Rail referendum to wait

By Justin Boron

Although they will be in special session of the General Assembly until Saturday, Clayton County state legislators won't have the opportunity to vote on a proposed commuter rail referendum until at least January, said the chairwoman of the local legislative delegation.

Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, said she is working on the legislation, which will require a public vote before local funds are devoted to the commuter rail project. But she said she didn't consider trying to get it passed during the special session because she didn't think any legislation beyond what the governor called for could be enacted.

Brent Cranfield, a communications officer in the House Communications Office, said that was correct. The Legislature, he said, has to adhere to the Gov. Sonny Perdue's agenda, which is for two bills related to high gas prices to be passed.

Debate over whether local taxpayer dollars should be spent on the $106-million commuter rail project emerged after the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted to fund an operating deficit for the rail estimated to be $4.5 million. The contention prompted Seay to propose the referendum.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Department of Transportation Intermodal Committee, charged with making a recommendation on the commuter rail, could decide to continue progressing with the project, kill it, or delay its decision until the General Assembly meets again in January.

As far as putting the decision off until the next legislative session, Seay said she hasn't discussed it with state officials.

But she said it wouldn't be favorable to move forward.

"That is not something I would be in favor of, them moving forward until we resolve the issue," she said.

If the legislation had been passed, the referendum conceivably could have been placed on the November ballot. Instead, the earliest a referendum could occur would be on the third Tuesday in March, one of the designated dates for a special election.

Commissioner Wolé Ralph also said the DOT board should wait on its decision until a referendum can be brought to the citizens.

"I think the DOT board should allow the referendum to take place so the citizens of Clayton County can weigh in on this issue," he said.