I had a conversation with Rep. Austin Scott last evening regarding his proposal to eliminate the State Road and Tollway Authority. I had a few questions directed my way earlier after I posted his announcement that he wanted to eliminate it, and wanted to dig deeper into his reasoning. He was his usual direct self:
“The SRTA was conceived to build GA-400, just like most government agencies they kind of fed upon themselves, and now they’re looking for something to do.”
And the scope of that something to do has grown over time. Specifically, SRTA does more than collect a half dollar from every ITP GA 400 commuter. They are also the Governor’s shadow DOT. They operate accountable only to the Governor as an authority, and thus, have little transparency that would be associated with an agency that is typically funded through the legislative process.
This “little” agency that most folks have never heard of, and even fewer understand it’s scope, also has the legal authority to issue bonds – a power not even granted to the DOT. And when I asked Representative Scott if he understood the implication of removing the bonding authority from this transit agency, he sent me this link. It’s to the SRTA annual report for 2009, with 2008’s Financial report.
As of June 30, 2008, this little know authority has outstanding bonds exceeding $1.6 Billion dollars. A press release from February 2009 indicates a successful placement of an additional $600 Million. That’s real money being spent on transportation projects somewhere in Georgia under a separate organization from our often maligned DOT. And, of course, we also have the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority hanging out somewhere as well, just to add to the confusion – and transportation bureaucracy and overhead.
As for Rep. Scott’s understanding of the implications, he absolutely understands that SRTA has been used to increase the bonded indebtedness of the state, and believes that an authority without proper oversight and transparency has no business putting the taxpayers of Georgia on the hook for Billions.
I didn’t have to get far into my question about the implication of these actions on the Governor’s race when he cut me off with “I’m running for Governor, but I’m trying to decentralize the power that has collected in that office and put it back into a structure that has oversight and is transparent, outside of the Governor’s direct control. It’s the right thing to do.”
My guess is that given the depth and complexity of the SRTA, as well as the outstanding bonds issued, there will not be able to be a complete wind down and consolidation with the time remaining in this session.
But as for transportation reform, we have duplicative agencies that can be consolidated. And as for the tolls on GA 400, they should have already ended. Kudos to Rep Scott for bringing this issue to the forefront of discussion. Perhaps a piece or two can be accomplished this year. But we’ll be paying off those bonds for a long time. That bell has been rung, and the bills toll for we.