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Monday, April 21, 2008

More important than a billion dollar shortfall?

by George Dienhart

As I made my 90 minute commute from Peachtree City to work, my head started to hurt. Though the sudden headache was a little different from my normal commuter’s pain, it was connected to commute nonetheless. As the state falls a billion dollars short of making my everyday commute shorter, attention was focused firmly on the Department of Transportation. Was the media holding the board accountable for the billion-dollar gaffe? No, the media is outraged over Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham’s choice in a boyfriend.

In all fairness, people should not date their subordinates. I am also quite sure that Ms. Abraham’s did not accept the Chairwoman’s position with the intent of landing a potential husband. She is guilty of falling in love with former Transportation Board Chairman Mike Evans, but when confronted with what could have been a potential conflict of interest, Chairman Evans resigned. Problem solved right? Not quite.

Seems that our erstwhile chairwoman was not a unanimous choice for her position- others were looking out for their friends. While Gov. Perdue selected her, others in the GOP were not happy with the choice, most notably House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram), favored a fellow State Rep, Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain). This infighting is one part of the problem, but as Oxy Powered Billy Mays is so fond of saying- there’s more.

Gov. Perdue brought in Ms. Abraham to minimize the bad choices and ridiculous expectations that previous Transportation Commissioners have made. She has spent the last four months trying to get a handle on her predecessor’s books. Previously the state had started road construction projects with state dollars, while applying the federal money to finish various initiatives. This is legal, and helps stave off inflationary pressure. The problem is not in the practice of this policy, but in the frequency of its use. The state of Georgia is now 4.2 billion in arrears on these projects. This is unacceptable.

With billion dollar shortfalls and other projects under funded by 4.2 billion dollars, awaiting federal funds that may never come, shouldn’t the transportation board attend to more important matters to than Ms. Abraham’s choice of boyfriend? Not according to Dana Lemon, who said she called attention to this situation because "there were some things that were on my heart that I know we needed to talk about, some outstanding issues that needed to be addressed for the betterment of the staff and the department." Wouldn’t getting a handle on the multibillion-dollar mess address the “betterment of the staff and the department” Ms. Leon apparently didn't think so…