Get this. Atlanta has one toll road, Georgia 400. It's been around since 1993, when a single set of tollbooths on the north side of Buckhead were put in place for the express purpose of paying for 400's expansion to an multi-lane expressway. The plan worked so well, enough money is on hand to pay off the original construction bonds now, about three years early.
So the debt gets paid off, the toll booths get ripped out, the state saves the extra interest money, and everybody's happy, right?
Of course not:
As of this fiscal year, the authority owes $26.6 million in principal and interest on the debt incurred by building Ga. 400, said Cherie Gibson, spokeswoman for the State Road and Tollway Authority. That’s less than the $32 million the state has on hand, sitting in reserve accounts. That money represents tolls collected, as well as interest and investments from the toll money.
But Georgia can’t pay off the Ga. 400 debt, authority officials say, because it has to stick to a payment schedule that runs through 2011.
Any why might that be, you ask? It's simple, really: maintaining the bureaucracy is much more important than paying off the debt, to say nothing of ending any superfluous tax collections:
Of the $22 million or so the state reaps annually from Ga. 400 drivers, about $7 million goes to running the toll authority and $9 million a year goes to paying down the debt, Gibson said.
See, people? If there are no tollbooths and no tolls, then there's no need for a toll authority! You're talking about $7 million a year worth of bureaucracy--can't get rid of that!
Hey, just for the record: why the heck does it cost $7 million a year to pay for one set of tollbooths and write the check for the debt service? That sounds about an order of magnitude too expensive to me.
But wait. It gets better:
[Toll Authority director Gene] Evans said the authority needs to use the excess toll money for salaries of officials who arrange financing for the state Department of Transportation.
So there you have it. A tax that's already made enough money to pay itself out of business, can't... because that would impact the salaries of state bureaucrats.
When's that next tea party, and who's bringing the tar and feathers?