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Gov. Deal tees up transportation debate as federal funds wane

By David Pendered

Gov. Nathan Deal sought Wednesday to cast a hopeful tone over the future of transportation.

Gov. Nathan Deal, State of State, 2015

Gov. Nathan Deal delivers his State of State address. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle stands on the governor’s right; House Speaker David Ralston stands on the governor’s left. Credit: photos.gov.georgia.gov

The current reality is grim. For starters, starting June 1, Georgia is facing a $367.2 million shortfall in necessary federal transportation funds in the federal fiscal year that ends Oct. 1, the state’s chief engineer told GRTA’s board of directors.

In his State of the State address, Deal suggested the state become less dependent on federal funds to pay for its transportation infrastructure. The governor didn’t mention a source for these new funds.

Deal’s prepared text outlines the transportation funding situation in terms aimed at every Georgian:

  • “We are currently operating at a rate that requires over 50 years to resurface every state road in Georgia. If your road is paved when you graduate high school, by the time it is paved again you will be eligible for Social Security.

Georgia will fix and improve transportation infrastructure by raising its own money for projects, the governor said – as opposed to continuing to rely on federal assistance. From the prepared speech:

  • “For those of you who believe as I do that there are certain powers left to the states and their citizens—a principal set forth in our nation’s 10th Amendment—here is one way we can put our belief into practice. If we become less dependent on federal revenue for our transportation projects in Georgia, we will avoid the regulations and extra costs associated with federal involvement; we will get more for our money in new roads; and it will be one of the best signals that the state of Georgia is willing to spend our money to solve our problems. Four years ago, we decided that our state needed to develop its own reservoirs to be less dependent on federal water resources. Maybe it’s time we apply that same logic to transportation.”
Federal transportation funding slide

GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle presented this slide to GRTA’s board to explain current transportation funding woes in Georgia. Credit: GRTA

Other than saying Georgia should raise more of its own transportation funds, this was as close as the governor came to recommending how the state can come even close to raising the $1 billion or so, per year, that a consultant reported is needed to begin addressing the state’s transportation woes.

As Deal was delivering his remarks at the state Capitol, the GRTA board was receiving a detailed report on federal funding woes as presented by Meg Pirkle, chief engineer for Georgia Department of Transportation.

Pirkle described the federal funding process and concluded with information on the impact on Georgia of the congressional impasse on transportation funding.

The country is now operating with a federal transportation funding program that expires May 31.

Congress has disagreed for years on a way to pay for transportation infrastructure. The latest showdown ended in July 2014 with a short-term resolution that allotted nearly $11 billion.

President Obama has delivered a $302 billion proposal that would extend four years. Congress can’t agree on Obama’s source of transportation funding – corporate tax reform – and deferred a decision until after the 2014 elections.

Georgia has new reason to hope the state’s affairs will get more attention in Congress, according to Matt Markham, GRTA’s chief of external affairs.

Markham noted that U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) was appointed in December to the House Transportation Committee. Woodall serves the 7th District, which covers portions of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, from Norcross to Cumming to Dacula.

“Having a Georgian on the federal Transportation Committee … will be a very valuable asset for Georgia,” Markham told the GRTA board. “There are a lot of important issues and topics that it’s important for our voice to be heard on.”

Woodall has not yet been assigned to a subcommittee, according to the Transportation Committee’s website. Subcommittee chairmen were announced Tuesday.

Woodall’s communications director did not return a phone call seeking comment. The Transportation Committee did not respond to an email seeking comment.

 

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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