ATLANTA — State transportation officials pledged cooperation and coordination to local legislators Tuesday as the Augusta region begins road projects financed by a new sales tax.
Additionally, officials from Georgia Regents University reported that the governor’s proposed budget includes funding for cancer research but not a planned satellite campus in Rome or equipment for the medical-commons building.
GRU and transportation representatives met with legislative delegations from Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties in a rare, joint meeting. The three counties are part of one of three regions in the state where voters agreed in July to raise the sales tax for transportation improvements.
“We’re ready to deliver,” Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden said. “… Our goal is to make every other region wish they had passed it.”
Retailers began collecting the tax Jan. 1, but the first revenue won’t be available until mid-March. A quarter of them will go directly to each local government in the region for transportation projects of their choosing, while the bulk of the money will go through the Department of Transportation, which is negotiating to hire an accounting firm to manage the cash flow for projects included in the list submitted to voters.
Rep. Gloria Frazier, D-
Hephzibah, expressed concern that local businesses be included in the contracts. Golden said the first task of the accounting firm will be providing information to those companies on how they can bid for the work.
Georgia law prohibits the state from steering contracts to local businesses, he said.
“There is no home-field advantage,” he said.
If Augusta or other local governments oversee projects, however, they can apply their own contracting preferences, he said.
A senator from one of the regions where the sales tax failed announced Tuesday that he is sponsoring legislation to repeal a bonus awarded to regions that passed it. Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, argues it is unfair to make regions where it failed pay more for their share of transportation projects as a penalty.
CONSTRUCTION WAS ALSO on the agenda of GRU lobbyist Michael Shaffer, who filled in for the university’s ailing president, Dr. Ricardo Azziz. Gov. Nathan Deal’s recommended budget includes a second yearly installment of $5 million for cancer-related research and $45 million in bonds to build a cancer research building.
The budget does not include money for equipping the medical-commons building. Construction was speeded up, and now it could be completed before the next fiscal year ends and another appropriation can be made.
Deal also didn’t make arrangements to fund a satellite campus in Rome at about $1 million yearly. The medical community in the north Georgia city has been eager to begin offering instruction to medical students at its hospitals as is done already at satellite campuses in Savannah and Albany.
“Rome has been incredible,” Shaffer said.
Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said that GRU’s campuses in Augusta and Athens and the satellite campuses broaden the political support for the university which can be critical to getting funding in the Legislature.
“It helps Georgia Regents to have a presence all over the state,” he said.