Originally created 02/06/99

State Senate OKs proposal on transportation planning



ATLANTA -- Swatting aside three Republican amendments, Gov. Roy Barnes' allies in the Senate on Friday pushed through his proposal to create a board to oversee transportation planning in regions with poor air quality.

Now the measure goes to the House, where it could face some tinkering.

In a 45-10 vote, the Senate handed Mr. Barnes a victory in what he had warned would be the most contentious debate of the 1999 legislative session. The victory is sweetened by the trust given to him to name and remove members of the 15-person authority.

One amendment, defeated 36-19, would have required the governor to appoint members from each of Georgia's 11 congressional districts to ensure statewide representation.

Without the change, Mr. Barnes can appoint all the members from one area or even from out of the state, but they are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

"There needs to be people from every corner of this state that has a stake in this on the board," said Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling. "This is going to be difficult for me to sell to the people back home."

Augusta Mayor Bob Young had sent a letter to Mr. Barnes and his floor leaders expressing opposition to including Richmond County under the authority of the new board.

But Augusta Sens. Don Cheeks and Charles Walker, who are both close Barnes allies, voted for the bill.

Mr. Walker acknowledged that Augusta's situation is different from Atlanta's because most of its pollution comes from factories -- including one in South Carolina -- while Atlanta's comes mostly from cars.

"I trust the governor elected by the people across the state to appoint a board that is a cross-section of the people of this state," he said.

Communities whose air quality flunks federal standards would come under the board's oversight unless they are willing to give up state funds. State money for education, health and safety could not be cut, though.

Instead of fighting the regional transportation authority, Augusta officials should welcome its advice and loans, according to Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Powder Springs, Mr. Barnes' floor leader.

"I would suggest if anybody is for this bill, it ought to be rural Georgia," he said.

The new authority would be able to sell up to $2 billion in bonds to free up money for transportation projects outside Atlanta. Plus, it will have the power to ask the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to make low-interest loans and other financial incentives to companies cutting their pollution.

GEFA could build a low-pollution plant and lease it to a company, Mr. Thompson noted.

The Senate defeated an amendment that would have limited GEFA's activities to environmental purposes and another amendment that would have prevented the authority from taking on more debt than the state constitution allows for the rest of state government.

Walter Jones is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.