As the members of Columbia Countys legislative delegation begin the first week of work for the historic 2003 session, the states tight budget is expected to dominate every conversation.
The budget is certainly a priority, says state Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling. Everything hinges on it.
That couldnt be more true than this year, as Georgia lawmakers face nearly two years of a slowing economy. It only makes matters worse that state spending last year used up Georgias surplus and borrowed half a billion more.
Ex-Gov. Roy Barnes may as well have handed his successor a boat anchor and told him to tread water. Sonny Perdue, the first Republican governor in 130 years, took the oath of office this week facing a state budget shortfall of $620 million.
So when local officials a few weeks ago met with Columbia County lawmakers to map out their wish lists for the coming legislative session, there was plenty of doom and gloom to go around.
mazingly, though, there were few requests for handouts. Local leaders arent looking so much for extra cash as they are seeking flexibility:
The countys school system is the best example. Worried about the loss of $2 million in funding from proposed budget cuts, Columbia County school officials also know the recent trend has been to send state money with strings attached.
For example, School Superintendent Tommy Price points out that local systems must employ additional non-teaching positions just to keep up with all of the accountability requirements from the state and federal government. With more flexibility, local systems could spend the money where needed instead of on red tape.
The same is true for city and county governments. Columbia County officials want more leeway in spending locally collected sales taxes. While we disagree such taxes should replace the stormwater utility fee, at least such a plan would give voters input on the issue. And it wouldnt cost the state a dime.
Cities, too, need more flexibility. Currently, Grovetown and Harlem miss out on many state grants because the figures used to calculate their eligibility uses the countys overall per capita income - which is far higher than that of the two cities.
These initiatives dont require more money from the states coffers, but instead reward local governments for wise use of the funding they already receive. As a result, Columbia County might just get what its asking for this time around.
Of course, it helps that Perdue is a member the same party as all of Columbia Countys lawmakers - who will be all too happy to help the new governor tread water.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.