Don’t delay this flight

The Georgia House has summoned the courage to pass a landmark transportation bill. Now it’s time for the State Senate to build on that success. Georgia’s future requires no less.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

To this parched state, a glass half-full is a billion times better than staring into an empty goblet.

That’s where Georgia now stands on increased transportation funding. This only after a cliffhanger debate yielded the floor Thursday to a decisive 123-46 vote on a bill expected to drive an additional $1 billion a year toward roads and bridges.

While not perfect, House Bill 170 makes a solid start at creating a broader, more-stable way to generate additional money for transportation. This should not be forgotten as the show that is politics plays on.

Its passage is a big deal, springing forth considerable hope. Still, we’d advise Georgians to not break out the celebratory champagne just yet. At least two sound reasons exist for both remaining skeptical at this point and keeping fingers tightly crossed. Whispering prayers can’t hurt either.

Consider that the substantially intact HB 170 is now only halfway through the hog-slaughtering that is the legislative process. It will now be hauled across the Gold Dome to the State Senate. And Round 2 is sure to be seasoned with yet more bickering, theatrics, posturing, chipping away at numbers and unforeseen surprises. This is the finger-crossing part.

Capitol watchers fully expect that the same forces which sought to derail outright, or effectively neuter, HB 170, will renew the same potentially destructive games. Their desired end result would shackle Georgia precisely where it cannot remain – at the bottom when it comes to maintaining, let alone supplementing, the transportation infrastructure that links us to the world economy.

We’ve been on this hard floor far too long already, and have the economic and quality of life scars to show for it. Lifting us up requires input from all Georgians capable of thinking beyond simplistic, outdated and wrongheaded sound bites. Those able and willing to think for themselves, to put it plainly. Such right-minded folks need to make enough noise to ensure that we get something substantive done on transportation this year.

Your lawmakers in the Georgia Senate need to hear forcefully that this state should be the head – and not the tail, which is where some backward-looking interests want to keep us. It is past time to kick the rearview mirror-gazing crowd away from the rational discussion table. Georgia needs to run, not limp, toward its destiny.

That can’t happen if lawmakers lose heart and succumb to the cries of less-is-more. Duty demands, however painfully, that they hear out Grover Norquist and other no-tax-hike-no-way acolytes. Afterward, senators should borrow a GRTA Xpress bus and strongly urge nattering naysayers and any wavering lawmakers to join them on a long, slow ride around I-285 at rush hour. And then challenge from the Senate floor any Hold-The-Liners to keep braying that no new money is needed here.

And, for Georgia’s good, the Senate should unwind the bit of petty legislative revenge aimed at Delta Air Lines. A faction of lawmakers, including Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) wants to publicly punish Delta CEO Richard Anderson for daring to speak the truth about our transportation starvation. We believe the Bible’s right: The truth shall make you free. The God-professing bunch at the Gold Dome should know that.

And nixing Delta’s jet-fuel tax exemption is a stunt better suited to “Tax on brother!” liberals than GOP conservatives who are supposedly pro-business.

Ehrhart and his ilk should know that airlines have been historically led by quirky, if not mercurial, types. By contrast, Delta’s bespectacled, buttoned-down Anderson is pretty low-key.

The “whup Delta” faction should realize that the airline business is a portable one. That’s a sobering realization when some lawmakers are blowing more hot air than a 737 roaring down a Hartsfield Airport runway. At least the jetliner is going somewhere.

Delta kept its roots and its headquarters here after acquiring Northwest Airlines in 2008. Yet, air carriers have been known to uproot and move operations to more-suitable climates, local consequences be damned.

Doubters should book one of the few remaining flights into the once-bustling former hub airport in St. Louis, where American Airlines yanked half its flights 12 years ago. The empty concourses and trashcans catching water from the leaking roof illustrate that it could be risky to penalize Delta for passionately stating the obvious.

These points, all told, should not obscure the praiseworthy recognition that Georgia’s House stepped up when it counted in passing HB 170 over significant, sustained opposition. Bravo for them. The bill’s passage is a credit to House leaders, including Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). Whatever they or Gov. Nathan Deal did behind closed doors to cane wayward legislators onto the right path should be bottled and shipped over to the Senate, where it will likely be needed.

For its part, the Senate should not shirk its share of the heavy lifting either. That includes figuring out a means to get closer to the $2 billion-plus annual infusion that Georgia really needs to get moving.

The hard-won, House-passed $1 billion in truth will only let Georgia tread water, rather than sink. At least twice as much is needed to begin adding transportation capacity where it’s needed.

That fact shouldn’t be forgotten when the Senate’s hand-wringing begins. Not when battle-weary lawmakers likely won’t be in a mood after this year to consider transportation measures for a long time.

So let’s do this once. And do it right — in 2015.