.
Council Position: Oppose

House Bill 21: Transit Authority
Sponsor: Rep. John Carson (R)
House Committee: Transportation
Status: House Second Readers
This bill removes the population threshold for a local government to form a transit authority, changes the definition of "metropolitan area" to include an unincorporated city and the area "suburban to such city" and requires a new transit authority in a municipality to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with an existing transit authority before its formation.
Council Position: Evaluating

House Bill 27: Creation of City of South Fulton
Sponsor: Rep. Roger Bruce (D)
House Committee: Pre-filed
Status: No Committee Assignment
This bill creates a charter for the propose City of South Fulton, which would be subject to voter approval in a local election.
Council Position: Neutral

House Bill 33: Code enforcement Officers
Sponsor: Rep. Tom Taylor (R)
House Committee: Judiciary Non-Civil
Status: Withdrawn 
This bill makes it a misdemeanor to hinder or obstruct a code enforcement officer in the discharge of their duties.
Council Position: Oppose

House Bill 49: Electronic Tax Bill Delivery
Sponsor: Rep. Brett Harrell (R)
House Committee:  Ways & Means
Status: In Committee
This bill allows a local tax commissioner or collector to send, at the request of a citizen, their tax bills electronically. 
Council Position: Support

House Bill 60: Motor Fuel Tax and State Income Tax
Sponsor: Rep. Ed Setzler (R)
House Committee: Transportation
Status: House Second Readers
This bill would eliminate the "4th" penny on gas and shift it to the motor fuel tax, currently at 3%, while gradually raising the fuel excise tax from 7.5 cents to 22.5 cents by 2022 and a gradual decrease of the state's income tax rate to a flat 5.5% by 2022, down from the current rate of  6%.
Council Position: Evaluating

House Bill 97: Prohibits Non-Disclosure for Local Agencies
Sponsor: Rep. Scot Turner
House Committee: Governmental Affairs
Status: Withdrawn

This bill prohibits local agencies from entering into non-disclosure agreements. According to the bill, all agencies shall fully disclose without delay, any communications regarding any terms and conditions of any agreement, incentive or offered made or entered into by the agency, directing the Attorney General to sanction any individual, on behalf of an agency who enters into a non-disclosure agreement in violation of this proposed law. Furthermore, it allows any citizen, in addition to the Attorney General, to initiate civil action to compel the disclosure of any matters covered in a non-disclosure. 

Council Position: Oppose

House Bill 116: Underground Water Supply Protection Act of 2015
Sponsor: Rep. Alex Atwood
House Committee: Natural Resources
Status: House Second Readers
This bill would prohibit the use of water aquifers in 11 coastal counties. While this has a local impact as of now, the Council has concerns this could have state-wide implications.
Council Position: Oppose


House Bill 170: Transportation Funding
Sponsor: Rep. Jay Roberts (R)
House Committee: Transportation
Status: In Committee

Currently, the Bill:
  • Conversion of the Sales Tax on Motor Fuel to an Excise Tax, adjusted annual to keep pace with fuel efficiency of vehicles;
  • Phases out all local sales taxes on motor fuel (through local SPLOSTs) after their current levy. This allows local governments to honor their bond obligations and delivery of projects already approved by their voters.
  • Institutes a user-fee of $200 for non-commercial alternative fueled vehicles and $300 for commerical alternative-fuled vehicles;
  • Provides that a county may levy a 6-cent excise tax on motor fuel by simple ordinance. This tax would be for use on all transportation purposes.
  • Repeals the $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles.
Council Position: Support

HB174: Urban Redevelopment Law
Sponsor: LaDawn Jones (D)
House Committee: Transportation
Status: House Second Readers

This legislation revises terminology within the Urban Redevelopment Law. Specifically, the outdated terms "Slum Area" and "Slum Clearance and Redevelopment" are replaced with  "Pocket of Blight" and "Pocket of Blight Clearance and Redevelopment" respectively. It also eliminates the definition of slum area and adds new definitions for the new definitions.

