Bill Overhauling State's Transportation Lands in Senate Committee|
Georgia Online News Service
ATLANTA – The Georgia Senate is set to take its first look at a 101-page bill that would eviscerate the Georgia Department of Transportation and create a new statewide authority over roads, bridges, trucking, tolls, construction and maintenance.
Under Senate Bill 200, the Georgia Department of Transportation loses the power of the purse and its central role in transport planning to a proposed State Transportation Authority and a State Transportation Agency. The two bodies would have the same board, the members of which would be handpicked by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.
Currently, the State Transportation Board, which governs the GDOT, is elected by a caucus of legislators from each of 13 geographical areas in the state. That's meant to ensure statewide representation.
The bill's main movers, Governor Sonny Perdue, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, call that setup "parochial".
"By relying on a board that represents congressional districts elected every few years by caucuses of legislators, the existing structure encourages parochial thinking and insulates the agency from those who are elected to serve our citizens," they have written in defense of their bill.
The State Transportation Board will probably weigh in on its proposed demise tomorrow, after a board meeting, says GDOT counsel Christopher Tomlinson.
GDOT staff is still analyzing the bill, Tomlinson adds, and collecting opinions.
"We're looking forward to hearing these comments to see where it's going," he said hours before the first House Transportation Committee meeting.
The purse that GDOT would hand over to the new Agency is a bit meager; the Department is set to finish FY 2009 some $465 million in the red, according to earlier testimony by Commissioner Gena Evans.
The Agency would take over two funds from GDOT that make up most of the state's transport spending.
One is the State Public Transportation Fund. It holds state gas taxes earmarked for road and bridge maintenance and construction. In FY 2009, that's about $544 million in Georgia drivers' dollars.
The other is the Federal Public Transportation Fund. That's the money sent from Washington, which is almost $1.3 billion in FY 2009. Today, the State Road and Tollway Authority receives a share of that straight from the Feds.
The bill closes both STRA and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which works in 13 metro counties to help coordinate regional commuter travel and land use, with an aim to improving the metro's air quality.
"We trust that the governor, lieutenant governor and General Assembly will identify the best approach to the situation," says Cherie Gibson, spokeswoman for the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority.
The bill also allows the Authority to farm out toll collecting to private companies, something that's not been done in Georgia, but which Gov. Perdue studied on a trip to Spain in 2008.
Sen. Tommy Williams (R-Lyons) is carrying the bill.
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]