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.