Tuesday, March 3, 2009

As the World Turns (GDOT edition)

Unlike many of my Republican colleagues, I think the GDOT board was pretty smart to fire Gena Evans. Not because I am a fan of GDOT, which is awash with ineffective bureaucracy and major financial problems. But when you find out your commissioner is supporting an agency's demise with a combination of inaction and insubordination (even if she believes she is doing the right things), you've got to let her go. And what's the point of keeping her, when her loyalty lies with two men -- Lt. Gov. Cagle and Gov. Perdue -- who are trying to dismantle your organization?

Evans certainly had a reform agenda. Unfortunately, she didn't recognize that while implementng her agenda, she needed to keep projects moving. While there was palpable excitement after Evans' appointment, frustration steadily mounted as projects were constantly delayed, shelved, or cancelled. With Evans, it was all publicity, no paving. This quote from outspoken board member David Doss in the Rome News-Tribune makes it clear that inaction was Evans' undoing:

“I think it had become clear to the board that there was growing dissension about the lack of progress being made, and the majority felt it was finally time to make a change and go in a different direction,” Doss said. “It’s no secret that the board has been split for quite some time on a lot of public votes. But on this issue, it seems that some members obviously changed their minds and voted for the termination.”

So last week the GDOT board kicked the fox out of the henhouse and appointed Gerald Ross, an unassuming engineer I met when working with Oconee County on the Mars Hill expansion, interim commissioner. Safe choice. Jim Galloway has the best play by play here.

Now the real fun begins. Evans has gone public and is attacking GDOT in outlets like the AJC, Creative Loafing and WSB-TV. Only one reason to do this: Evans supports the Governor and Lt. Gov.'s transportation funding revamp and wants to paint GDOT as incompetent. Fair enough.

However, with competing transportation funding bills in the senate and house and the wholesale restructuring bill floating around the legislature, my bet is that nothing occurs on transportation this year. There is just too much information for legislators to process. One likely predictor of the future: the Georgia House has positioned itself to benefit from inaction, according to Galloway:

The governor is now persona non grata with the constitutionally required board that governs the DOT — as witnessed by last week’s firing of Commissioner Gena Evans. The Senate has joined Perdue.

If the House emerges as the protector of the DOT board, the chamber would have enormous sway over that agency — and the billions of dollars it controls — for years to come.

Should this happen, of course, chances of an agreement between the Senate and House over a sales tax for transportation would be out the window.

Inaction, ironically, will leave GDOT in the driver's seat to implement stimulus funds and more.

So what does this mean for Northeast Georgia? Best case: status quo, with a competent regional GDOT office executing basic plans and maintaining our roads. A dedicated funding source for transportation seems like a long shot. Worst and likely case: another year wasted when it comes to transportation funding and structure, which is bad news for Atlanta and all of Georgia. No dollars for the Brain Train. More chaos with state transportation funding. No 316 improvements. And continued damage to our state's reputation as a place to locate a business.

A solution would involve more pragmatism than Georgia's political leadership has shown in the past few years, so my hopes are not high. Please comment if you see any solutions I'm missing.

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