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Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 12:01pm

Separate Transportation Sales Tax Campaigns

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce will coordinate distinct regional marketing campaigns for next year’s transportation sales tax vote. Officials overseeing the campaigns will also be seeking private funds to bankroll them.

Georgians will vote on the penny sales tax for transportation next summer. Each region’s voters will cast ballots for a specific list of projects in their area.

But voters will need some convincing to approve the tax. So, information campaigns will focus on their individual region's road, bridge and transit projects.

Georgia Chamber of Commerce president Chris Clark says the funding for the campaigns may also be local.

“These are grassroots campaigns educating local voters about what’s on these project lists and if they’re good or they’re bad. So I think you can do that for a minimal amount of investment but the business community and others who care about economic development, who care about the future, will have to step up and invest just like they would invest in a race for Governor or Senator.”

Taxpayer money cannot be used to campaign for the referendum.

Clark says the Chamber doesn't typically advocate taxes. And he says the marketing campaigns will convince voters to approve the tax only if the projects make sense.

“It comes down to: do the individual regions....have a good project list?" he said. "Does the business community and the local leadership want to pass it? If so, we will provide the campaign team, and the fundraisers and all the support they need but they will be running that at the local level, the regional level. It’s their decision.”

Clark says the Chamber will focus on campaigns in regions where leaders enthusiastically support the referendum. Roundtables in the state’s 12 transportation regions will finalize the list of projects in October.

Proponents say it would help Georgia catch up on transportation investments. Clark said the state's lack of transportation investment will soon cost Georgia jobs because some companies won't relocate here.

Other state officials, including Georgia's top economic development official, Chris Cummiskey, say the referendum is a vote on jobs. That's because not only would transportation infrastructure projects provide jobs, the additional investment could help lure companies that need to ships goods around the state or want to ensure their employees have easier commutes.

But opposition has emerged from the Marietta-based Georgia Tea Party. On Tuesday, officials with the reformist group said they think the law allowing the vote is "fundamentally flawed."