published Friday, March 27th, 2009

Georgia: House GOP casts doubt on DOT overhaul

By Greg Bluestein

The Associated Press

ATLANTA — House Republicans are distancing themselves from Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal to overhaul Georgia’s transportation bureaucracy.

House Speaker Glenn Richardson said Thursday he will offer a proposal that could bypass Perdue’s efforts to create a new agency that would take over many of the duties of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Richardson would not immediately offer details on the proposal, but he told House Transportation Committee members it pared Perdue’s hefty 114-page bill considerably. The committee is scheduled to vote on it Friday.

“We heard what you said and we understand you don’t wish to create a new agency and you don’t wish to change the way to elect a DOT board,” he said. But he added there were some “good things” that could come out of the effort.

Perdue and Senate leaders are pushing the overhaul, which hands the Legislature and governor more power in distributing transportation dollars, as a way to transform a dysfunctional transportation department.

A version of the overhaul narrowly passed the Senate by a 30-25 vote this month despite concerns from critics who argued it consolidates far too much power under the governor.

That proposal would replace the 13-person state transportation board that is now elected by the state Legislature with an 11-member panel. Five members of the new panel would be appointed by the governor, and three each by the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House.

But the overhaul’s fate is in limbo now, as is a separate effort to allow Georgia voters to decide whether to impose a 1 cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements.

Senate leaders are backing a regional approach to the tax that would allow counties to band together to levy the fee. The House, meanwhile, is holding firm to a statewide tax that would raise $25 billion over the next decade.

House leaders offered up a “compromise” this week that sought to blend the two plans by allowing counties to join forces if a referendum on a statewide sales tax failed. But Senate leaders rejected the plan Thursday, meaning the two sides will now have to hash out differences.

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