Point/Counterpoint

In today’s AJC, the editorial board’s Lyle Harris and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ben Harbin trade jabs over the General Assembly’s handling of the commuter rail line from Atlanta to Lovejoy. 

Lyle Harris views the recent developments this way:

If you can’t win honestly, then cheat. That’s the message coming through loud and clear from a seemingly underhanded effort to kill a planned commuter rail line between Atlanta and Lovejoy. As a result of such cowardly actions, Gov. Sonny Perdue must choose which side he’s on.

The $106 million project was first approved by the state Transportation Board years ago and affirmed in a subsequent vote in September. The federal government has allocated about $87 million to launch the service and blueprints for a new, multimodal terminal in downtown Atlanta have been gathering dust for months. Clayton County officials, along with the local leaders from several towns along the line’s 26-mile route, have signed a formal pledge to cover its operating costs.

But that democratic process and those hard-won agreements could be subverted by a few backward-looking politicians and Department of Transportation board members.

In the closing hours of the most recent legislative session, Rep. Ben Harbin (R-Evans) quietly inserted language into the state budget bill that’s being interpreted as barring the expenditure of money on the line unless it is approved by the General Assembly, a standard applied to no other transportation project.

As one might expect, Chairman Harbin has a slightly different take on the situation:

Before we allow taxpayer money to be spent, however, we have a responsibility to openly debate the merits of proposed rail line projects. Just as a husband would not make an expensive purchase without first consulting his wife, legislators are accountable to the voters of this state before we sign a blank check for anything.

Some are trying to twist the facts of this situation. The truth, however, is simple: Initial funding approved for commuter rail lines will continue to be available for approved projects, and future funding for rail lines will be openly debated and responsibly appropriated by elected members of the Georgia General Assembly.

8 comments

  1. NewnanYankee says:

    In today’s world, where politicians from both parties are tripping over themselves to get behind the latest “feel good” proposal that won’t actually do anything, I can’t beleive that commuter rail has to be debated. Let’s do this already. The Federal Funds are available and can’t be used for something else, the State Funds are approved, and the local municipalities have agreed to be on the hook for operating cost overruns.

    Providing an alternative to driving at least shows the populace that the State is trying. Who knows, maybe the people of Clayton and Henry counties will surprise us and actually use rail. Contrary to popular beleif, projections on these systems have gotten a lot more accurate over the last few years. Utah’s Commuter Rail system has consistently exceeded ridership projections since it started just a few years ago.

  2. Demonbeck says:

    Let’s build a commuter line between Savannah and Macon first! Atlanta already gets more than it’s share of the state budget.

  3. Demonbeck says:

    I’m just saying – let’s stop putting all of our eggs in one basket and start developing the other wonderful cities in this state. Our state budget was $18 Billion last year and I wouldn’t be surprised if $14 billion didn’t leave Atlanta.

  4. NewnanYankee says:

    Demonbeck,

    Are you kidding me? Atlanta provides the life support for the rest of this state. This “Stick it to Atlanta” mentaility is the attitude of a majority of the rural legislators and, quite frankly, it’s getting a little old.

    The eventual plan is to add inter-city rail service to the commuter service and there are several rural communities that would see benifits to this added connectivity.

    When you complain about transportation money being spent on Atlanta, take a look at Highway 224,”Georgia’s High Tech Highway” (That’s its offical nickname of the DOT signs.), from Perry towards Hawkinsville. Try to convince me that road isn’t a HUGE waste of taxpayer funds. If this is the way rural transportation funds are spent, then it IS better to favor Atlanta.

  5. Demonbeck says:

    The Atlanta Metropolitan Area may provide a large portion of this state’s taxes, but that is no reason for the entire budget to stay there. This state is a lot more than just one city.

    If you are truly in Newnan, I would suggest you look into your city’s most famous son, Lewis Grizzard. He knew that the greatness of our state did not lie in the City of Atlanta, but rather outside of it.

  6. NewnanYankee says:

    I am in Newnan, however, Lewis Grizzard was from Moreland. It’s just down the road, but still in Coweta County.

    My point is similar to our State’s beef with the Federal Government. Georgia pays out more transportation tax dollars to the Federal Government that it receives back. Making Georgia a “donor” state.

    It’s my suggestion that it works the same way in-state. Metro Atlanta contributes more state tax dollars than it receives back. To some degree this is fair – “Share the wealth” “A rising tide lifts all boats” etc. However, whenever there is a program that primarily or just initially benefits Metro Atlanta, the politicos from rural districts start their anti-Atlanta chants.

    It plays well in their hometowns, but they should be wary not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  7. Demonbeck says:

    What’s the use in having a goose that lays golden eggs if you have to feed the eggs back to it? That is what your logic is proposing.

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