On the record: Legislature ignores transit

With State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur)

Q: How are we going to close the budget deficit?

A: It’s a very frightening time if you drill down into the budget. ... I’m very concerned about how Georgia is falling back from the other states around us.

Q: Do you think the cuts are going to have an impact?

A: When you have cuts of the size that we’re looking at, they’re going to be made everywhere. The governor has said that he’s trying to protect education and health care but you can’t protect education and health care when you’re looking at this kind of devastation. ... The states around us are raising additional revenues. ... Even Kentucky and Mississippi are raising cigarette tax, even Mississippi. The only voices we hear from the Republican leadership in Georgia is to cut taxes more. We have a very business friendly state, ... yet this cry to cut taxes more on the idea that it’s going to bring more business to Georgia in this economic time rings so false to me.

Q: What about the transportation issue?

A: The change of the speaker in the house and the governor now saying, really for the first time, that he’s interested in a transportation funding mechanism makes me think that there should be some hope. ... However, I cannot figure out yet how ... the interest specifically of DeKalb and Fulton voters who have been paying a penny for MARTA transit for 30 years-plus can be satisfied by an additional penny for the 10 county area. My constituents have paid for transit and that result is, after all these decades, that the state continues to fail to support transit.

Q: Basically anything that comes out in your mind has to focus on rail?

A: There are still voices, voices from, I consider, way back, still talking about things like the tunnel, still talking about lanes, still talking about roads. ... How are my constituents in Decatur, who already live/work in their community, who have already decided they don’t want to live in an hour traffic jam, who have already made the financial commitment to pay for MARTA and to pay in town taxes — how can I say to them that an extra penny of sales tax is going to be meaningfully spent? ... One of the elements ... which is terribly important to me ... is that the money stays in the region. ... Money raised by these 10 counties, if the voters choose to support it, stays here.

Q: Ethics reform?

A: I am optimistic that we’re going to pass a better ethics reform bill. ... (There are) three very difficult issues that we, the General Assembly have never addressed. ... One is conflict of interest, two is abuse of power, and three is gifts. ... If I use my power to threaten somebody, if I use my power for some personal vindictive reason, nothing’s covered; ... that’s a gap. ... The fact that we never have any complaints or violations and the one we had with Glenn Richardson was not addressed on any level, is kind of proof that it hasn’t worked.

Q: What about a provision of kind of a looser pays for frivolous ethics complaints?

A: I’m a litigation attorney; imposition of attorney’s fees in my world is part of the real world. ... I support it.

Q: Will any new laws have any impact if the mechanism of enforcement is such as it is today?

A: It’s unfortunate that the Ethics Committee is ... not in its strongest posture. ... You combine that with the budget, it’s a bad time to talk about enforcement. However, enforcement must be a part of any reform.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) serves on the state House Appropriations Committee and is the sponsor of HB 890, one of several pieces of ethics legislation in the Legislature.

On the record: A weekly event where reporters and editors talk to leaders about key issues for Georgians. Excerpts from the conversation also can be heard on News/Talk 750 WSB.

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