All four members of the local legislative delegation spoke to Rome business leaders Friday morning during the annual Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce Pre-Legislative Breakfast at Coosa Country Club.
Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, the senior member of the local delegation, said that three of the four members of the delegation — herself, freshman State Sen.-elect Chuck Hufstetler and rookie Rep.-elect Eddie Lumsden — had previously served as members of local governing bodies.
That will help give them a better understanding of how matters handled under the gold dome in Atlanta affect local budgets, Dempsey said.
Lumsden, the Republican who beat incumbent Barbara Massey Reece in November, told the business audience the fact that the state Constitution requires a balanced budget is a good thing.
“This year the governor’s budget calls for an additional 3 percent decrease in expenditures except in the area of education. Combined with previous cuts and factoring in inflation, we’ve seen a 17 percent decrease in Georgia’s budget since 2008,” said Lumsden, a former Floyd County commissioner. “I think we’re well positioned to see substantial economic recovery sooner rather than later.”
Hufstetler, known as a fiscal conservative, said that when he served as a Floyd County commissioner he used to wonder what the state was going to do to local governments next.
“Now that I’m in state government, it’s what’s the federal government going to do to us next?” he said.
The Republican said when he left the Floyd County Commission in 2006 the county had built a fund balance of 150 days.
“The state right now has a fund balance of seven days,” Hufstetler said. The budget this year is going to need $800 million more just to maintain what we do. The reason for that is Medicaid and education, due to population growth.”
Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, said that Georgia has much to be thankful for. “Revenues continue to be on the increase,” Coomer said. “What we have done with the extra money is put that back into our rainy day fund. If we hadn’t had the reserve funds in 2008, 2009, 2010, we’d be in much worse shape today.”
Coomer also explained that as one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leaders in the House he would be working closely on a number of workforce development priorities, particularly to help veterans. Georgia has the fourth largest veteran population in the country, he said.
Coomer said that he’s communicated with DOT officials who claim that the certification dates for purchasing right of way for the widening of Ga. 140 near Ga. 53 are due in 2014. Widening of the highway into Bartow County could be complete by 2016, he said.
Dempsey spoke about the elimination of the energy tax on manufacturing at the state level.
“What this does to incentivize our existing businesses and industry and what it does to bring industry into the community is very important,” Dempsey said. “Some of our neighbors have decided to add a little energy tax back into their budgets. It’s a great challenge to meet their budgets without it, but it is a great way for us to increase our dollars and our industry and business right here in Floyd County.”
Dempsey said that renewal of the Medicaid Financing Program is an issue that will be dealt with.
“It is a fee that enables our medical communities to do their job well and to actually meet the financial needs that exist,” Dempsey said, noting that the Georgia Hospital Association and other health care organizations are all in support of the fee.
She said that she plans to continue the push for the proposed Tennis Center of Georgia at Berry College. Georgia was recently awarded a Triple A bond rating and the state recently issued some new bonds.
“It is a conversation that continues to be had repeatedly, whether we can fund the state bonding (for the project) or whether Rome and Floyd County and our citizens come together to figure out a way to do this project. I’m all in,” Dempsey said. “I want to celebrate the great return on investment that will come from this project.”
Chamber Governmental Affairs committee chair Ansley Saville encouraged the business community to participate in trips to the Capitol in February and to Washington, D.C., in March.