Voters in nine of 12 districts in Georgia Tuesday rejected raising the sales tax by 1% to pay for billions in transportation improvements. In the 11-county Atlanta region, among the most congested in the state, 62.6% of voters said no.
Some blamed the defeat on an amped-up, anti-tax campaign by the Tea Party in the final weeks before the referendum. Others suggested mistrust of government influenced many voters.
The tax passed by an average of 53% in three regions, including the area where the Port of Savannah stands to benefit from improvements. The port is among those along the East Coast planning to deepen the harbor to stay competitive once Panama Canal improvements are done, to attract larger ships.
Voters that approved the tax stand to see it raise an estimated $1.83 billion over the next 10 years for new or existing roads, airports, bike lanes, bridges, mass transit systems, freight and passenger rail, pedestrian facilities, and ports, as well as operations and maintenance.
Gov. Nathan Deal expressed disappointment about the referendum, and said he would continue to work on transportation issues.
"Given state budget constraints, significant reductions in federal funding and the long time it takes to get projects completed, the rejection of the [tax] significantly reduces our capacity to add infrastructure in a timely fashion," Deal said. "This is not the end of the discussion, it's merely a transition point. There's a consensus among Georgians that we need transportation investment, and we must move forward by working with the resources available."
The revenues cannot be leveraged to sell bonds or notes.