By Joe Earle

The chairman of the state Chamber of Commerce’s transportation policy committee encouraged Sandy Springs business representatives to promote passage of a 1-cent sales tax to be used for transportation improvements in regions of the state.

“This may be our last chance,” Phil Jacobs, a partner in The Pendleton Consulting Group and a former top BellSouth official, told members of the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Aug. 16. “Without it, we’re going to grind to a halt.”

And that, he said, would mean economic development in the state would also grind to a halt.

“Without that penny sales tax, we’ll be in dire straits,” he said.

Voters must approve a constitutional amendment to allow the creation of the tax, which would be collected in up to 12 multi-county districts. The vote on the plan is scheduled for 2012. Taxes collected within a district would be used for transportation projects within the district.

Jacobs said one reason the tax was needed would be to provide roads to handle increased truck traffic expected once larger container ships begin landing in Savannah following widening of the Panama Canal. “Enormous container ships will start delivering containers at a rate twice we have today,” he said. “The volume of traffic is going to increase two-fold.”

Asked his reaction to proposed opposition to the 1-cent tax by mayors in Fulton and DeKalb county, who say the tax should not be collected when residents still are paying a 1-cent tax to support MARTA, Jacobs said, “there’s no doubt in my mind MARTA will have to be addressed.”

Jacobs also encouraged chamber members to vote this fall to approve a “very poorly worded” constitutional amendment that will allow state transportation officials to enter into multi-year contracts for roadwork. The state Department of Transportation now must limit contracts to a single budget year, he said, even when the work will require more time. The amendment would allow DOT to sign multi-year contracts without legislative approval, he said.