There's little conversation between Georgia and Obama administration|
Georgia Online News Service
How do Georgia and the Obama administration talk to each other? In a roundabout fashion, you might say, but with a keen sense of urgency on both sides.
The complicated business of how state and federal officials establish lines of communication is always an important matter after a change of administrations, but never more so than this year, with the Obama administration desperate to get economic stimulus money out to the nerve ends of the economy, and states frozen on the edge of a deepening chasm of debt.
At one level, the conversation between this Red State and the new Democratic administration has been a frosty one. Privately, some Democrats complain that Gov. Sonny Perdue won't pick up the phone to talk with the new administration about the state's needs, as other governors have.
While declining to criticize Perdue directly, U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat from Georgia's east central 12th Congressional District, recently warned that the lines of communication have to stay open.
"You can't have a New Deal at the national level, if we've got 50 Herbert Hoovers out in the states holding things up," Barrow said. "The states that are ready to go are going to get help, and those that aren't are going to miss the train."
In his State of the State message last month, Perdue told legislators the budgets he was presenting were "balanced and do not assume money from Washington," although the almost universal belief among lobbyists and legislators is that the state, like most, is utterly dependent on ObamaBucks to get out of the red. Twelve days into the session, there's been little action that would change that sentiment.
"It's going to be a hell of a job to get either the supplemental or the real budget passed until we know what we're going to get from Washington," said state Sen. George Hooks (D-Americus), who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In Washington, things are frosty as well. Georgia's House delegation split straight along party lines in last week's vote on the stimulus package, a relative rarity in a delegation where Reps. Jim Marshall and John Barrow have often parted company with their fellow Democrats.
Since he became chairman last month of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry – an important position for this state – Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott complained that "not a single person has even taken the time to call me up and say, 'Congratulations, what can we do?' "
And yet at another level, a necessary conversation is under way. Much of it can be expected to go through U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, who has become the go-to guy on the House Appropriations Committee. That's emblematic of the volume level of the Georgia-Obama conversation.
Bishop, who represents a district in the southwest corner of the state, is soft-spoken and cagey: He was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama, while his wife, herself a power in Columbus political circles, backed Hillary Clinton.
"Georgia is a very important state, and I have every confidence the administration will insure we fully participate in the economic stimulus package," said state Sen. David Adelman (D-Decatur), one of Obama's earliest Georgia supporters.
Important economically, that is, but also politically. In a post-election meeting with environmental lobbyists from around the country, the legislative director for a national environmental organization named Georgia as one of four states where the transitioning Obama campaign hoped to significantly improve its performance in the next election.
And despite any official reticence over advertising the fact, the state has been letting the administration know what it can do for Georgia. At a recent budget hearing, Department of Transportation Commissioner Gina Evans testified her office has three to four people working full-time to find those all important "shovel-ready" projects that qualify for an instant infusion of federal cash. Next week, several members of the DOT are going to Washington to talk with the congressional delegation about the stimulus package, which is still being hotly debated in the U.S. Senate.
It's such a rarity for an environmental organization to praise the Georgia DOT that a Friends of the Earth analyzing how states would spend their stimulus money comes as a shocker. The DOT's stimulus request is "smartly executed," the report said, with 34 percent of its request directed to public transportation, and 69 percent of its requested road money aimed at repairs rather than new roads.
On closer inspection, it turns out this high praise is somewhat misleading. To bump up its request, DOT included the wish lists of MARTA and other public transportation agencies. And to locate a lot of places it could spend money quickly, DOT simply identified a host of sites where necessary repairs and safety improvements were overdue.
"We've got a lot of every kind of project, that we don't have the money to do," said DOT press secretary David Spear.
In addition to its initial requests, Spear said, DOT is considering requests for new road projects that are pouring in from around the state. The requests, on the stationary of every town, hamlet and county in the state, are streaming in not only to DOT but the mailboxes of legislators and members of Congress as well. Georgia may have voted for John McCain, but it is no stranger to federal aid.
"When money is being apportioned and the state needs it," Scott said, "we've got a tradition of making sure Georgia gets its fair share."
What is also somewhat surprising is that the initial Georgia request was sent last Dec. 12. In other states, there have been stories about the "wish list" being sent to Washington with big hopes for long-awaited projects, but Georgia's "smartly executed" one was dispatched with almost no public notice. A conversation is indeed going on, but at the most crucial levels it's going on at the whisper level.
Tom Baxter is editor of the Southern Political Report and senior vice president of its parent company, InsiderAdvantage, a media and polling firm. He was the chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 20 years. [full bio]