The State Road and Tollway Authority, led by Gov. Sonny Perdue, on Friday voted to continue the Ga. 400 tolls until 2020, reports my AJC colleague Ariel Hart.
The decision will no doubt have an impact on political campaigns up and down the ticket, beginning with the governor’s contest.
The first word from the campaign of Republican Nathan Deal expresses his disagreement with the decision, but includes no criticism of Gov. Sonny Perdue — not even a mention:
“Ga. 400 commuters are also taxpayers like all other drivers in our state, and I don’t think it’s fair to continue to single them out for this daily fee,” Deal said. “It’s certainly true that this corridor has undergone explosive growth in the past 20 years , but so have many other corridors in the metro Atlanta area.
“In these tight budget times, we must consider all options for improving mobility in metro Atlanta and throughout the rest of the state. Tolls will play a role in how we fund needed expansions in highway capacity. Georgians will only support that option if we keep our promises. The state said it would end the tolls when the bonds were paid. I said this summer that the tolls should end when the bonds are paid off next year, and I believe that would have been the best path to take.”
At his press conference following action on the Ga. 400 toll, Perdue likewise stepped carefully around Deal and other GOP candidates now in the field:
“While it’s easy to be a political populist and say ‘broken promises, no trust’ – I understand all that. I am absolutely doing and asking our authority to do what I believe is in the best interest of our state and metro Atlanta.”
Asked about Deal’s opposition to an extension of the Ga. 400 toll, the governor responded with a jest:
“Isn’t that great about America? I said, ‘Nathan, we may disagree on this, but I sure hope you get elected. We can’t afford that other guy.”
Perdue was asked – and ducked — a first question about Deal’s finances. But he weighed in when asked if the former congressman – who faces repayment of a $2.3 million loan by February – would be too distracted to do his job:
“Nathan Deal is a focused individual. He’s [been] an attorney, prosecutor, a congressman for 18 years. You better not get in a room and doubt Nathan Deal’s intellect and his ability to focus and concentrate, or you’re going to be on the short side of any kind of discussion.
“He is smart, he’s able, he’s competent. And while all of us like for everything we do to succeed, sometimes we have family members – and that’s not possible. And the fact is, I can see myself having done the same thing. I know what this job entails. I know the focus – people get 20 hours a day and I get four.”