Council Position: Evaluating

 


House Bill 213: MARTA 50/50
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Jacobs (R)
House Committee: Transportation
Status: In Committee
This bill calls for an independent auditor to complete an audit every four (4) years and a complete report of the findings be filed with the Governor, the State Auditor, and the chairperson of MARTOC, allowing MARTA to lift the 50/50 revenue split. However, if an independent management audit was due but not submitted, then the fifty percent (50%) restriction will remain intact. Also, the bill proposes elimination of the Board's ability to reserve any amounts that could have been used to subsidize operations that were unused.
Council Position: Evaluating

House Bill 214: MARTA/GDOT Commissioner
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Jacobs (R)
House Committee: Transportation
Status: House Second Readers
This legislation restores voting privileges on the MARTA Board to the GDOT Commissioner until at least 2017.
Council Position: Support

Sponsor: Rep. Mike Jacobs (R)
House Committee: Ways & Means
Status: House Second Readers
The bill will add a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax ("SPLOST") and by reorganizing the current Homestead Option Sales Tax ("HOST"). Currently, HOST is only applied to homes within unincorporated county limits, but the proposed bill seeks to apply this tax to all homestead properties in the county.  


 

The legislation proposes an increase to an eight percent (8%) sales tax, and would eliminate direct HOST funding to cities. The additional penny increase would allow the full amount of HOST proceeds to aid the property tax of homeowners. Though nothing would be distributed directly to DeKalb's incorporated cities, the relief offered by the tax increase would be distributed equally to both city and unincorporated residents.

Council Position: Evaluating


Senate Bills

Senate Bill 2: Competencies and Core Curriculum in Elementary and Secondary Education
Sponsor: Senator Lindsey Tippins (R)
Senate Committee: Education
House Committee: Education
Status: Passed Senate on February 3rd
To read analysis of this legislation, click HERE
Council Position: Support

Senate Bill 4: Surface Transportation Projects in Urban Redevelopment Areas
Sponsor: Senator Steve Gooch (R)
Senate Committee: Economic Development
Status: In Committee
This bill allows for surface transportation projects in Urban Redevelopment Areas. It also expands the projects that fall under the urban redevelopment provisions to include transit facilities and improvements, sidewalks, streetscapes, trails and bicycle facilities.
Council Position: Support

Senate Bill 36: Prohibits Aquifers in Certain Coastal Counties
Sponsor: Senator William Ligon
Senate Committee: Natural Resources
Status: In Committee
This bill would prohibit the use of water aquifers in 11 coastal counties. While this has a local impact as of now, the Council has concerns this could have state-wide implications.
Council Position: Oppose

Senate Bill 59: "Partnership for Public Facilities and Infrastructure Act"
Sponsor: Senator Hunter Hill (R)
House Committee: Economic Development & Tourism
Status: In Committee

The bill would amend Georgia law to allow for public agencies to engage with private-sector parties in public-private partnerships to meet current and future needs for government facilities and infrastructure. This would allow private firms to submit unsolicited proposals for projects that have been identified as a public needs.

Council Position: Support

 

Senate Bill 85: Development Authorities

Sponsor: Senator Brandon Beach (R)

Senate Committee: Economic Development

Status: In Committee

This bill is intended to rectify an internal inconsistency within the definition of "Project" in the Development Authorities Law (the "Law").  This definition in the current version of the Law contains both a lengthy listing of categories of allowable projects, as well as a broad discretionary provision, which was included as a subsequent addition to the law in order for this definition to mirror the comparable provision in the Downtown Development Authorities Law.  

 

By deleting the older specific definitional provisions, while retaining the general discretionary provision already in the Law, Senate Bill 85 would eliminate unnecessary confusion and debate, without seeking to change past practices or expand or reduce any development authority powers.

Council Position: Support

 

Senate Resolution 43: Senate Special Tax Exemption Study Committee

Sponsor:  Senator John Albers (R)

Senate Committee: Finance

Status: In Committee

This bill creates a Study Committee to examine the current state tax exemptions and the impact had on the Georgia economy, to understand their value and assess which exemptions help stimulate the state's economy and benefit all Georgians through job creation.

Council Position: Evaluating

February 13, 2015

The Council for Quality Growth | 770-813-3370 | jt@councilforqualitygrowth.org 
http://www.councilforqualitygrowth.org
5901-C Peachtree Dunwoody Road
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Atlanta, GA 30328