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Greg Bluestein

Jason Carter backs a new push for transportation sales tax

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Democrat Jason Carter said Tuesday it was time to revive the idea of a regional sales tax for infrastructure improvements to fix a transportation dilemma he said is weighing down Georgia’s economy like an “anchor.”

The 2012 push for a sales tax increase for transportation, known as the T-SPLOST, failed in most parts of the state despite tremendous support from the business community and backing from most of the state’s leading politicians, including both Carter and Gov. Nathan Deal, his November opponent.

“We have to revisit a TSPLOST of some kind, and we have to revisit it in a way that would change the political environment,” Carter said in response to an audience question after a speech to Gwinnett County business leaders. “Folks just don’t trust the political environment.”

The Democratic state senator has previously said that “T-SPLOST like activity” and more public-private partnerships should be options to improve the state’s traffic-clogged corridors. He said in an interview Tuesday one option would be allowing counties to band together to levy their own tax.

“There has to be some way that we’re going to sit down and have a robust discussion about how to fund it. And one option is certainly to revisit a TSPLOST with a different geographical footprint, with a different set of partners, with a different structure. So there’s only so many places they can go,” said Carter. “All of that should be on the table.”

It drew a rebuke from Deal’s campaign, which pointed to Carter’s recent comments that a tax increase would be off the table if he ousts Deal from office.

“His campaign is like a restaurant without a menu,” said Deal spokesman Brian Robinson. “You never know what he’s serving up on any given day, but it swings wildly from vegan to all beef.”

Robinson said the governor funded Georgia’s top transportation priorities, such as the coming overhaul of the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange and the deepening of Savannah’s port, without raising taxes.

“Like other liberals, Carter is full of ideas on how to spend more of Georgians’ tax dollars,” said Robinson.

Lawmakers have been wary of proposing any sweeping solutions to address Georgia’s traffic problems after the 2012 defeat – Carter blames an unwritten edict by Deal forbidding a broader debate – but this month a legislative study committee began work exploring possible options to fill a $74 billion transportation funding shortfall in the next two decades.

One that’s presumably a non-starter with both candidates is an increase in the state’s 4 percent motor fuel sales tax, which Deal said would likely fail to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature.

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