Bill seeks to provide ongoing state funding for public transit

ATLANTA — Public transit throughout Georgia — including even in the small, rural pockets of the state — would gain access to a steady source of income under a new measure filed under the Gold Dome.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Republican from Dawsonville, would replace a sales tax paid on some transportation services with a 50-cent fee on all rideshare, taxi and limousine trips and a 25-cent fee on shared trips.

That change is expected to reap between $30 million and $60 million in new revenue, potentially representing the first state dollars to go toward public transit on an ongoing basis in Georgia.

A portion of that money would help fund two pilot programs aimed at rural Georgia. One would use a tax credit to spur employers to provide transit options — such as a vanpool — for workers who lack a reliable ride. Another would offer direct aid to unemployed residents in middle and south Georgia who need a way to get to work or school.

“We talk a whole lot about helping rural Georgia, but you have to actually have boots on the ground to do that,” Tanner, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said in an interview on Thursday. “The rubber’s got to meet the road somewhere. So I think what we’ve done is identify what’s one of the biggest barriers they have in those communities.”

The complex 68-page proposal, which comes out of a special transit panel, piggybacks on work done last year when lawmakers created a regional transit commission in Atlanta and gave metro counties the authority to put a 1 percent sales tax for transit before their voters.

Likewise, counties throughout Georgia would be able to pursue their own sales tax for transit projects.

The proposal also aims to end a long-running dispute over whether rideshare companies, such as Uber and Lyft, should pay the sales tax. Rather than force the issue, taxis, limos and rideshare trips would all come with the same flat fee.

“Thirty to sixty million dollars doesn’t do a whole lot to build rail,” Tanner said, referring to the new revenue from the fee. “But it does a whole lot to remove barriers to transportation.”

Tanner said he is particularly hopeful about a plan to reshuffle existing state resources and consolidate rural transit duties already performed by a handful of agencies, creating a new agency called the Georgia Department of Mobility and Innovation, or GMobile.

That agency, which would oversee newly created “mobility zones” across the state, would put a new focus on identifying and solving regional challenges, Tanner said.

“No one gets up every morning and goes to work with their priority being how can we handle mobility outside normal highways and bridges and how can we remove barriers to transportation in our state for people who live specifically in rural Georgia,” Tanner said. “People who work for this agency — they’re going to get up and that’s their number one goal every day.”

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, a Republican from Dalton, who is a co-sponsor of the measure and who serves on the House Transportation Committee, said the plan could help fill jobs.

“It is a cutting-edge idea that will allow the private sector to solve mobility issues that are preventing employers from filling jobs and unemployed individuals from getting work,” Carpenter said, referring to the tax credit plan.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites.

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