Originally created 02/07/98

Fort Discovery gets vital aid 020798 - The Augusta Chronicle



All Georgia taxpayers want their communities to get back a fair share of the tax dollars they send to Atlanta. On that score, Richmond County's legislative delegation did very well by the $750 million in new spending approved for the midyear budget.

Led by the delegation's Big Four -- Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell, D-Augusta, Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, and Sens. Charles Walker and Don Cheeks, D-Augusta -- state money will be spent to help fund a host of popular local projects, including $1.1 million for Augusta's new Fort Discovery National Science Center.

This money will be used to build new Fort Discovery exhibits and refurbish existing ones.

Most important, the fresh infusion of state cash will give area schools the opportunity to send classes to the science center for free. It was a shame, though unavoidable, to have to charge schools for student visitors.

Local lawmakers will work to regularize the free school visit program by seeking to make the more than $1 million in Fort Discovery funds a permanent fixture in annual fiscal budgets.

House debate on the midyear budget centered on the $11 million for more than 400 local projects instead of on the $200 million increase in education spending and $35 million to upgrade rural airports.

Those local projects -- called "pork" by some -- set a record in terms of numbers and dollars spent. Although many like Fort Discovery are extremely worthy, others aren't such a high priority. But in either event, it's the process that gets all of them in the budget, not their worthiness.

That process is a product of a system that says if you have the money, spend it. As long as that system prevails, House minority leader Bob Irvin, R-Atlanta, correctly notes, "the state will never economize until we get on a major tax-cut program to make the government economize."

There are two ways local communities can pay for desirable projects. The first is to send taxes to Atlanta and then fight to get a fair share of revenues back. The second is to cut state taxes, leaving revenues in the communities, so they can decide what projects they want and how to pay for them. Clearly, the latter is more efficient -- and democratic.