Casino, transit measures introduced this week

[private]Big-money legislation that would pave the way for creation of a statewide transit system and the legalization of casino-type gambling will be introduced in the General Assembly this week.

First up is SB 6, which Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) dropped into the Senate hopper Tuesday, that would establish a “statewide council” of legislators, local government officials, and transportation experts to develop a plan to consolidate Georgia’s myriad of transit systems.

The bill is an outgrowth of study committee hearings held during the period between sessions and represents the biggest legislative push yet for coordinating the services offered by such agencies as MARTA, GRTA, and local transit systems.

“You’ve got a lot of different transit systems operating, but they’re not operating as efficiently as they could or working together as well as we’d like to see it,” Gooch said.

The council created by SB 6 would hire an outside consulting firm to advise them on the structure and parameters of a comprehensive statewide system.

“This is complicated,” Gooch said. “This is going to require a great deal of expertise.”

The transit bill would appear to have a decent chance of passing, but the odds might be a little longer on the casino legislation that will be pushed by lawmakers like Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) and Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah).

The casino issue would require a package of legislation: a constitutional amendment on the 2018 election ballot for the state’s voters to decide on legalization and a bill that would provide the operational framework for newly legalized casinos.

Similar casino measures did not make it to the House floor for a vote last session.

Gov. Nathan Deal and the legislature’s Republican leadership have all expressed concerns that casinos — whether there are two, five, or six of them — would cannibalize ticket sales at the Georgia Lottery, which raises roughly a billion dollars each year for HOPE scholarships and pre-K programs.

“I think we’ve got a lot of decisions we have to make,” Ralston said prior to the session. “I’m not sure that we’ll be able to make them all this session, and I’m still not sure that casinos in Georgia are consistent with where we want to be as a state.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) said he also was “not sure casino gambling is necessary” because of his concern that casinos could reduce the sale of lottery tickets.

Casino advocates, however, think there may be shift in the winds on the issue, especially if they can pitch the idea along the lines of “letting the people decide” the issue by voting on the constitutional amendment.

Constitutional amendments cannot be vetoed by the governor, but they do require a two-thirds majority in both chambers to pass. That means the Republican sponsors will have to corral some votes on the Democratic side of the aisle.

© 2017 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Brandon Beach , casino gambling , Ron Stephens , Steve Gooch , transit systems