Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Second Cities' Vital to Proposal

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Second Cities' Vital to Proposal

Article excerpt

Georgia's "second cities" rarely speak with a united voice at the Capitol. But Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah will be heard loud and clear as the House debates the governor's sweeping transportation plans.

Gov. Roy Barnes' regional transit legislation cleared the Senate Friday faster than a speeding bullet train. Passage in the House, however, is another story.

Questions are emerging from second-tier Georgia cities that are soon to follow Atlanta in the bad graces of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials have said Augusta and Columbus may already be violating federal Clean Air Act standards, meaning they could face federal development restrictions and lost transportation money if the EPA updates its hit list.

Macon and Savannah may be at risk within two to three years.

Once a city makes the federal "non-attainment" list, it would fall under the umbrella of the new Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

Barnes administration officials are accentuating the positive: Belonging to the authority means access to a pot of $2 billion in bonds the authority can float for mass transit improvements.

But there's always the concern that a powerful state body could override decisions on the local level -- one that lawmakers are hearing now that details of the 43-page bill are becoming known.

"Anytime you have change, you have fear," said Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, a Barnes supporter whose loyalty will be tested under pressure from back home. "Right now, everybody is sitting back and looking at, `What does this do to me?' "

Or, more likely, what's in it for me? Lawmakers from outside Atlanta are expert at the hold-up game when Atlanta needs help; they extorted vast concessions back in 1987 when the state approved local-option tax funding for the Georgia Dome stadium (even though none of the money came out of the state budget).

Barnes is scheduled to meet today with a delegation of House Republicans to quiet fears that his 15-member authority amounts to a big-government grab for money and power. …

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