Speaker Glenn Richardson made a dramatic appearance before the House Transportation Committee late Thursday, acceding to the wishes of his members — and all but killing Gov. Sonny Perdue’s plan to create a transportation super-agency.
The governor had called for stripping the much-maligned board that governs the Department of Transportation — constitutionally controlled by the Legislature — of its control over $2 billion in spending.
That power would have been handed to a State Tranportation Authority dominated by the governor, speaker and lieutenant governor. And a secretary of Transportation.
“We understand you don’t wish to create a new agency and you don’t wish to change the way we elect the DOT board,” Richardson said, according to my AJC colleague Ariel Hart — who was in the room.
Richardson hinted that the governor would probably win the power to appoint the DOT commissioner, now the province of the DOT board, and more control of the DOT staff.
A refashioned S.B. 200 comes up before the House Transportation Committee at 11 a.m. Friday. “It will change around a little how some of the officers are selected, but it does not change the DOT board,” the speaker said.
Evidence of intense negotiations between Richardson and Perdue included a conciliatory statement from Bert Brantley, spokesman for the governor. Only weeks ago, Richardson stood with Perdue to endorse the governor’s plan.
It is significant that Richardson made only one indirect reference to a sales tax for transporation — which has been the subject of intense fighting between the House and Senate for the last two sessions.
Richardson indicated that he was interested more in how current funds flow, and preserving the House’s influence over transportation policy.
“The important thing is it allows us to have a role in the planning process, and allows us — and the governor — to have a role in the appropriations process,” he said.
On Monday, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle had declared negotiations over a sales tax for transportation — the Senate wants a regional approach, the House prefers statewide — separate from the “governance” issue.
But it’s now clear that the transportation issue is being approached from two different directions, and that the solution will have to include an agreement on sales tax, governance — and MARTA financing, just to make things complicated.
In other words, a final deal — which no doubt will come in the final hours of the session — will have three times the number of issues that require resolution. And thus could have thrice the possibility of failing.
One indication of hard bargaining between the speaker and the governor came at the outset of Richardson’s address to the transportation committee.
He began by apologizing for mentioning earlier — in private, apparently — a report drafted by the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, which showed that more than two-thirds of federal stimulus money spent on transportation had been directed to the districts of House Transportation Committee members. The information was incorrect.
“Now, I never meant to say that y’all asked for it. I thought it was a power play.
“As it turns out, the same people who put that information together are the same people that gave our economic outlook for the state of Georgia this year. They missed it pretty severely.
“I have an apology from OPB. They said there were numerous reasons the list was inaccurate, but suffice it to say this is ridiculous, shoddy staff work.”
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