Chamber hosts legislators

ALBANY -- The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce laid out its areas of concern for the local legislative delegation as a precursor to the 2010 legislative session during the chamber's annual Legislative Breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn Wednesday.

Reps. Winfred Dukes of House District 150, Ed Rynders of District 152 and Carol Fullerton of District 151 spoke at the breakfast meeting. Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (District 12) was attending the National Conference of State Legislators in California and was unable to attend.

"I find events like this productive; they offer us an opportunity to talk with business leaders in the community and share ideas and concerns we have," said Dukes, who's heading back to Atlanta for his 14th session, the longest tenure among the local delegation. "The folks I talked with today appear to be a little more active than usual in moving the area's agenda forward, and that's a good thing."

Dukes said projects at Albany State University and Darton College will be of particular interest locally, while the budget remains the session's major concern.

"It's going to be tough this year because we'll be operating with a lot less money," he said. "Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact that over the past two years we've passed more than $1 billion in tax cuts, most of which have been directed toward specific business interests.

"Yes, we're facing tough times, but some of those tough times were brought on by choices we made."

Representatives from the offices of Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Debbie Cannon) and Johnny Isakson (Jody Redding) and Rep. Sanford Bishop (Kenneth Cutts) were also at the meeting.

"The purpose of the legislative breakfast is to familiarize the local delegation with the area's needs and wants," Wendy Martin, the chamber's vice president of public policy and communications, said. "We send out -- through our magazine and e-mail -- messages to our members asking for input, and our Legislative Affairs Committee

takes the responses and determines what should be part of our agenda.

"We consider our list a fluid document, one that may change during the course of the legislative session according to the issues that are being discussed at any given time."

The Albany Area Chamber has joined with 10 other regional chambers to form SOWEGA United, a coalition that will focus on regional issues related to a strong Southwest Georgia economy.

The chamber presented a list of some 12 issues to the local legislative delegation for consideration during the approaching session. The issues were listed in three categories: Work Force and Economic Development -- work force readiness, Albany State, Darton and Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany; Quality of Life -- transportation, water and health care; as well as Pro-Business Environment: tax code, regulations, consolidation, telecommunications competition and tourism.

"As a delegation, we always appreciate the opportunity the chamber gives us every year to discuss the legislative priorities in the region," Rynders said. "Obviously, there is concern this year over regional transportation, health care and our capital projects.

"Come January, we'll roll up our sleeves and do the best we can as a delegation to move forward with these projects."

Fullerton, who is heading back to the legislature for her sophomore session, said the choice of Todd Long to serve as the Department of Transportation's planning director is good for the region.

"Not only is he a good engineer, he and (DOT Director) Vance Smith are cognizant of the importance of projects like the widening of (State Highway) 133 to the region," Fullerton said. "And a lot of people don't realize it, but Todd was head of the DOT's regional office in Tifton during the '90s, and he was involved in the initial planning of the Clark Avenue Extension here.

"He knows how important that project could be to the community."

Fullerton said consolidation of the Dougherty County and Albany governments should also be discussed during the session.

"I definitely feel we'd be better served with one unified document from the city and county," she said.

Martin, who spends time in Atlanta during the legislative session pressing issues that affect the region, said much of her time is spent contacting key members of legislative subcommittees to make sure they are aware of the importance of the issues the chamber has presented to the local delegation.

"We spend the bulk of our time here in the office sending out e-mails and making phone calls," she said. "But if we feel a need, we will meet with legislative or advocacy groups that we feel need to hear our position. We like to help them help us."

The local chamber's 1,200 membership represents more than 30,000 employees.