Transit Bill Remarks Reflect On Leadership Past And Future

Governor signs HB 930 into law

Yesterday afternoon House Bill 930 was signed into law at the Georgia Capitol. Those in attendance waited silently and in the dark prior to the ceremony in the Capitol’s North Wing. A scene for The Walking Dead was being filmed on the 2nd floor. Make of that metaphor what you will, but it punctuated the messages of both “Georgia is #1 for Business” and the changes in our workforce and growth industries at the same time. Both are catalysts for interest in transit beyond the traditional supporters in Atlanta’s urban core.

Those standing with the Governor included the House Speaker and the Transportation Chairmen from both House and Senate. Senate Chairman Brandon Beach who started the concept years ago as a follow on to HB 170 which funded road and bridge repair, and House Chairman Kevin Tanner who drove down into the weeds with a House Study Committee this year featuring representatives of many potential county stakeholders.

Dean of the House Smyre standing behind the Governor & Speaker, literally and figuratively

Of note, however, was the partisan breakdown of the legislators making an appearance. It was roughly equal Republicans and Democrats, with the Dean of the House, Representative Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) standing at the center, directly behind the Governor. There’s a bit of a metaphor there too. While much of the public focus was getting Republicans to the table, there was quite a bit of effort needed to keep existing transit stakeholders and suburban Democrats on the same page. That would not have happened without the “honest broker” efforts of Representative Smyre.

Speaker Ralston’s remarks included an observation that this bill would have been considered “impossible” a decade ago. This prompted a reporter’s question to the Governor asking him “what changed since then?”. The Governor couldn’t resist a good natured reply that there was a different Governor than ten years ago, getting a decent laugh from the unexpected dig.

“The Chairmen”

The Governor then added he couldn’t resist the softball question and that it wasn’t about the previous Governor or even about him. It was about how attitudes are changing, younger workers demand transit options, and companies are responding to that. It’s clear the state is responding to changing conditions to maintain highest tier economic development status.

Governor Deal’s remarks also said that HB 930 would also be looked upon as being as significant as the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, possibly more so. HB 170 has made a huge impact on Georgia’s road planning as well as catching up on long deferred maintenance. I’ll have a bit more to say about that in Monday’s column, and it’s role in this year’s primary campaign.

The Speaker and a very bipartisan group

The telling remarks of the day may have come from Speaker David Ralston. It wasn’t so much about what he said about the bill itself, but for his effusive praise of Lt. Governor Casey Cagle’s role in getting the bill to the Governor’s desk. Cagle was in the Southwest corner of the State campaigning for the ability to sign bills for the next 4 to 8 years, and thus wasn’t able to attend. The Speaker specifically thanked Cagle for his leadership and commitment to advancing transit in the Atlanta region, and ensuring that a deal got done.

While the public relationship between Ralston and Cagle has generally been cordial, the two haven’t always seen eye to eye on many issues and legislative sessions and specific issues have seen varying levels of strain on their relationship. The lead up to this year’s session was a public stare down between the two over a “clean” adoption bill, with capital insiders openly wondering at times if the two were about to go nuclear on the other.

And yet, Sine Die has passed, and Governor Deal is ending his 8th legislative session with real, substantive, and transformative bills to sign. It’s no disrespect to the sitting Governor to look forward to the likely next occupant of the second floor office. It appears the Speaker put a down payment on renewing good will between himself and someone he expects to continue to work with, albeit in a different capacity, for years to come.

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