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What to expect from Atlanta

POSTED: December 31, 2009 11:33 a.m.
In less than two weeks, the 2010 Georgia State Legislature will be in session.
As called for in the state constitution, the session begins on the second Monday of January and runs for 40 days. Because of committee meetings, breaks, negotiations, etc, the typical session lasts until the end of March and sometimes into April. Or, as they say at the Capitol, the session lasts for 40 days and 80 nights.
According to the state constitution, legislators are charged with only one responsibility during the session — create and adopt a balanced budget for the state. While this may be the only requirement, much more business needs to and will be conducted.
So what lies ahead for the state legislature for 2010? What will be the major topics discussed and debated starting Jan. 11?

1) The Budget — Last year the state of Georgia experienced the worst budget shortfall in its history. With revenues continuing to plummet and no apparent appetite in the legislature for raising or creating new taxes, it appears that more cuts will be necessary to balance our budget. After making over $3 billion in cuts that were difficult at best, further cuts will have to be made at the very core of basic services and will be even more unpopular. With education accounting for more than 56 percent of our total budget, it’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

2) Job Creation — Georgia’s unemployment rate has exceeded the national average for 23 out of the last 24 months and remains well over 10 percent. While many believe that the economy has been dragging along the bottom for some time now, everyone agrees that no economic recovery will be complete without an increase in jobs. Look for the legislature to attempt to create an environment in Georgia conducive to job growth.

3) Transportation — Long overdue, it appears that the urgency of Georgia’s rapidly deteriorating transportation system is finally being recognized. During the past few years, leadership in the House and Senate have been divided on statewide verses regional solutions. It appears that the regional approach has the best chance of being passed by local referendums and will likely be the solution offered by the legislature.

4) Water — With the clock ticking on the Atlanta region’s use of Lake Lanier as a source of drinking water, look for legislation addressing stricter conservation laws, building more reservoirs and requiring antiquated water systems to be updated. More than any single budget item, any transportation project or any health care initiative, the availability of water will have more impact on the long term economic viability of our state than any other issue.

5) Ethics — With the well documented changes in leadership in the House as a result of alleged ethical violations over the past several years, look for Georgia’s ethics laws to be reviewed and strengthened. As is usually the case in such situations, knee jerk reactions and grandstanding are to be expected, but hopefully we will see useful reform that is both affordable and applicable.

6) Healthcare rights — As healthcare reform makes it way down from Washington, look for Georgia and other states to take a cautious, perhaps even adversarial, approach to any mandated changes. With budget constraints already crippling our state’s economy, any additional costs will only make matters worse.

7) Trauma — The longer we ignore it, the worse it gets and the more people die. This may be the only area where a tax increase or creation stands a chance.
While all of these issues may not be resolved this year, all are important and all will get some attention. After all, this is an election year and with all members of the legislature up for re-election later in the year, look for plenty of news coming out of Atlanta.

Carter’s Senate District 1 covers most of Liberty County. You can write him at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 302-B, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.
 

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