Nonprofit Voice | GBPI Crunches Numbers to Ensure State Roads Plan Adds Up

Our Nonprofit Voice blog series is back! These guest posts are written by GCN member leadership about a pressing community challenge they are tackling—whether it's a hot news topic or an issue that's been too long ignored. The next three posts are written by our members who were on the front lines of this Georgia legislative session.

We begin with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, as they tracked the daily evolution of the state's massive $1 billion transportation plan and deciphered it for policymakers and the public.

GBPI Executive Director Taifa Butler testifies at a House subcommittee meeting about proposed transportation funding bill HB 170.

OPINION | by Taifa Butler, Executive Diretor of Georgia Budget and Policy Institute | April 23, 2015

Busy season for retailers is the last two months of the year. For swimming pool operators, it’s the dog days of summer. The busy season for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute is the 40-day legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly that ended this year on April 2.

State lawmakers staked out the need to raise new transportation revenue as one of the key issues for the 2015 General Assembly before the session even started. A legislative study committee last year concluded Georgia needs at least $1 billion in new annual revenue just to patch and repair its existing transportation network.

Anyone who follows Georgia politics understood that developing such a plan would not be an easy feat. GBPI doesn’t typically weigh in on transportation issues.  But we had concerns about how the funds would be raised and who would be affected. It became one of the big issues we tackled this winter, along with proposed education changes and new corporate tax breaks.

GBPI’s niche and contribution is to pore over complex policy issues and legislation and clearly explain to the public what is most important. We wanted to ensure that funding for schools, health care and other parts of the budget that supports and serves Georgia families wouldn’t be harmed in the process.  The journey from study committee recommendations to a final plan took many twists and turns, at points coming up with $1 billion by shifting money from other, unspecified state budget priorities. To inform the debate GBPI:

     • Helped policymakers and stakeholders understand Georgia’s complex funding structure for transportation. We developed several publications and op-eds, including a detailed bill analysis to educate people and inform them of the transportation plan.

     • Launched a host of presentations and media appearances to help explain the plan as it unfolded and its effect on the state general fund and its potential revenue sources. 

     • Advocated for new revenue to protect the state’s general fund so already underfunded schools and the health care system are not cut further to fund the transportation plan.

In the end, we found the proposal by Georgia House members promising because it minimized the risks to adequately fund education and other state priorities. And we raised concerns when state senators seemed to veer off course and threaten funding for non-transportation priorities.

When the dust settled with the Legislature’s early April adjournment, a bipartisan majority of Georgia lawmakers passed legislation that relies predominately on new state revenue to pay for road and bridge repairs, with just $170 million lost to the general fund.

The governor indicates he will sign the final version of the bill. Is it perfect? Not from GBPI’s perspective, but the plan is improved after months of public debate. That public debate featured GBPI’s analysis, concerns and suggestions. And that is how we measure success.

Taifa Butler is Executive Director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

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