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Some Legislators Want To Shift GA DOT Funding to Metro Atlanta


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


            February 7, 2003


New split in DOT funding urged


By Duane D. Stanford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Several state legislators want to shift millions in transportation dollars from rural Georgia to metro Atlanta, where, they argue, the money is needed most. 


As many as three bills in the General Assembly will address the way the state Department of Transportation distributes more than $ billion a year in federal and state funds for road improvements, congestion relief and air quality projects.

Metro Atlanta leaders have complained that a 1998 law forcing the DOT to evenly divide 85 percent of its transportation spending among the state’s congressional districts goes too far. They say the law takes away the agency’s flexibility to address priority projects in dense counties.


Leaders in rural Georgia worry that metro Atlanta will soak up an unfair share of the state’s transportation budget in the rush to untangle the region’s traffic and clean its dirty air. Rural legislators such as Rep. Jimmy Skipper -D-Americus- pushed the law through the General Assembly after the 1996 Olympics, which pulled unprecedented resources into a metro Atlanta region primping for the world.


"True or not, that was the perception," Skipper said. "We had a lot of rural folks that were concerned, particularly about economic development."


Now, metro Atlanta leaders say it is their counties that have been shortchanged.




AVOC COMMENT:   The Congressional formula does not make any sense in North Georgia where so much of the State’s population lives.  Congressional Districts lines reach across county and city boundaries and Metro Atlanta is included in many of the Districts, if not most.


Road and transportation funding should be based on need and good engineering principles. In reality, politics does enter into the equation.  Politics should not be allowed to dominate.


Metro Atlanta impacts all of North GA -and the State- and its transportation problems need attention and money before they just worsen and costs grow even more.   A reasonable percentage should be spent around the state based on need and merit.


This will be a continuing debate.


Wendell Dawson, President, AVOC, Inc.



AJC Article Continued…….


Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens estimated the state’s balancing act will block as much as $00 million in improvement funds from the north metro 6th Congressional District during the DOT’s next 5-year planning cycle, which begins in July 2004. The reason: A planned $00 million HOV lane extension on I-75 through Cobb will be counted against the district’s allocation, eating up funds that would otherwise go towards district-specific improvements.


"Our public is demanding cleaner air, our public is demanding less traffic congestion, and these statutes are greatly inhibiting metro Atlanta’s ability to handle these problems," Olens said.


Gwinnett County Chairman Wayne Hill said his commission has been forced to rely more heavily on sales tax revenues because of the state’s rigid formula.

"When you split it up that way, you end up doing things in some areas that you don’t really need," Hill said.


Finding the right balance between what some call the "two Georgias" -- metro Atlanta and the rest of the state -- will be tricky. Metro Atlanta leaders already are on the defensive.


Last year, legislators decided to ignore the 2000 census for purposes of balancing transportation spending, opting to stick with 1990 population counts. They said it was too difficult to adjust the complicated funding formula right away because of the oddly shaped congressional districts drawn after the 2000 census.


The new district lines snake in and out of communities that have little in common beyond voting patterns. Gwinnett County, for example, takes in parts of four congressional districts. 


As a result, districts that added hundreds of thousands of residents during the past decade will end up losing millions of dollars local officials could have used to address traffic problems. 


Freshman Rep. John Noel -D-Atlanta- has introduced a bill in the House to eliminate congressional district balancing altogether. He said the allocation process should be left up to the DOT board, whose members represent each of the state’s 13 congressional districts.


"I want to bring common sense and fairness back into the process, and common sense says you spend the money where it’s needed," said Noel, who points out that the $00 million Atlantic Station project in midtown Atlanta alone could eat up much of the 5th Congressional District’s funding allocation.


Before the current percentages were adopted in 1998, the DOT board used a 70-30 split as a matter of policy. Noel said DOT board members have an incentive to be fair.

The 85 percent formula does not include money set aside for certain transit, maintenance and operations and economic development projects. The DOT board does get the discretion in handing out the remaining 15 percent of transportation funds.


During the current five-year funding cycle, the state’s 11 former congressional districts should end up getting about $83 million each under the balancing formula.

Sen. David Shafer -R-Duluth- of Gwinnett said he probably will sign on to a bill by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tommie Williams -R-Lyons- that would lower the portion of money balanced between congressional districts to 70 percent.


But Shafer said he will push for more.  "I would like to see the formula eliminated all together," Shafer said.


Sen. Mary Squires -D-Norcross-, also of Gwinnett, has introduced legislation to move to a 50-50 split.


Shafer said he believes a version of the proposal is likely to get out of the Senate, but he expects resistance in the House, which is controlled by rural legislators. Skipper would say only that he is open to ideas for making the law better.


DOT officials support eliminating or at least easing the funding restrictions, said Deputy Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl.


DOT board member Johnny Gresham, a Marietta real estate consultant who represents the 6th District, said a 70-30 split would be an acceptable compromise. He believes regional projects should be exempted from the balancing formula. "Expressway construction benefits the entire state," he said.


Much of the push for change this year has come from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Chamber leaders have been pushing the state’s leaders to set politics aside and focus resources on the region’s worst problems first.


Ben Johnson, managing partner at the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird, chairs the metro chamber’s transportation committee. He said the balancing formula hurts more than just metro Atlanta. 


"It may be blocking money in Savannah or Augusta or Columbus," he said. "The concept is flawed. It doesn’t really address what the priorities are in any given year."