Muscogee Democrats arriving at GA State Capitol for Wild Hog Dinner
The Georgia Railroad building at Underground Atlanta, a stone’s throw from the Georgia Capitol, was packed Sunday night, eve of opening day of the 2009 State Legislature, with state officials, representatives and senators, and people like me. I was there mainly to gather information, but I did make one lobbying point. I told Rep. Carolyn Hugley that I was disappointed that the transportation plan for the state failed to get through the legislature last year. She said, “The House passed it, but it failed in the Senate.” I told her that was a shame and that new thinking is needed, that the emphasis needs to shift from pouring millions of tons of concrete adding new lanes to highways to developing rail, that rail is the most efficient way to transport massive numbers of people. She didn’t respond to that point.
Rep. Carolyn Hugley, GA House District 133, Columbus, GA
Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin hosted the Wild Hog Dinner, but it was paid for by “sponsors,” which probably translates to lobbyists. “He didn’t pay for it,” Carolyn told me. The barbecue, Brunswick stew, and potato salad were delicious. Nobody, however, goes to the Wild Hog Dinner just to get some good barbeque – good as it was, it was not as good as Macon Road, Smokey Pig or Country’s in Columbus – no, most people go to network. And that’s what the affair was all about.
GA House Speaker Rep. Glenn Richardson, GA House Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Calivin Smyre
I got the above shot of Georgia House Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Calvin Smyre of Columbus networking with Republican Rep. Glenn Richardson, Speaker of the Georgia House. Calvin is a powerhouse in the legislature, serving since 1974. Like every legislator I talked with, he said the legislature will be totally occupied with the budget crunch.
Sen. Seth Harp, (R) Georgia Senate District 29
State Senator Seth Harp said it was going to be really hard to deal with the pressures that the recession is putting on the state budget, and he doesn’t see it getting any better soon. Last year state spending was cut more than five percent. “This year it is going to be 10 to 12 percent.”
Deficit spending quite often accompanies a major recession, but the Georgia constitution prohibits it, and Seth told me, “We do not have a deficit; we have $1 billion in a ‘rainy day’ fund that we can tap into if necessary, though we don’t like to do that because it could adversely affect our AAA bond rating. Georgia is one of only 6 states that have a AAA rating. ”
Governor Perdue, I read somewhere, wants to use state funds to increase improvements in infrastructure to provide jobs and lessen unemployment. Seth says he’ll have to study that . He doesn’t want to do anything to hurt the bond rating .
“Aren’t you concerned about umeployment?” I asked him.
“Of course I am,” he emphatically replied. “But, there are a number of ways to deal with that.”
“You might go along with the increased infrastructure idea if you determine it’s necessary?”
All of the Columbus delegation I talked with agreed that many local projects won’t be funded this year, things like grants to museums. etc. It’s going to be tough enough not decimating education with more cuts. Rep. Hugely is very much concerned about that, emphasizing the important role education plays in the future of the citizens of Georgia, economically and otherwise. She added, “The central office hasn’t expressed concern about it. What we keep getting from that office is that everything is fine.”
“Are you referring to the Superintendent of Education, Kathy Cox?”
I told a number of legislators that while the budget is of top concern, Georgia is facing critical issues such as transportation and water shortages. They all agreed but pointed out that money for those programs is part of the budget. That’s true, but, in my view, when cuts are considered, the cuts should apply the least to education, transportation, and water shortage solutions.
House Minority Leader Rep. DuBose, (D) District 143, and Carol Porter,
Rep. Dupose Porter of Dublin, minority floor leader of the Georgia House – Carolyn Hugley is second in command since she is the minority whip – said in dealing with the budget crisis, taking money from a home for elderly Georgia military veterans and shifting it to one of Governor Sonny Perdue’s pet projects for his county like Go Fish is the kind of thing that has to stop. Dubose – I know him on a first name basis because he is married to my second-cousin Carol – is expected to announce for governor after this legislative session.
I haven’t been to one of those eve-of-opening-session affairs in about 30 years and forgot how much I enjoyed seeing the state’s power players networking intensely. I have to admit that it was exciting and fun. There was no formal program and none needed because the real program was raw networking by the state’s top lawmakers. Almost everyone who is anyone in state government was there. I didn’t spot Governor Perdue or Columbus State Senator Ed Harbison.