Library money for Henry, shelter funding for Clayton

By Justin Boron

Mostly Republican Henry County got a lift in transportation dollars and more than $1 million for its library system, while the predominantly Democratic Clayton County struggled to keep the status quo in the state budget coming out of a GOP-led Legislature this year, local legislators say.

Local community service groups and transportation improvement are largely dependent in funds allocated in the state budget.

The Clayton County legislative delegation fought to keep what was in the budget for the area's community service organizations like the Calvary Refuge Center, the only official homeless shelter in the county, said Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale.

She and Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale, say when $25,000 for Calvary Refuge went missing in the budget, they made sure it got back in.

But other than that the county didn't get that much, Seay said.

Both counties will get some extra transportation money for their congressional districts because the General Assembly passed a bill that re-balanced the distribution among the districts throughout the state to ensure metro Atlantans get their fair share of road improvement money, said Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, who sat on the appropriations committee.

The bill's passage will send about $2 million to the 8th and 13th Congressional Districts, he said.

In Henry County, two specific projects at Lake Dow Road and Ga. Highway 81 and Harris Drive and Ga. Highway 42 also will get $1.2 million in federal money for intersection improvement, Lunsford said.

A $1.3 million grant from the Board of Regents will go to the Henry County Library System, he said.

One area, where Clayton County legislators could not stop from losing funds in the budget, was for the commuter rail, which is planned to run through each city in the county, with the exception of Riverdale.

One million dollars was reallocated to improvements to the ports in Brunswick, Ga.

State budget mystery money

In the compromise budget approved by the Legislature that adjourned last week was a $1.5 million item for something vaguely described as "capitol renovations."

Democrats quietly circulated word around the Capitol that the money was intended for a posh refurbishing of Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson's office and those of his key allies.

Richardson's staff denied that, but their explanation of how the money will be spent doesn't entirely mesh with explanations offered by others.

The money was added to the budget in the House, removed by the Senate, and then included in a final compromise version of the budget hammered out by a House-Senate negotiating team.

Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the money got in the budget because it was recommended by one of his subcommittees for heating and air condition upgrades.

"That was as specific as they got. We felt like if the subcommittee had done its job and they felt it was necessary, we were OK with it," he said. "On an old building, $1.5 million will go quickly."

Richardson's chief of staff, Jay Walker, said some of the money was to be used to remove the paneling from the Speaker's office and send it to the University of West Georgia, where conservators hope to recreate the office as it appeared during the long reign of former Democratic Speaker Tom Murphy.

That was requested by Murphy's successor, Democrat Terry Coleman, he said. But Coleman said in an interview he didn't remember any such conversation.

West Georgia spokeswoman Lisa Ledbetter said she hadn't heard anything about plans to move the paneling, and Scott Thompson, the project designer for the architectural firm overseeing restoration of the Capitol, said that was "the first I ever heard of that."

Removing the paneling from the speaker's office would expose 100-plus year old plaster, and its condition and cost of replacement is unknown, he said.

The mysterious appropriation is somewhat akin to the old Democratic slush fund in the fact that money has been placed in the budget without clear instruction on how it should be spent.

"This is the whole problem we have with how they've done the budget," said House Democratic Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin. "There's less disclosure than ever before."

Harbin said House budget writers "probably should have" made the language more specific. "Those are things we're learning as we go."

The capitol renovation money is in a section of the budget which Gov. Sonny Perdue can't veto unless he also wants to veto the 2 percent pay raises lawmakers gave themselves when they awarded the same amount to teachers and state employees.

Nonetheless, Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan said the governor "is very curious as to how this occurred."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.