Transportation

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.

The group says the legislature needs to figure out where the money will come from during the session that begins on Jan. 12.

Transportation is expected to be the dominant issue in the coming year as Republican Gov. Nathan Deal begins his second and final term in office.

The committee's 23-page report made no specific recommendations, but laid out a dozen options for lawmakers on how to meet the state's transportation needs, from increasing the state's gas tax for the first time since 1971, to creating a 1-cent statewide sales tax or investing in mass transit.

Other options mentioned include moving about $180 million annually from the state's general fund into transportation, indexing gas taxes to inflation or the cost of fuel, establishing an annual fee for alternative fuel vehicles and adding new toll lanes.

Democrats, who are the minority party in both legislative chambers, have pushed to include transit in the transportation discussion.

The committee's report urged lawmakers to acknowledge that mass transit is "critical" in urban areas and suggested a "separate, permanent" funding source for transit systems around the state.

The study committee held meetings throughout the summer and its co-chairs bluntly warned colleagues at a pre-session conference held this month that the decisions ahead would be difficult. The state's business community came out in strong support of the effort to study transportation, including Georgia-based companies Delta Airlines and UPS.

Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson, said Tuesday that the governor will study the report and wants lawmakers to find solutions that will not affect the state's bond rating. He credited committee members with taking "a serious look at changes in policy without sugar coating the challenges we face."

It's not clear how much appetite there is for increasing taxes. One political group, Georgia Taxpayers United, already has begun campaigning against a gas tax hike through emails in which they warn of "consequences at the ballot box" for lawmakers who support an increase.

Dozens of states are reviewing or already changing their own systems for maintaining roads, bridges, rails and mass-transit systems as gas-tax revenues continue to fall. The American Society of Civil Engineers is among the organizations warning of a funding gap for the country's infrastructure needs: an estimated $3.6 trillion by 2020.