Sunday, April 5, 2009

Not what I had in mind

When I previously expressed support for the governor's attempt to dismantle the DOT, I did so because I think there are some serious problems with the department:
  • The existing DOT has become too politicized, with projects getting picked by DOT board members looking out for the folks back home instead of for the state. Projects get funded if the DOT member behind them has clout, not if they are important
  • The DOT board doesn't really have any accountability, because the legislature elects them by congressional district. Legislators don't feel like the board listens to them, though, and DOT members can use project funding in a district as leverage.
  • The current system prevents anyone from showing the leadership on transportation infrastructure this state desperately needs. The DOT board looks out for itself, while the Legislature and the Governor blame the DOT when nothing gets done.
I liked Perdue's plan mostly because it placed responsibility for the state's transportation problems in the Governor's office. If the Gov., Lt. Gov., and Speaker are directly responsible for the board, then the voters can blame at least two statewide officials when things go wrong.

One of the down-sides to having a part-time legislature is the last minute deal-making that goes along with Sine Die:
The Legislature’s compromise keeps the current Transportation Board intact but adds a planning director that the governor appoints. It lets the Legislature choose new projects for 20 percent of the funding, but it has to choose them from a list provided by the governor. Under current spending practices, that would be nearly all new projects, leaving the Transportation Board to pick the repair and repaving projects — also from a list provided by the governor — and a few new ones.
So, the governor gets to put his own person in the DOT. That should go about as well as it did with Gena Evans. And, instead of having a reorganization that forced leaders to be responsible for what happened with transportation, we actually get a situation that is maybe even more political than before, with the Legislature choosing 20% of the projects. Jim Galloway reports that existing federal law may make these funds unavailable for metro area projects, too.

I guess the governor gets more sway in what happens, because he gets to pick the various lists that the DOT board and the legislature appropriates funds to. I would prefer to see this happen more like Perdue had it originally, with a board of appointed officials, in the open, and based on transparent criteria. I'm uncomfortable with it coming straight out of the Governor's office like this. The only real benefit is that at least with the legislature voting on the projects, these political decisions will be made a little more in the open, as opposed to at the DOT.

I'm quite disappointed with the plan. It doesn't really seem to solve any of the points I raised above. Even though it lets the Governor direct which projects the DOT and the Legislature can choose from, I'm afraid it may actually put too much power in the Governor's hand and introduce a new level of secrecy to the whole system. I don't think it is much of an improvement. I of course have a serious issue if the metro area gets cut out of the appropriations process, as well.

All told, I'd rather Perdue veto this bill and let the legislature come back next year for a re-do. Combined with the near criminal negligence concerning the MARTA operations cap bill, it almost makes you wish for a full-time legislature. Then I remember how inane these clowns are, and I'm glad they are out of town for a while. What I really want back are politicians like Tom Murphy and Zell Miller who at least knew how to govern.

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