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GDOT Commissioner Hopeful for Funds From $3T Stimulus Proposal

Tue May 26, 2020 - Southeast Edition

Like many Americans in the transportation and infrastructure building industry, Russell McMurray is keeping a close eye on the prospects of a massive new economic stimulus bill currently before the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. House passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package on May 15 designed to, among other things, provide aid money to a range of concerns across the country, as well as additional $1,200 payments to American taxpayers.

Approximately $916 billion of the aid proposal also would be earmarked for state, local, tribal and territorial governments, including the District of Columbia.

McMurry, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) expressed his excitement at the possibilities of his state receiving this portion of the aid money in a May 20 speech before an audience of businesspeople at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, northeast of Metro Atlanta.

During his appearance, McMurry explained that the Democratic-sponsored U.S. House bill includes funding for transportation needs that "would come to the states in a formula amount" and added, if passed in the GOP-controlled Senate and signed by the president, could "pay for operations, maintenance and administrative expenses, including payroll, which generally federal dollars never do."

The chances of the new stimulus package being passed, however, are extremely low.

Senate Republicans and President Trump have already voiced their objections to the plan and have argued that they have their own, less expensive coronavirus recovery proposal in the works.

In the end, any new recovery bill would likely only be passed after intense negotiations between all parties, something that could months away.

McMurry understands the pessimism surrounding the House proposal, but he pointed out to his audience that "this is an important time" as federal funding for transportation ends Sept. 30. Between now and then, he said, Congress "is going to have to figure out how to fund transportation moving forward."

His remarks came in the wake of a memo circulated earlier in May by Georgia lawmakers in charge of the state budget. In it, they suggested that the GDOT and other agencies prepare for 14 percent cuts across the board, totaling nearly $4 billion.

The authors of the memo were Georgia House Appropriations Chair Terry England, Senate House Appropriations Chair Blake Tillery and Kelly Farr, director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.

No state agencies would be spared the cuts, according to their memorandum, including funding for education and public health, as well as transportation.

Armed with that knowledge, McMurry presented the Georgia DOT's fiscal 2021 budget to the State Transportation Board for its consideration on May 21.

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