The 2009 legislative session has begun and is shaping up to be a crucial time for Georgia as the legislature determines how to best carry the state through these difficult economic times. The local media has been saturated with stories on the critical issues facing our state, including the budget, our economy and the transportation system.
Our greatest challenge this year will be to produce a balanced budget that meets the needs of the state while being fiscally responsible.
Budgetary discussions are sure to dominate this session as we seek to cut $2 billion to balance the FY 2009 budget. Throughout the interim, budget hearings were held to get a clear picture of each state agency’s budget. The exploratory meetings began with economic development, where we looked at community, business, energy and environmental programs.
As we looked at each and every program, we strongly emphasized the importance of not sacrificing the crucial needs of our citizens. We must eliminate wasteful spending on redundancies and overlaps rather than enacting across the board cuts to all programs and services.
These meetings gave us a good basis for moving forward in budget negotiations and deciding how to prioritize funding.
I am pleased to once again serve as chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee for the 2009-2010 Legislative Session. Over the last few months, I called together a series of joint Economic Development meetings to examine the housing market’s affect on local industries and what can be done at the state level to ease the downturn.
In Georgia, 23 percent of homes are worth less than the mortgage payment, while the number of foreclosures and late payments are steadily increasing.
During our first joint meeting of the session, subcommittees will be assigned to tackle specific issues relating to the housing industry and will be responsible for drafting legislation.
Discussions on the housing crisis also include the recent proposals on reforming Georgia’s property tax system. Several measures have already been introduced to cap property tax assessments in order to eliminate tax appraisals that are much higher than the property is worth. If a bill is passed, it will go before voters in 2010.
In a continued effort to stimulate Georgia’s economy, we are also examining the manufacturing industry to enhance the appeal of Georgia for investment opportunities, job creation and growth of existing industry. Manufacturing accounts for approximately 10 percent of Georgia’s non-agricultural employment, which creates wealth for our communities, employs thousands of citizens and pays premium compensation.
We must give significant weight to considering our transportation funding options this year.
Last week, the Atlanta Regional Commission held a transportation summit involving the Department of Transportation, MARTA, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and legislative leaders to commit to working together to solve the state’s transportation challenges. It will be crucial that all parties work together to develop a cohesive transportation plan for the entire state.
The Lieutenant Governor has announced an ambitious plan to begin discussions on a regional sales tax measure within the first week of session to provide for transportation funding.
This certainly will spark serious debate, but I agree that it is time to put a well-designed funding plan into action immediately.
A topic that I am particularly interested in is the LARP funding program, or Local Road Assistance Projects. This resurfacing program is designed to help local governments preserve the integrity of their paved road systems. The DOT has recommended cutting all remaining funding for the program for FY 09. The LARP program is essential to local communities and needs to remain in the budget.
As vice chairman of the Transportation Committee, I am committed to working with the department in finding a solution that will allow us to continue providing this essential program to local communities.
I look forward to serving the 51st district as my colleagues and I work through the 2009 Legislative session. Stay tuned for what is sure to be an exciting and productive session.
Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at email@example.com.