Friday, January 23, 2009

Senate Agrees to New Transport Agency, Barely
by Maggie Lee
Georgia Online News Service

In a nearly a party-line vote of 30-25, the Georgia Senate has approved a bill that would create a new state transportation agency, and in the view of its sponsor, give more power to rural districts.

Senate Bill 200, the brainchild of Gov. Sonny Perdue and his allies, would gut the Georgia Department of Transportation and transfer most of its budgeting and planning powers to a new State Transportation Authority.

One of the most controversial items would let the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker appoint 11 members of the board that would oversee the new agency. Now, the board that oversees the Georgia Department of Transportation is elected by a caucus of state legislators from each of Georgia's 13 Congressional districts.

Rep. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) attacked that change: "The problem I have with this piece of legislation is that in three hours three hours of hearings on this legislation we're going to make the largest change in government since 1963?"

In 1963, the General Assembly reformed transportation governance to put power in more hands than fewer to cut down on corruption. Putting new state transportation agency appointments in just a few hands is a recipe for more corruption, says Stoner.

"People don't change," he added.

As far as GDOT's annual budget, which bill sponsor Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) supposed at $2.5 billion annually, supporters note that rural districts are in for more money.

The bill allows the General Assembly to earmark 10 percent of the total annual transportation budget, which comes from fuel taxes, federal funds and a few other sources.

Another quarter of the budget would be sent to local governments.

The General Assembly would appropriate the rest as it sees fit: for new construction, maintenance or more local grants, according to Williams.

"You'll be able to fund locals like never before," Williams told his Senate colleagues, trying to win their votes with just those funds.

It's those same funds that earn the bill the name of "pork" by critics like the Georgia Municipal Association, a group of over 502 municipalities statewide.

But the Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing: The GDOT is dysfunctional.

"I would suggest that medicine is needed for DOT, but I don't know if this is the right medicine," said Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta).

"I can't understand the malaise and the mess over there," commented Sen. Dan Weber (R-Dunwoody). He said in his experience, GDOT service ranks far below any other state agencies.

"The process is broken. SB200 helps improve the process," says Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga). The Senator added that that he hears complaints about unfunded GDOT projects more than anything else.

He also alleges that GDOT board members don't keep in touch with the legislators, saying he hasn't heard anything from any board member during this debate.

Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) hates the bill because it allows some contracts to be awarded on a basis besides the lowest bid.

"You know two days on an issue like this doesn't pass the smell test," said Thompson.

"I'm sure all of you have paid your taxes but somebody's going to have a lot more revenue," he concluded adding that he's not impugning any legislator.

An amendment by David Shafer (R-Duluth) clarifies that all contracts must be given out to the lowest-price reliable bidder except in the case of public-private partnerships.

Thompson opined that those kinds of deals are most liable to corruption.

Only Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) had a good word to say for it, because there's a female GDOT board member, and she's not sure a female is in line for the new board.

Thompson and Sen. Steve Henson (D-Clarkston) also argued that GDOT politics aren't the real transport problem.

"We need to be progressive and look at other forms of transport," Henson told the Senate.

"We really need to address the problem of funding," he added.

"We're not addressing the problem," Thompson said, noting that Georgia's gas taxes are among the lowest in the nation. "We're trying to change the politics without addressing the problem."

There's no timeframe for House action on the companion bill; Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) is sponsoring the bill rather than House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram).

Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion.   [full bio]


Editor's note: TODAY'S EDITION IS A RE-FEED OF YESTERDAY'S NEWS. PLEASE BE PATIENT WITH US AS WE PERFECT OUR BETA VERSION.

The Georgia Online News Service (GONSO) has an offer we hope you can't refuse. For the next several weeks, we'll be sending you content by some of the most outstanding journalists in the state, most of them veterans of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing and other news organizations. The list includes Tom Baxter, Bill Osinski, Lyle Harris and John Sugg. Additionally, you'll find a diversity of opinion (edited by former AJC editor David Beasley) from the likes of Hollis Gillespie and Ralph Reed. During this trial period, please send your feedback to me: john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org or at 404-906-0852.

After the trial, you'll have the opportunity to become subscribers to GONSO. All of our content will be available to you along with the world, national and sports wire services of Reuters at a price well below that of traditional news services.

Today's stories are below. As we test GONSO, we'll be redistributing the same package tomorrow. If you have any technical issues, please apprise me of those, too. Starting Monday, each day will bring new stories.


Today's GONSO

Georgia's budget crisis could sour Perdue's legacy

by Tom Baxter
As he awaits the day, not too far in the future, when his portrait is hung on the walls of the state Capitol, Gov. Sonny Perdue presents a painterly problem for the person assigned to capture his legacy on canvas.

Full Story

This year's session to be a classic clash of political philosophies

by Eric Tanenblatt
Over runny eggs and undercooked sausages, Gov. Sonny Perdue found himself before 2,500 people at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative session Feb. 13 starting the "Eggs & Issues" breakfast discussing a budget crisis much like he did when he took office just prior to the 2003 legislative session. Full Story

Behold the Gold Dome, behold the media – and weep

by John Sugg
Georgia, we have a problem. It's called leadership – or more precisely, a lack thereof.
Full Story

Senate Agrees to New Transport Agency, Barely

by Maggie Lee
In a nearly a party-line vote of 30-25, the Georgia Senate has approved a bill that would create a new state transportation agency, and in the view of its sponsor, give more power to rural districts.
Full Story

Senate Agrees to New Transport Agency, Barely

by Maggie Lee
In a nearly a party-line vote of 30-25, the Georgia Senate has approved a bill that would create a new state transportation agency, and in the view of its sponsor, give more power to rural districts.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
What comes first at General Assembly: political posturing or good policy?
by Tom Opdyke
Problems abound with single party control
by J. Randolph Evans
Funding for Georgia health programs, trauma centers may be a smoking issue
by Bill Hendrick

 
Copyright 2009 - Georgia Online News Service