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Transportation overhaul more than needed

The people's buisness

POSTED: March 9, 2009 1:51 p.m.
Thursday, the Senate exercised leadership in making much needed reforms to Georgia's transportation governance. With the passage of SB 200, the Senate voted for a clear funding process to enable transportation dollars to be spent more efficiently, effectively and strategically.
The bill was put forward by Senate and House leadership in concert with the governor and we look forward to the House now carrying the momentum forward to get this legislation through the General Assembly. I was pleased to carry this bill and I believe it is a strong step toward success in solving transportation challenges.
The bill allows for a new, transparent funding model much like the way other agencies are funded and governed. As legislators, we will be able to represent our constituents' needs much better by having a greater say in the appropriations process and directing project funding. Local governments will also see increased funding, as a minimum of 25 percent of the State Motor Fuel Funds will be deposited into a local grant fund and will be dedicated to local projects. This more than doubles the amount local governments are currently receiving.
Transportation is not just a metro problem, it affects every part of Georgia. I have seen first hand the numerous projects approved and started years ago which are still not completed. This results in increases of millions of dollars more than the original plan, meanwhile driving the Georgia Department of Transportation further and further into debt.
Throwing more money at a dysfunctional agency will not fix this. Despite putting billions of dollars into the Department of Transportation, nothing has changed.
These problems, along with the negative press on the DOT, give a lot of competent employees around the state a bad name. The department's regional offices and their employees are doing an excellent job maintaining our roads. This plan is not aimed at eliminating DOT jobs, the DOT board or commissioner. SB 200 simply restructures our state's transportation agencies to equip them to succeed in carrying out their mission, in a more responsive manner through increased accountability. The problem is the department's ineffective governing structure, lack of accountability contributing to the status quo.
Budgets and spending were also at the top of the list this week as the Senate fulfilled its constitutional requirement to balance the 2009 budget. While Washington was busy spending more money, Georgia was successfully prioritizing needed projects and cutting wasteful spending. Some additional highlights of the budget include:
• Reducing the footprint of state government by approximately $1 billion
• Restoring the mental health funds
• Addressing consumer protection by providing four new food safety inspectors
• State legislative offices cut budgets by 8 percent
• Achieved $10.5 million in savings from lower interest rates after selling state bonds
This budget is a result of a long and difficult journey over the past year and a half. Since last January, the governor has lowered revenue estimates five times. Through all of this, we were successful in very few changes to education with only an overall 2 percent budget cut. We have maintained the state's triple-A bond rating, which is vital to stabilizing the state's economy because it keeps interest rates low. The triple-A ratings reflect the highest rating available to government issuers and demonstrate what a great value Georgia municipal bonds are to investors.
By exercising fiscal responsibility, reducing the size of government and restructuring transportation, we will bring about real change for Georgia.
On a final note, you may have heard about legislators not paying their taxes. I assure you that I am not one of them. I am paid up and believe that anyone serving in a position with influence over millions of Georgia's tax dollars should be too.

Williams serves as president pro tempore. His 19th Senate District includes Long and part of Liberty counties. Call him at (404) 656-0089 or by email at tommie.williams@senate.ga.gov.


 

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