Originally created 02/13/98

Senate OKs pet-projects bill



ATLANTA -- The Georgia Senate on Thursday approved a midyear $12.6 billion budget so loaded with pet projects that members of both parties supported it with few complaints.

Senators voted 48-5 for the spending plan, which runs through June 30. Senate negotiators will work with House conferees over the weekend to iron out relatively minor differences in budgets approved by the two bodies.

Both plans budget about $150 million to fix internal clocks and calendars in state computers, $200 million to prepay state debt, and $200 million for school enrollment and construction.

The measures also include $227 million in money borrowed through bonds to pay for a variety of projects, including a widening program for rural highways and plans to deepen navigation channels in Savannah and Brunswick.

The House plan includes $11 million worth of local projects -- called "pork" by many lawmakers -- and the Senate proposed another $4.3 million.

Ball-field lighting, local public building repairs and equipment for fire departments and recreation authorities are spread throughout the budget.

"Do you need any help finding all the pork?" state Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, asked reporters before the vote. "There's a hell of a lot in there."

A few Republicans voted against the budget because of the record number of local projects -- about 560 in all.

"There is the appearance of unrestricted, sort of self-serving projects throughout the budget," state Senate Minority Leader Chuck Clay, R-Marietta, said after the vote.

However, the Republicans, who usually rail against budgets drawn by the Democratic majority, didn't raise their voices in opposition during debate.

That may be because Republican strongholds like Cobb and Gwinnett counties got their share of the loot.

Mr. Clay's Cobb County, for instance, received $10,000 in the Senate budget for ball-field lights, $50,000 for a local reading program and $4 million in bond revenue to plan a commuter rail line through the county.

Senate Appropriations Chairman George Hooks, D-Americus, noted the local projects are a tiny part of overall spending.

"This is taxpayers' money going back to taxpayers' projects," Mr. Hooks said.

"I don't look at it as pork. Pork is not a positive word," said state Sen. Diana Harvey Johnson, D-Savannah. "My job is to come up here and access the budget to make sure Chatham County gets its fair share."

The Senate added more than $700,000 worth of local projects that will go to Ms. Johnson's home county.

Augusta projects

The Georgia Senate Appropriations Committee added these Augusta-area projects to the midyear budget:

  • $120,000 for operation of Richmond County community-based programs
  • $10,000 for operation of Trinity School in Augusta$20,000 for operation of Augusta Golden Harvest Food Bank
  • $25,000 to buy property for Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation of Richmond County
  • $3,500 toward building a McDuffie County fire-safety house
  • $24,000 for ball-field lighting for West Augusta and Master City little leagues
  • $20,000 to operate Hope House for Women of Richmond
  • CountySource: Senate Appropriations Committee