Republican Nathan Deal and Democrat Roy Barnes both support passage of a statewide constitutional amendment next month to permit regions of the state to impose a new sales tax. Passage by the districts would provide an infusion of funds for road improvements, mass transit support and possibly the beginnings of a statewide passenger-rail network.
At the same time, neither supports raising the gasoline tax, even though Georgia's is among the lowest in the nation.
One contrast is Barnes' willingness to use state funds to begin deepening the Savannah River to accommodate the larger ships that will begin transiting the widened Panama Canal by 2014. Although maintaining interstate waterways is a federal responsibility, Congress seems to be dragging its feet, and some observers worry that shipping lines that bypass Savannah for deeper harbors may be difficult to win back.
Barnes would dredge first and seek federal reimbursement later.
"The deepening of the Savannah River is essential to Georgia's economic development and will be priority of mine as governor," he said.
Deal, a congressman for 18 years, is more confident of his former colleagues.
"Deepening of the Savannah Harbor is not just a state priority but a national one as well," he said. "The Corps of Engineers recognizes the strategic importance and the basic need to deepen the harbor, and I believe the federal funds to proceed will be forthcoming."
Still, Deal isn't closing any doors.
"As governor, I will consider all possible avenues to support the deepening of the harbor," he added.
The response illustrates the paths the two men followed in their careers.
As governor from 1999-2002, Barnes launched a program of accelerated highway construction. His plan was to borrow against anticipated federal appropriations so that work wouldn't have to wait for Washington's annual check.
He also created a state agency to begin operating bus service for commuters from Atlanta's suburbs with the eventual goal that the agency would operate commuter trains.
He has embraced passenger rail during this campaign, too. He believes state taxpayers should commit to the cost of operating a rail line from Atlanta to Lovejoy as the start of a network.
"As governor, I'll work to connect Georgia's major cities with both high-speed and commuter-friendly rail, which will improve ease of access for businesses, workers and visitors," he said. "Both a high-speed and a commuter-friendly rail system would encourage growth, tourism and economic opportunity."
Deal is more cautious. For instance, the Lovejoy line must have commitments from the local governments it serves as well as state support, he said. Still, passenger rail should be part of Georgia's transportation infrastructure, he adds.
In Congress, he has voted against federal funding subsidies for the Amtrak interstate, passenger rail line. He's also voted against the National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act and legislation to require car makers to raise their average miles per gallon.
He prefers joint construction projects with private companies which would be paid from tolls. Where they're needed first are East-West corridors, such as the Fall Line Freeway connecting Augusta to Columbus and truck/train improvements to speed shipments from the Port of Savannah inland.
One way to enhance shipping from Savannah is through a proposed Interstate 3 highway, Deal says, linking Savannah to Augusta and Knoxville.
Barnes, though, is wary of I-3 because of the potential environmental impact in the mountains of North Georgia.
Such a highway would cross congressional districts and might be an example of the flexibility both men favor when it comes to the current policy of balancing transportation spending by district. Legislators outside Atlanta initiated the policy because they didn't want to have the state's biggest city swallow up all the available money.
Deal and Barnes agree balancing needs to remain in place.
A recent Democratic proposal for additional funding has been to use all of the state sales tax on gasoline for transportation. Currently, 3 percent of the tax is dedicated to transportation, but the so-called fourth penny goes into the state's general treasury.
Barnes supports the idea, and Deal is not opposed, despite its Democratic origins.
"While the 'fourth penny' has helped to stave off other cuts in the budget, I believe that ideally that fourth penny should be directed to transportation spending since it is generated from the gas sales tax," Deal said.