We’re Waving Goodbye to the Future
from CapitolImpact, by Tom Crawford firstname.lastname@example.org
When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stopped in Atlanta last September, he was asked about Georgia’s prospects for getting some of the $8 billion in federal stimulus funds being allocated for a network of high-speed passenger rail lines. Like other states in the region, Georgia wanted to be part of this important project and applied for $472 million that would pay for building the link between Atlanta and Macon. But LaHood’s response to reporters’ questions about the federal money was not very encouraging.“It’ll come to Atlanta if Georgia gets its act together,” LaHood said. “There has to be a commitment by state government that transit is important.” Unfortunately for Georgia, we are still looking for that commitment from the state’s leadership.
We paid the price last week when the announcement of the rail grants was finally made. Florida and North Carolina, which are serious about investing in passenger rail, will get nearly $1.8 billion combined. That money will be spent for infrastructure projects that employ thousands of people. Georgia will get the piddling amount of $750,000 to conduct yet another study of passenger rail. The only jobs created will be for whichever consultants do the study.
This is bad news for the state, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. For a project of this scope and importance, the federal money is only going to states that are serious about investing for future transportation needs. Georgia has been much less than serious about this issue. We already have $87 million in federal funds that have sat unused for the last 10 years because the state still has not agreed to provide $20 million in matching funds. That money would have paid for the first part of the Atlanta-Macon line, a commuter rail link from downtown Atlanta to Clayton County.
Here’s what our leadership thought was more important to the state’s future. Gov. Sonny Perdue proposed, and the Legislature approved, $19 million a few years ago to build a bunch of boat docks and a tourist center for the “Go Fish” initiative that was supposed to attract bass fishing tournaments to Georgia. In his budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Perdue proposed that the state spend $10 million on a College Football Hall of Fame that will relocate to Atlanta and $9.1 million on a horse park at the National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.
Passenger rail service? We can’t afford any of that. Commuter rail links to Macon and Athens remain just concepts in a bureaucrat’s report, as does a high-speed rail line from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
To sum it up: our neighboring states are making a major investment to become part of a transportation network that could reshape the future of this region. We’re building boat docks and horse parks. We can’t even agree on a sales tax to repave a few highways.
This is not a partisan issue—both parties have been asleep at the wheel. Democratic governors Roy Barnes and Zell Miller also passed up opportunities to get into the rail game. Sam Williams of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce recalls how business leaders tried in vain to sell Miller’s transportation commissioner, the late Wayne Shackelford, on the value of upgrading rail service.
“We argued with Wayne Shackelford for years to try to get money for rail,” Williams said, but he wouldn’t budge. That indifference to any mode of transportation other than highways has also been a feature of the Republicans who have controlled state government in recent years. Former House Speaker Glenn Richardson was especially contemptuous of rail service, once dismissing it as “19th century technology for a 21st century problem.”
“We’re the caboose on this train,” Williams said. “If we’re cut out of this, if the rail line goes down the coast (and not through Atlanta), then shame on us.”
North Carolina and Florida are willing to make major investments that should result in benefits down the line for all of their citizens. They’re getting big money from the federal government to start putting people to work and make it a reality.
Georgia could have been part of that, too, but we have decided not to get on board. The train is leaving the station without us. We’re waving goodbye to the future.
"Those of you who have heard me campaigning around the state know I have been the biggest proponent of passenger rail, fourth penny dedication and for passing a statewide transportation plan, for many of the facts mentioned above. We can not continue to be left behind."- DuBose Porter
Follows is an article that just was published online in the Atlanta Business Chronicle:
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Democrats ante up transportation plan
Atlanta Business Chronicle - by Dave Williams Staff Writer
Democratic leaders in the General Assembly introduced legislation Thursday that would let Georgians vote on transportation funding this fall and possibly next year, earlier than a timetable proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Identical constitutional amendments submitted in the House and Senate call for a statewide referendum in November on whether Georgians should be allowed to vote by region on raising sales taxes to pay for needed highway and transit projects in their communities.
If the statewide referendum is approved, it would authorize groups of counties to develop regional plans to fund transportation improvements with a penny sales tax. One or more regional votes then would be held in 2011.
Metro Atlanta, with its traffic congestion, likely would be the first to organize a regional transportation sales tax to put before voters.
Perdue’s transportation funding plan, which the governor unveiled last month, wouldn’t come to a vote until 2012.
“We can’t wait,” said House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, during a news conference held by legislative Democrats. “We have to do this now.”
Democrats repeatedly cited last week’s decision by the Obama administration to bypass Georgia for a significant piece of $8 billion in high-speed rail funding. Other Southeastern states, including Florida and North Carolina, were awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds, while Georgia received just $750,000 for three feasibility studies.
Federal officials, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have warned Georgia leaders to get moving on transportation funding or risk being put at the end of the line for federal assistance.
“We’re losing money and jobs to surrounding states,” said Sen. Tim Golden, D-Valdosta, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “We can’t stand idly by and watch Georgia lose its position as a Southern business leader.”
The Democrats’ proposal is similar to the regional approach to transportation funding lawmakers have taken during the last two years. However, both efforts failed on the final day of the last two legislative sessions.
The new constitutional amendment also would dedicate the fourth cent of the state’s 4-cent gasoline tax, which currently goes to the general fund, to transportation, a proposal Democrats have pushed unsuccessfully in past sessions.
That provision, too, would be subject to ratification in a statewide referendum.
As a constitutional amendment, the legislation would not require Perdue’s signature. However, it does need a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to get through the General Assembly and on to the voters, a dubious proposition with Republicans holding solid majorities in both chambers.
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Vote for DuBose Porter Governor, 2010
Vote for DuBose Porter Governor, 2010