This week, I continued to have meetings and discussions regarding the July 17, 2009, ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson that said metro Atlanta must stop withdrawing water in three years from Lake Lanier for the metro Atlanta region unless it can get permission from Congress to do so. Magnuson's ruling says Lake Lanier wasn't authorized to provide the metro Atlanta region's water supply and that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been illegally reallocating water from Lake Lanier to meet metro Atlanta's water needs.
Gov. Perdue has said the state would take a multi-pronged approach in challenging Magnuson's ruling, including litigation, legislation and negotiation. I plan to work closely with all stakeholders in Georgia to reach an agreement that is in the best interest of Georgia while at the same time respecting the interests and concerns of Florida and Alabama. This is a huge challenge, but it is a challenge we must meet.
Decision on Nomination of Judge Sotomayor
I have personally interviewed Judge Sonia Sotomayor, and I have carefully followed the Judiciary Committee hearings as well as her testimony. After thorough consideration, I have determined that I will not vote for her confirmation for two specific reasons. First, Judge Sotomayor's opinions and rulings on cases involving property rights are troubling, especially those favoring the use of eminent domain powers by a government to facilitate the sale or redevelopment of private property. Second, Judge Sotomayor's statement that the Second Amendment to the Constitution is not a fundamental right and that it does not apply to state and local governments is inconsistent with my and, I believe, most Georgians' understanding of the Constitution. I believe a qualified judge is one who understands the value and the strength and the power of the Constitution of the United States of America, who will rule based on the law and who will not legislate based on the position. I do not believe Judge Sotomayor's record has met this standard.
Addressing Shortfall in Highway Trust Fund
Revenues to the highway trust fund are generated by an 18.4-cent tax on each gallon of gas sold in the United States. Last summer, a combination of high oil prices, fewer miles driven by Americans and the purchase of more fuel-efficient cars, caused an $8 billion shortfall to the Highway Trust Fund. This had the practical effect of making the Highway Trust Fund nearly go broke.
At the time, Congress passed an $8 billion stopgap to keep money flowing to states. This shifted $8.017 billion out of the general fund and into the Highway Trust Fund. This $8.017 billion was in effect a payback to the Highway Trust Fund because it was money that was removed from the Highway Trust Fund for general government spending in 1998.
As August approaches, the Highway Trust Fund is once again facing a shortfall and the Department of Transportation has said the Highway Trust Fund will be empty by the end of August.
The Senate EPW Committee recently voted on a plan to transfer $20 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund account per the President's request. The President has said he will work with Congress to find sources for repaying the amount.
The practical effect of the Highway Trust Fund being in shortfall is that it forces the Department of Transportation to make payments to states weekly instead of twice daily. In addition, the agency will make payments on a pro-rated basis, meaning that if the trust fund is only 80 percent full, payments will be reduced to 80 percent. Any new projects would be funded on a prorated basis.
Last year, I voted last year to restore the funding that was removed from the trust fund in 1998. Those were trust fund dollars that should never have been shifted to the general fund and needed to be restored to the Highway Trust Fund.
While I have serious concerns with taking an additional $20 billion out of the general fund to reprogram into the trust fund, I voted in favor of the legislation. However, I believe that the Administration should find more fiscally responsible ways to make up for this funding shortfall.
Historically Black Colleges Resolution Passes Senate
This week, the Senate passed a resolution to designate the week beginning August 30, 2009, as "National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week."
Georgia is home to 10 historically black colleges and universities. There are 103 historically black colleges and universities in the United States.
A quality education is important to our young people and critical to the future of our country. Georgia is home to some of the most respected and admired historically black colleges and universities in the nation and I'm proud to support this resolution recognizing these fine institutions.
What's on Tap?
Next week the Senate will continue consideration of the fiscal 2010 Agriculture appropriations bill. The Senate will also begin debate on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.