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Officials whittling transportation projects list

CAMILLA, Ga. -- The executive committee of a band of mayors and county commission chairmen from throughout Southwest Georgia are working to cull a list of transportation projects that will be funded if voters approve a 10-year, one-percent sales tax for transportation next year.

Dan Bollinger, executive director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission, said that the executive committee that was formed by the Transportation Investment Act -- the bill formerly known as HB 277 -- is currently in the process of reviewing projects approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation in what has commonly been referred to as the "unconstrained" list.

It's from this list of approved projects that the committee will select the projects that can be funded with the estimated $450 million that will be generated by the sales tax over the next ten years and forward it to a roundtable of government officials from throughout the 14-county area for consideration.

While other regions are struggling to keep the peace between the so-called "anchor" cities -- communities like Albany that will be generating lion's share of the sales tax -- and more rural towns, Bollinger said that the relationship between the members of the group is strong.

"They're really trying to be fair and recognize each other's needs," Bollinger said. "This is truly a regional movement."

Dougherty County Chairman Jeff Sinyard, who is heading up the executive committee, said that it's a balancing act to keep everyone's priorities covered while staying within the fiscal limitations of the sales tax.

"It really is a balancing act. We're trying to create and enhance infrastructure that will promote job creation and meet the needs of everyone," Sinyard said. "It's a challenge but, by and large, I think we're all working together."

If approved by the roundtable, the list will head back up to Atlanta for approval by the state before being put on a ballot for consideration by the voters.

When the voters will consider it, however, is still up for debate.

Political blog Peach Pundit reported Friday that political forces were mobilizing behind an effort to change the referendum date from a July 2012 vote to a November 2012 vote in order to capitalize on what is expected to be strong voter turnout for the presidential elections.

The idea is that since there is a sitting Democrat in the White House, the Georgia July primary will largely feature only the Republican presidential primary and a handful of statewide public service commission spots. Given that many Republican voters have aligned themselves with the Tea Party's anti-tax position, it's likely that a referendum calling for a extra one-percent sales tax would struggle or fail.

If the measure is on the November ballot -- when more Democrats will come out to try and keep President Obama in the White House -- some believe it has a stronger chance of passing.