"If you want to repeal it, well, that ain't going to happen," Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, told a gathering of his colleagues at the Biennial Institute, a pre-session issues briefing for state legislators at the University of Georgia.
While applause did break out at the UGA auditorium, many, if not most, there sat quiet.
The transportation special purpose local option sales tax failed in a July vote in all but three Georgia regions. It would have authorized a 10-year, 1-percent sales tax to fund a variety of road and transit projects in the state. In the northeast Georgia region, which includes the Athens area, the referendum received almost twice as many "no" votes as it did "yes."
Cities and counties in the three regions that passed TSPLOST, including one centered on Augusta, will only need to put up 10 percent of the cost of projects in order for the state to pay the remaining 90 percent while the other regions will have to pony up 30 percent of their own money to receive just 70 percent from the state.
Some politicians representing areas where it failed have called for blocking or watering down the discount. Roberts tried to disarm some of that criticism, telling the crowd that once things like rights of way are purchased the 30-percent match has often already been met.
Roberts and other panelists speaking about transportation noted the benefits provided by the state Department of Transportation and the funding troubles it, like the rest of the state, have run against. Roberts noted that only $10 million of the general fund goes to DOT with the balance coming from the tax on motor fuels.
Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden said his department has economized as revenue from the gas tax has declined. For example, it almost halved its workforce to about 4,300 employees since he started there in 1986. Many of its operations are outsourced to private contractors.
Debts are also weighing heavy on DOT, with $400 million needed for debt service each year.
"It's a huge challenge to run an organization where almost 30 percent of your funds right off the top goes to pay for what's been done in the past," he said.
Georgia's reliance on gas taxes is an unsustainable model as more people telecommute, drive electric vehicles, and fuel economy improves, he said. Congress compounded the problem when it passed only two years of transportation funding as well, he said, instead of its normal six. That could cost Georgia 35 percent of its federal funding if another stopgap bill isn't passed in time, Golden said.