With elections at the state level over and the top leaders all being from North Georgia, it will a top priority in the coming years to make sure voices in the southern parts of the state are being heard.
That was state Sen. Buddy Carter’s message Wednesday when he spoke to North Bryan Chamber of Commerce members during a luncheon at the J. Dixie Harn Community Center in Pembroke. Carter, R-Pooler, was the guest speaker at the luncheon, and he focused on the importance of redistricting and its possible effect on transportation projects, as well as the failed constitutional amendment to fund trauma care across the state.
“The governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House are all from North Georgia,” Carter said, referring to Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, returning Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “So we (legislators) have to make certain they hear our voices down here in the south.”
He said with the redistricting of the state that is slated following the results of the 2010 Census, South Georgia stands to lose six seats in the state House of Representatives and as many as two seats in the state Senate. Those changes are expected due to the shift of population from the southern parts of the state to the north, Carter said.
“(The redistricting) process will be very important, so we need to make certain south Georgia’s voice is heard,” he reiterated.
One thing the area has on its side, is the state port in Savannah, he said, which is an integral part of the state’s economy.
“And I will say that the legislature gets that,” Carter said. “That’s one reason we’ve been successful at getting funding for Georgia ports.”
Now that the report released recently from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirms that the Savannah Harbor needs to be deepened, the source for funding that project is going to move from the state level to the federal level, Carter said.
He said about $200 million in bonds will come from the state for the dredging project but it still needs the federal match of $400 million in bonds. Carter clarified Friday that the state has already put up more than half of its portion, around $105 million in bonds, for the project.
However, getting those federal funds could be a challenge following an election in which voters made their feelings on the federal deficit, as well as earmarking funds or “pork barrel” projects clear, Carter said.
“The harbor deepening is considered an earmark,” he said. “But we still need another $400 million in bonds from the federal government. That puts (U.S. Rep.) Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and (U.S. Rep.) John Barrow (D-Ga.) in a tough position. They’ll be fighting for us.”
Since Carter’s visit to Pembroke, House Republicans have passed a voluntary ban on earmarks.
Carter said another message legislators heard from the recent elections was “no taxes” and “no fees” — of any kind, even for improving trauma care across the state.
“I was appalled,” Carter said of the constitutional amendment that would have added a $10 fee for passenger vehicle tags. “I can’t believe it did not pass.”
He said there are lots of theories as to why the amendment didn’t pass — from misunderstandings about the amendment to feelings the money would simply fund the other side of the state — it “does not change the fact that there are 700 of Georgians who lose their life each year” because there is no trauma care center nearby.
Carter said funding for trauma centers could instead come from a possible cigarette tax that may be introduced in the state House, or part of the ad valorem tax could be redirected to fund trauma centers. However, the reality of those possibilities is unclear right now, he said.
“But the need for trauma care doesn’t go away just because (the amendment) failed,” Carter said.