- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia’s top leaders were united on Tuesday: Something must be done this year to pay for the state’s transportation needs.

But as lawmakers completed their second day at the Capitol, it remained unclear exactly where they will find an estimated $1 billion to $1.5 billion to maintain Georgia’s roads, highways and bridges or millions more to expand.

A study committee last year gave lawmakers multiple options to support transportation needs, including a 1-cent sales tax, shifting millions of dollars from the general fund to transportation, increasing the state motor fuel tax or charging a “user fee” to get some revenue from electric car owner who don’t pay gas taxes.

Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston reassured business leaders at a Georgia Chamber of Commerce breakfast that they intend to act this year.

In his most outspoken comments yet on the issue, Deal said he backs increased funding for “strategic transportation investments” and promised more detail in his State of the State address on Wednesday afternoon. Deal later told reporters that lawmakers who are firmly positioning themselves against any new taxes or fees “need to understand that things do change” like the state’s growing population.

“Changing circumstances require that you reevaluate, I think, your position on issues,” Deal said.

Ralston warned that the debate “is not the time for naysaying.”

“A fixation on the rhetoric of ‘no’ won’t get us to the next level of greatness in Georgia,” he said as the crowd of chamber officials and business representatives applauded.

Top employers and the Chamber itself have been outspoken supporters of the effort to boost transportation funding, including leaders at UPS, Delta and utility Georgia Power. Paul Bowers, Georgia Power’s president and CEO, said Tuesday that he was encouraged by the common refrain in each speech.

State Sen. Steve Gooch, a Republican who co-chaired the transportation study committee, said no bills are in writing yet. He agreed with some colleagues who are pushing for a review of current state spending before looking for new revenue and said he’s open to a variety of solutions to meet the state’s needs.

“The old saying goes you eat the elephant one bite at a time,” Gooch said.

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