The Augusta legislative delegation was stunned to learn Gov. Zell Miller vetoed several acclaimed local projects from the new state budget, including $1.28 million to help replace Augusta State University's leaky, asbestos-filled classrooms and $1.1 million to add National Science Center Foundation-produced Learning Logic computer labs to each congressional district.
"I'm in a panic," groaned shocked Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, "I simply cannot believe the governor has vetoed the will of the General Assembly with reckless abandon." Added House Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell, D-Augusta: "I'm just terribly disappointed. These are very important projects."
Yes they are, but the governor did not single out Augusta. Had he done that, the case would be made that the vetoes were unfair, even political.
In fact, the local casualties were clearly part of a larger Miller veto strategy to slash legislative largesse all across the state to, in his words, "hold the line on state spending."
This newspaper has no quarrel with any governor holding the line on spending - if every district takes its fair share of hits. Miller's record 104 line-item strikes excising $37 million in lawmakers' pet projects are fair.
Augusta's delegation was not alone in moaning about the result. Yelps of pain could be heard from powerful lawmakers from every corner of the state.
We would quibble with the governor's reasoning for some of the local cuts, especially ASU's $1.28 asbestos removal project. He wants to wait until the Board of Regents develops a master plan and includes it on the annual priority listing of capital outlays.
Yet the reason the Legislature moved quickly to help ASU is because waiting might cost more. Repetitive repairs are expensive and so is the potential for lawsuits as long the asbestos is not completely removed.
It will be up to local lawmakers to make ASU's case again when veto override time comes - as well as the case for other projects they seek to preserve. Projects that overrides don't save might yet be restored next year. After all, lawmakers managed to stuff $6.7 million of new "pork barrel" spending into this year's budget after the fiscal clock began ticking.
Whatever happens, we don't think Miller's vetoes deal a fatal blow to any worthy Augusta area project.
The cuts may just mean backers will have to become less dependent on the state and work a little harder to find funds elsewhere. What's so bad about that?