Joke of the week: State Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, invited people up to Atlanta Thursday for the annual Augusta Day celebration of the Augusta Metro and Columbia County Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitor's Bureau.
"Come eat all the Sconyers barbecue you want," he laughed. "It's the only pork you'll get out of Atlanta this year."
With all the talk about Georgia's tight budget - and the potential for tax increases - lawmakers in the state's appropriations committees have been meeting this past week to see what won't survive when the final numbers are crunched.
State Sen. Randy Hall, D-Augusta, may just be a freshman in replacing powerful state Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta. But he landed a spot on the prestigious appropriations committee in part so he'd have help winning re-election to his seat in two years.
His old-school colleagues recognize that the key to such a re-election often is the ability to bring home money from the state coffers. Hall's predecessor was a master at it. Walker funneled money to pet projects in Augusta, and then in turn would squeeze the recipients and their constituents for fat campaign donations
To make things arrogantly worse, Walker would then demand public recognition for his success at feeding from the public trough, helping to perpetuate his image as a powerful breadwinner.
That created a cycle not just of state money coming to Augusta, but of Walker buying support with your tax dollars. Now, Hall is getting an inside look at what those dollars bought - and a lot of Walker's supporters may soon find their funding pipeline pinched shut.
"I have a problem with these things that need a million dollars a year from the state to keep them afloat," says Hall, thumbing through past years' appropriations. He's opposed to the perpetual state charity cases that such questionable agencies as the Augusta Mini Theater Inc. have become, unable to survive without annual infusions of tax dollars.
The Mini Theater was one of the big recipients of Walker's funding conduit, much of which came through the Department of Juvenile Justice. Grants to the Theater were supposed to pay for providing self-esteem-building programs in juvenile jails. Using your money and mine, the Mini Theater organized a few plays that got thumbs-down reviews from justice officials.
The day to account for that money has come. Though it had been penciled into the supplemental budget for $30,000 and another $137,000 from the 2004 "big budget," the Mini Theater's state funds are about to be erased. Along with it, Hall says, "Augusta-Rich-mond County Youth Opportunities, Inc." - which has ties to state Rep. Henry Brigham - won't get its $100,000 appropriation to carry on the work that no one has actually been able to prove exists.
Just from those items, the cost in Augusta pork is more than a quarter-million bucks. What's the cost to Hall?
He knows in his district there are a great many black citizens who were hoping for a Charles Walker Lite - all the pork, but none of the corruption. Instead, they're getting Randy Hall - state funding where it's fiscally justified for programs that actually work, with work at rooting out past corruption.
There will be a lot less pork, and what comes to Augusta will be much leaner than in the past. But the community's citizens won't be overcome with queasiness after getting it, either.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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