End-of-the-Year Money Time Miller Doles out Project Grants

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Gov. Zell Miller doled out dozens of grants to local

governments, Girl Scouts, police departments, churches and

fishing tournaments during the past few months as the state

fiscal budget year ended, often at the request of friendly

lawmakers.

The grants were part of the governor's annual "discretionary

fund" distribution of millions of dollars that some lawmakers

say is ripe for political favoritism.

"It is a vestige of political patronage to help legislators

out," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Clay, R-Marietta, who

acknowledges his county has benefited from the grants in the

past.

"It gives the governor a heck of a bargaining tool."

The governor's chief of staff, Steve Wrigley, who reviews the

requests, said, "I don't think you have to be a friend of Zell

to get one. Clearly it helps if you're supportive of the

governor.

"But there are legislators who aren't always supportive of Zell

who get funding."

The amount of the grants increased last year, from $2.9 million

in fiscal 1996 to $4 million in fiscal 1997, which ended June

30.

Records indicate they are generally sent out in three waves --

in fall, around the first of the year, and in spring, from April

through mid-June.

Dozens of programs were funded as the fiscal year was about to

run out.

For instance, two weeks before the fiscal year ended, Baldwin

County tourism officials received $10,000 to help pay expenses

in connection with the B.A.S.S. Top 100 Tournament held in March

on Lake Sinclair.

Records show Randy Cardoza, state commissioner of Industry,

Trade and Tourism, wrote the governor's office a memo opposing

the expenditure.

"They [Baldwin officials] entered into the event on their own

and unfortunately, it didn't work out well," Cardoza wrote. "It

could set a precedent for any failed venture to ask for state

assistance."

Officials in South Georgia's Berrien County received four

grants totaling more than $35,000 this spring to help repair a

gym, assist a 4-H program and provide recreational facilities

and equipment.

Bibb County officials got $2,000 to help finance an economic

impact study for the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival "so as to

better solicit contributions and financial support."

The governor contributed $15,000 to restore stained-glass

windows at the historic St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Brunswick at

the request of local lawmakers. …