With or without a hearing, the debate over transportation funding begins

We have a Transportation Funding Act of 2015, but nary a room in which to discuss it.

Word is that a first House committee hearing may not happen until next week, and the bill could be tweaked between now and then.

Which made Monday’s bill-less Senate Transportation Committee hearing called by chairman Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, all the more unusual. The afternoon session amounted to a 30-minute tutorial on the difference between a gasoline sales tax and a gasoline excise tax.

Most important was the fellow who served as the instructor: Clint Mueller, the chief Capitol contact for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. His group represents county governments across the state – whose taxing powers would be siphoned off by H.B. 170.

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The video isn't online yet, but Pat St. Claire of Georgia Public Broadcasting had an interview with Senate Transportation Chairman Tommie Williams on Monday, in which the Republican from Lyons said he was fine with H.B. 170's first-ever state nod to mass transit -- though he emphasized that the one-shot $100 million targeted for people-moving systems was a figure that could change.

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We may be without a House committee room to debate the Transportation Funding Act, but we have a forum. Click here for today's op-ed piece in the AJC by former state lawmaker Edward Lindsey, which includes this:

These organizations so far have one thing in common: They denounce the House leadership plan on the table but offer no viable alternatives despite the fact our transportation woes endanger our safety, dampen our quality of life and impede our economic development.

The reply from Lamar Norton, executive director of the Georgia Municipal Association, includes this:

Why not develop a statewide revenue plan that addresses these issues? Georgia deserves a plan that looks at the big picture and puts funding to needs to create the same economic impact as Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, the Savannah Port and the HOPE scholarships.

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Of all the local leaders who could sway the debate over the House's plan to raise $1 billion in transportation revenue, few loom larger than Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

The mayor, a former state senator, has influence with fellow Democrats and a famous friendship with the Republican governor. He's remained curiously quiet about its impact, our AJC colleague Katie Leslie reports, but the city's council isn't following his lead.

From her story:

"I'm ecstatic that they have learned the word 'transit,' are using the 't-word' and are looking at transportation funding," said District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore, who introduced the resolution. "But I want them, as they are deliberating, to look at other mechanisms in funding it. Because the one they currently have is not workable for cities."

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The Georgia's Supreme Court's docket is suddenly stacked with stadium cases.

The court in November heard arguments over the legality of publicly-funded bonds being sold for construction of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium. And today marks the court hearing over Cobb County's plan to issue up to $397 million in bonds to underwrite the Atlanta Braves stadium.

ExploreOur AJC colleague Dan Klepal sums up the case:

Lawyers for Cobb County government say their plan to borrow nearly $400 million isn't considered "debt within the meaning of the Georgia Constitution."

Georgia law says that local governments must have a referendum before borrowing money. But the county says that the Supreme Court has held as legal similar bond issuance for retail developments, waste water treatment plants and airports. In all of those cases, the government signed an intergovernmental agreement with a quasi-governmental agency that issued the debt.

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In the AJC's story yesterday about the growing momentum behind an SEC primary, there's one quote that is worthy of a post-script:

"The last time a group of Southern politicians tried to do that, Chuck Robb, Al Gore and Bill Clinton created the Southern primary in the early 1980s to try to make Democrats a more mainstream party," said Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. "Now those offices are held by Republicans and you find Republicans are going to try to have a Southern primary to assert themselves."

Jay Hakes, the former director of the Carter Presidential Library and a one-time head of Florida's energy department, said in a note the senator has a bit of a "foggy memory" when it comes to what happened decades ago.

"I worked for Bob Graham of Florida, who served as governor and (in 1984-85) as chairman of the Southern Governors Association.  He asked me in the mid-1980s to try to coordinate with other governors' offices about setting up  a regional primary.  I discovered that the Southern Legislative Conference was already working on the idea, which was very important since the legislators could make the necessary changes at the state level and weren't necessarily going to implement the idea just because their governors thought it was a good idea.  To the surprise of the national media, we were able to get it set up, without any axe to grind for a particular candidate. Texas was especially strong for the new approach, so we couldn't call it the 'SEC Primary,' since Texas A&M was still a long way from joining the conference."

He affirms that the split results offset the ability of the South to speak with a single voice, and notes that another split verdict is likely in 2016 with the large number of GOP candidates. Also, he writes, don't expect the move to necessarily lead to more personal visits from candidates:

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U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., went on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last night to talk about the veterans suicide bill that's set up to pass the Senate today. Maddow called veterans issues "a political unicorn" of bipartisanship in Congress these days:

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The general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport will testify this afternoon before the U.S. House about security. Some relevant background from our AJC colleague Steve Visser:

The men now face firearms trafficking and other charges for allegedly smuggling 129 hanguns and two assault rifles from Georgia to New York between May 1 and Dec. 10. It was second such case at Hartsfield-Jackson in two years.

The House Homeland Security subcommittee on Transportation Security gavels in at 2 p.m. Southwell is on the second panel. A live stream is available here.

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President Barack Obama is meeting this morning with 10 people who wrote him letters, including Naomi Rosan, of Roberta, in Crawford County outside Macon.

Rosan, an organic farmer, did not have health insurance until she joined the Obamacare marketplace last year. She had struggled with rheumatoid arthritis for years but had never properly treated it. Once she got insurance she could afford the proper tests and doctors determined she needed a hip replacement.

She wrote the president the following in a June 2014 letter, according to the White House:

"Yesterday I was able to climb on my tractor for the first time in 4 years! People tell me I look 10 years younger. I certainly feel it. Later this year, after I get my left hip replaced, I will be dancing with joy. Thank you for giving me my life back."