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Shipp: Is Perdue’s transportation plan on right track?

POSTED: February 25, 2009 1:00 a.m.

This is a one-question quiz on Georgia government. Only Gov. Sonny Perdue knows the right answer. Pay attention.

Here's the question: In the midst of Georgia's worst economic crisis in 75 years - unemployment is at a record high, so are foreclosures — why would the governor of the Empire State of the South decide now is the best time to reorganize the state highway board?

OK, select an answer:

a. The board is a tangled mess. Board members regularly engage in side deals with lawmakers. Transportation planning is a bigger joke than water planning, and we used to think water planning was the mother of all jokes.

b. The governor ought to control the highway board, aka, the transportation board, and mostly remove the legislature from the process of electing the highway board members. Corruption might drop off like a melting ice cap.

c. Gov. Perdue is being urged to join several other Republican governors in turning down billions of federal tax dollars to stimulate state economies. When the other "just say no" governors become too insistent, Perdue can say, "I don't have time for that now. I'm too busy reorganizing the state highway board." See? A perfect excuse.

The board that Perdue proposes would put the governor squarely in charge of transportation. The governor alone would be empowered to hire and fire a commissioner of transportation.

Perdue has said he wants to run the transportation department like a business. He has said that about state government before. For the same reason, he hired a battalion of retired bankers to become his key assistants in the Gold Dome. These bankers, by the way, are mostly the ones who helped Bank of America become what it is today.

Opponents of the Perdue plan say it is nothing more than a naked power grab. Naked? That may be too harsh, but this much is true: Until now, the governor has shown little interest in comprehensive highway policy. He flies over traffic jams whenever possible, and he never looks down.

With so many things already on his plate, Perdue may have to hire additional personnel to run the board and the transportation department. How can Gov. Sonny run a financially strapped state plus his own personal finances, which include a mysterious $21 million note, and still have time to sort out Georgia's transportation needs?

Friends, it can't be done. Sonny needs to recruit another banker or two to help him. Bankers looking for new careers are available everywhere these days.

By the way, the Perdue transportation plan abolishes the geographic balance of highway districts and the rule requiring equal expenditure of highway funds in districts throughout the state.

You may say, "Speaker Richardson and his merry crew of legislators are certain to vote down the governor's plan. They don't want the governor horning in on highway business."

You may be wrong. If the General Assembly kills Perdue's plan, the governor may withhold any new funding to build roads. And traffic will continue to get worse, assuming anybody has jobs to go to.

Legal beagles say Perdue's plan also contravenes the separation of powers doctrine, and furthermore ...

Wait a minute! Have we lost our minds? Is reshuffling an already ineffectual highway board the most vital issue at hand? I don't think so.
Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, a solid Republican, has the right idea. Gov. Perdue, cooperate with President Obama's team and get as much "stim" money as possible for your state. Let those other screwball GOP governors ride off into the sunset, bragging they refused every federal dollar - just before their states went into bankruptcy. And, for the time being (probably the rest of your term), concentrate on getting us economically viable again.

After all, Georgia was doing pretty well until you and the other elephants rose to power. You sort of owe it to us to put things back in place and make the cash registers ring again. Just forget about reshuffling those boxes on a piece of poster board, captioned "Sonny's Terrific New Plan for Reorganizing the Transportation Board."

P.S: If it weren't for this recession, Sonny, I would be squarely on your side. The highway board needs reorganizing. It is the worst muddle in state government, and that's no small accomplishment.

Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com; Web site.



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