Originally created 09/05/97

Georgia wins under new highway bill



WASHINGTON -- Georgia would receive a substantial increase in federal transportation dollars under legislation introduced Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, sponsored by leading Republicans and Democrats on the House transportation committee, would provide $751.7 million in 1998 for highway and mass transit projects in Georgia. That's well above the $520.2 million the state has been receiving each year since 1991 under the current highway formula and is higher than the $631.9 million allocation in a bill introduced last spring by the Clinton administration.

South Carolina's share of highway money in 1998 under the new bill would be $340.7 million, up from $226.1 million the state has been receiving annually since 1991. Under President Clinton's bill, South Carolina would get $310.5 million in federal transportation money next year.

The six-year legislation that provides federal transportation money expires at the end of this month. The three-year reauthorization bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., the committee chairman, would provide $24.8 billion in highway spending and $6.3 billion for mass transit projects next year.

The increase earmarked for Georgia, South Carolina and other Southern and Midwestern states is Mr. Shuster's way of placating representatives from so-called "donor" states, said Laura Olsen, a spokeswoman for Surface Transportation Policy Project, a nonprofit coalition of groups pushing for a balanced approach to transportation funding.

Lawmakers from the South and Midwest introduced a bill earlier this year, known as "Step 21," calling for a major overhaul in the highway funding formula, which has shortchanged those two regions in favor of states in the Northeast and West.

"One of the reasons (Mr. Shuster) has been saying he wants more money is so he can make everyone happy," Ms. Olsen said.

Ms. Olsen predicted the new bill would satisfy lawmakers from Northeastern states by maintaining the federal commitment to mass transit projects, which would have been de-emphasized under Step 21, while winning favor in the South and Midwest with larger allocations.

Under the formula in the new bill, Georgia would get 3.52 percent of the total 1998 transportation dollars, up from 3.15 percent under the president's bill and 2.95 percent less than the current formula.

The new bill calls for South Carolina to receive 1.59 percent of the total, compared with 1.55 percent under the administration measure and 1.31 percent under the present formula.

The Senate committee overseeing transportation dollars is expected to weigh in with its bill as early as next week. But with the Sept. 30 deadline drawing near, time is growing short, said U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga.

"My hope is that we will be able to address the formula disparity under which Georgia and some other states do not get a fair share of surface transportation funds by the end of this month," Mr. Cleland said in a written statement.

"However, it seems increasingly likely that some type of short-term extension is going to be necessary," he said.