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Accounting for funds needed

Posted: October 5, 2011 - 6:09pm  |  Updated: October 11, 2011 - 4:25pm

There was a fascinating piece recently in Bill Simon's Political Vine blog out of Atlanta, regarding a proposal in the next legislative session to change the way each lawmaker gets a little kitty of unaccountable money.

The issue is the funding provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office to each lawmaker for office expenses. Under rules that have been in place for decades, each member is allowed $7,000 per session.

The money is used for all sorts of things, including paying for temporary office help.

The problem, though, is that there is zero accountability for that money. Apparently some lawmakers simply walk in on the first day, sign an affidavit for the full reimbursement and walk out with a check for $7,000.

The members don't have to submit receipts. The money isn't reported for tax purposes to the Georgia Department of Revenue or the IRS.

So, what is the money used for? Certainly, some goes to help pay various legislative assistants. The problem is that the LFO doesn't know how the money is used, and there's nothing to stop members from cashing the checks, pocketing the money - and not reporting the income.

Back when the Legislature used to send out media guides of its members, I was intrigued by the number of lawmakers who listed their real-world jobs as "consultant" or something similar. With an extra, unaccountable pile of money available, it would be no surprise that some members are able to pad their legislative pay into a full-time job.

Simon says there are various ideas floating around for reforming this system, mostly revolving around increasing accountability. The only people who object would be those who abuse it.

Out in the country, when someone's complaint reveals them as the culprit in wrongdoing, we say "a hit dog hollers." Let's see who hollers next session.

And if they don't fix this, the voters ought to holler.

Big-bucks bridge

Readers have raised an eyebrow lately at a couple of local transportation projects.

The biggest is the replacement of the Little River Bridge, the direct link from Lincoln to Columbia County.

The Georgia Department of Transportation wants to replace the bridge because its design is outdated; damage along the metal structure shows why. As one of my colleagues said, it's our version of Augusta's Olive Road underpass, frequently struck by too-tall trucks.

It's also too close to the water for many boats. When Clarks Hill Lake is at full pool - which, thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, isn't very often - the bridge is too low for taller boats to go underneath. As a result, it can cut the lake in half for a lot of boaters.

The DOT wants to build a new bridge, and then tear down the old one when it's finished. The price? A hefty $20 million.

They'll hold an open house to show the plans for the project next Tuesday in Lincolnton. Here's an idea that could help pay for the bridge, thought it might get you shot for suggesting it:

Make it a toll bridge - for cars and boats.

I would suggest doing so like they did to finance the Cross-Island Parkway in Hilton Head. There, however, a "temporary" toll to pay back construction of the bridge has turned permanent, as they've become addicted to the money.

Still, isn't it worth talking about?

Claudus Birdsong

I was saddened to hear this weekend of the death of Claudus Birdsong of Appling at age 72.

Mr. Birdsong was the husband of Sara Ann Birdsong, who taught me in both second and third grades at Appling Elementary School. She also taught hundreds of other pupils during her long and distinguished career.

Mr. Birdsong was a decorated Vietnam veteran, and the family wound up in Columbia County after his retirement from the Army and move here for civilian employment.

They raised a couple of fine young men and a herd of grandchildren, who have received a legacy they can be proud of. May he rest in peace.

(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimesonline.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)

 

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