Ossoff, Warnock celebrate Georgia earmarks in spending bill ready for Biden’s signature

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate approved a $1.5 trillion federal spending bill late Thursday night, sending the package over to President Joe Biden to sign into law.

The omnibus package includes a combined $157 million worth of earmarks for local projects requested by Georgia U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Both lawmakers navigated the member request and budget process as first-year senators who had never held office before. But each said the dozens of projects attached to their names show they learned quickly.

The Senate approved the funding legislation Thursday night with a 68-31 vote. Eighteen Republicans joined Democrats in backing the package that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year and also includes aid to Ukraine.

Warnock’s name was on $95 million in Georgia-based projects, and Ossoff backed $62 million in projects.

The two often worked together to back earmark requests, including $12.5 million to build a helicopter parking apron at Moody Air Force Base, $6.3 million to upgrade the sewer system in the city of McIntyre and Wilkinson County, and $5 million for the continued development of the Atlanta BeltLine Southside Trail.

Among Ossoff’s projects is $8 million for a study of the environmental impact and viability of a proposed passenger rail project.

“This is a major milestone for Georgia transportation, winning bipartisan support in the Senate,” he said in a statement. “This historic first step will assess the viability of a high-speed rail connection between Atlanta and Savannah, connecting these great cities and communities in between.”

The mayors of both cities praised Ossoff in a press release announcing the money was contained in the legislation now headed to Biden’s desk.

“The paths to our shared futures have always been paved with connectivity,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said. “Atlanta, the state of Georgia and its cities can only benefit from forward-thinking policies like high-speed rail expansion.”

Warnock’s projects include $5 million each for facilities and equipment at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, Heart of Georgia Railroad rehabilitation and upgrades, and money to build a MARTA operations and maintenance facility in Clayton County.

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. credited Warnock and his staff with helping land $7 million for road repairs and the city’s Rock Creek Basin.

“We will address long-standing flooding and sewer issues in key areas because of the work our senator has done to secure these funds,” he said.

Back in March 2021, Warnock also instructed his staff to meet with the various appropriations subcommittees to ensure they understand the process of securing local funding. They also started talking about Georgia’s funding needs.

Warnock said that by visiting constituents across the state, he had a better understanding of where the need for federal dollars was greatest.

“I’ve talked to Georgians and traveled across the state to make sure this funding bill reflects the projects and priorities that are important to our families, businesses and communities,” Warnock said. “I’m proud this bill has strong investments that will revitalize critical infrastructure, create new economic opportunities, and help provide critical community services that keep people safe and help families thrive.”

Both of the senators, plus all six Democrats representing Georgia in the House and two Republicans participated in the earmarks process. The other six GOP members did not, citing past abuses and concerns about the national debt.

Still, one of the biggest Georgia-based line items was backed by a senator from a neighboring state. South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham was the sponsor of $5 million in funding that was awarded to the Johnny Isakson Center for Brain Science and Neurological Disorders at the University of Georgia.

Isakson, who died in December, served in the GOP caucus alongside Graham for his entire 14 years in the Senate. A spokesman for Graham described Isakson as a “dear friend” and said the South Carolina lawmaker supports the center’s mission of researching brain disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, which Isakson lived with.