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Taking a toll on credibility
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Forsyth County News
Gov. Sonny Perdue last month offered an unsolicited lesson in governing to future politicians — if you are going to do something unpopular and sneaky, do it in the final days of your last term of office, when the potential backlash really won’t matter.

It was Perdue who sanctioned the series of events that led to continuing the Ga. 400 toll, which would have come to an end next year otherwise.

In a political stealth strike, the state’s Department of Transportation and the state’s Road and Tollway Authority both approved extension of the toll to 2020 within a few hours of each other Sept. 24, and before the rumblings of opposition could mount into a cohesive plan of action, the deal was a fait accompli.

If anyone ever wanted to do a classroom study on why the electorate has little faith in those by whom they are governed, the Ga. 400 toll vote offers a textbook example worthy of review.

State officials told Georgia motorists that the toll, enacted for the specific purpose of extending Ga. 400 south of I-285, would be lifted in 2011. And for 20 years cars slowed at the toll booth while drivers tossed in their quarters, generating millions.

And now the state government steps forward to say “just kidding, and by the way, let us tell you about the next promise we want to make ... ”

Then, to add insult to injury, the outgoing governor said that since the state had promised the toll would end in 2011, he wanted to explore the possibility of stopping it for just a little while then bringing it back again. What a perverse joke.

In the end, state road builders just couldn’t bring themselves to kick the revenue habit. They offered a number of future road projects, all of which could have been financed in other ways, as a rationale for negating the state’s original promise. Making it easier was the fact that neither of two boards responsible for extending the toll is directly answerable to the voting public in any fashion.

If there is a moral to the story, it is perhaps that it is easy for any governing body to make promises about what will happen at some distant time, knowing that the rules can always be changed by others somewhere down the road.

Perhaps the saddest commentary of all is that most of us never really expected the toll to go away anyway, but it was a nice bit of governmental fantasy while it lasted.