Posts Tagged ‘Gerogia legislature’

Rail Transit Can No Longer Be Ignored by Georgia Legislators

April 20, 2009

For a lot of my childhood, I lived a block  from the Central of Georgia Depot on 6th Avenue in Columbus.  That depot was a very busy place, especially during World War two.  Not only were there major passenger trains like the Seminole and the City of Miami, which connected Chicago to Florida,  that made a stop in Columbus, but local passenger trains to Macon,  Montgomery, and Atlanta.  During the war,  my mother and I went by train from Columbus to Joplin, Missouri to visit with my brother who would soon be sent to England and Germany.  I was about 13-years-old at the time.   Railroads put every passenger car they had into service,  including some very old ones,  and the train that took us from Birmingham to Springfield, Missouri was so long it was pulled by not one, but two steam engines. 

After the war,  the emphasis  on automobiles and highways,  and the rapid growth of airlines, just about killed the passenger train business.   Well, for those who believe there are cycles to history, the train cycle is here.  Trains are the most economical and fuel efficient way to transport masses of people.  Finally, national leaders, including Presdient Obama,  are recognising this. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday,  “President Barack Obama announced plans Thursday for a national high-speed rail network that would include lines crisscrossing Georgia connected through a hub in Atlanta.

“The plan would create a European-like system with trains that could run at more than 100 mph. Obama is pledging $8 billion toward development of the system as part of the economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

Finland Passenger Train Car (Courtesy: Jonic)

Finland Passenger Train Car, upper deck (Courtesy: Jonic, Wikipedia)

Our leaders at the Georgia state capitol, however,  have been in love with highways and cars to the extent they, for the most part, ignored rail,  and critics say this could  hamper Georgia in taking advantage of the federal funding for rapid rail.

The legilsature left the Marta system in Atlanta hanging out to dry by not taking action that would allow the system, which is more popular than ever,  to use funds it already has to keep it up and running.  There is a 40-year-old state law that says Marta can’t spend reserve funds on operating expenses.  That made sense 40 years ago when Marta first started, but now that it is a mature system, it makes no sense at all.

As I reported earlier, Columbus Representative Calvin Smyre and State Senators Seth Harp and Ed Harbison say that situation will have to be faced and corrected when the legislature goes into a predicted special session in July to come up with a new budget.  Let’s hope they and other legislators come to grips with this problem because it is critical.

Josh McKoon on Why We Should Support New Ethics Legislation

March 21, 2009

I don’t know when public confidence in state and federal representatives and senators has been lower than it is right now. Perhaps lawmakers can turn this around if they enact some tough ethics legilsation that effectively stops the buying of our  Congressional and state legislators.  Josh McKoon,  attorney,  former chair of the Muscogee County Republican Party and a member of Common Cause Columbus,  told me he is seeking support for a new, thougher ethics bill  pending in the Georgia legislature. SB 96 passed unanimously in the Georgia Senate and now is before the Georgia House. I asked him to tell me why he thinks we should support the measure.  He sent this explanation:

SB 96 is legislation that accomplishes several important goals.
First, it provides for training for registered lobbyists by the State Ethics Commission to insure full compliance with the new reporting requirements for provision of meals, etc. to legislators.
Second, it tightens up the definition of lobbyist to make sure it is inclusive only of those paid to lobby and does not require grassroots activists to register.  For example, under the current law you could argue that your piece and Bob Hydrick’s comments about the Billboard legislation amount to lobbying and that the “compensation” received is keeping highways free of clutter.  I agree it is absurd, but the way the law reads it could certainly be interpreted that way.  The new revised langauge will resolve that issue.
Third, it beefs up reporting requirements for lobbyists.  I don’t dispute the idea that anyone who wants to pay for lobbyists in Atlanta should be able to do that, but we need a more transparent accounting of what is being received by our elected representatives on their behalf.
Finally and most importantly in my view, it establishes ethics panels to review and dispose of ethics complaints against local elected officials.  This is an important check on the power of our elected representatives and protects against violations of the ethics law which the State Ethics Commission does not have jurisdiction over nor the manpower to handle.  These panels will fill a gap in current law where there is no remedy, short of filing a civil lawsuit in Superior Court, to handle matters where elected officials abrogate or ignore the law.  We have seen what happens when this is allowed to go on in Clayton County among other places. 
Critically, these panels will be composed of unpaid volunteers so there is no growth in the size of government.  Also the panels are empowered to fine frivolous complainers to the tune of $1,000.00 per complaint, to weed out those who would use this mechanism to harass elected officials that are not violating ethics laws.

If you agree with Josh, please contact your Georgia state representative and let him or her know.   At first blush,  the bill sounds good to me, but I am not sure it is strong enough to actually cut down on the influence of lobbyists for vested interests on our legislators.  At least  it’s a step in the right direction.

Will Any Statesmen Emerge When the Georgia Legislature Goes into Session Monday?

January 10, 2009

This is the year that we are going to find out who are the real statesmen in the Georgia legislature,  or we may find there are none.  This is going to be a one of the most challenging sessions of the legislature,  and if the lawmakers simply sit on their votes and let things slide they will be committing not only a severe dereliction of duty,  but an immoral act.

Georgia State Capitol

Georgia State Capitol

Just look at the gargantuan problems facing this state. 

First of all, the recession is going to put great pressure on the state budget.  When tax revenues drop, as they always do in disastrous economic times,  programs have to cut.

Even though those tax revenues are much less,  the need for state funds are not.  Education, number one priority for most people, including lawmakers, has already been severely cut,  and more and even greater cuts are in the offing.  This will have harmful effects on the state economy because industry wants well educated people.

Transportation is an area that simply cannot be ignored.  It virtually was in the last session of the legislature since it did not pass a comprehensive transportation plan for the state.  Gridlock in the Atlanta area gets worse by the day. The state continues to emphasize road building and adding lanes to existing roads, and simply will not switch a good percentage of the dollars to mass transit.  Instead of pouring millions and millions of dollars worth of concrete and asphalt, it needs to divert a lot of that money to rail, the most efficient way to transport masses of people.  

I am really sick of the never-ending construction on I-85.  It causes miserable driving conditions and is not solving the problem.  Instead of adding lanes, they should be laying rails.  I know I have stated that before,  but it seems so obvious to me and I can’t understand why the legislators can’t grasp the facts about rail.   At least some of the states political leaders are warming up to rail, including Lt. Governor Cagle.

Believe me, even though everyone knows that the state government is going to have to concentrate on the greatest needs for the most people,   there will be a lot of people trying to get state funding for their pet projects,  and there will be legislators who will try to send sparse state funds their way.

Governor Perdue is talking about shifting a lot of emphasis to infrastructure, not only because of bridges and other infrastructure  needing to be upgraded,  but also to provide jobs.  That sounds Democratic,  the sort of thing that Barack Obama wants to do for the country, following the lead of  FDR in the early 1930’s.  Democratic or or not,  he appears to be on the right track considering the times we are in.

Yes, this is going to be the session when we learn who really in the Georgia legislature cares about the greater good for the common welfare of the people of this state.  If it is business as usual,  this state is in real trouble during these extraordinarily troubled times.

Another big issue will be attempts to change the way taxes are paid in Georgia.  We’ll  look at that in future posts.