A debate over taxation and government spending is nearing a conclusion as Georgia voters ready for the July 31 election over a penny sales-tax increase that could boost transportation funding by an estimated $18.7 billion.

Twelve separate regional elections for a special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) will help decide the statewide vote over the Transportation Investment Act. If passed, the tax increase would be enacted in the regions in which voters approved the measure and remain in effect for 10 years.

According to the Georgia Dept. of Transportation, which would manage most of the projects, the Atlanta area would gain nearly $8.5 billion in funding. The region's project list includes just over $7 billion worth of improvements. Some of the largest projects include a $695-million transit line between Cobb County and Atlanta; a $450-million Interstate 285 interchange improvement; a $190-million road job in Fulton County; and more than $600 million for the ongoing Belt Line project. In all, about half of the Atlanta region's revenue is designated for transit.

The Georgia Tea Party is one of the leading opponents of the tax. Tom Maloy, a Tea Party board member, is critical of the transit component and asserted that costs were underestimated for many of these projects.

Although the lists of projects have been criticized, elected officials approved them in each region, says Thomas Leslie, director of external affairs with the Georgia Engineering Alliance, a referendum proponent.

"The prospects of a better list in the future are dim," Leslie adds.

Leslie says approval of the tax is critical for the engineering and construction industry. "In this era of huge economic suppression, this is very important," he says. Leslie estimates that polls showed the referendum was competitive in about seven regions. But one local news report says its poll showed declining support in the Atlanta area.