Perdue's budget includes ASU funds ... again

ATLANTA -- Southwest Georgia got a double shot of good news late Tuesday afternoon when Gov. Sonny Perdue released details of his proposed spending plan for Fiscal Year 2011.

Perdue included a $1.8 million bond proposal in his budget for engineering and design work on Albany State University's long-delayed Ray Charles Center, and he recommended that $10 million be included to secure right-of-way for State Highway 133 in a proposed $300 million bond package for state Department of Transportation projects.

Rufus Montgomery, lobbyist for the city of Albany, confirmed Tuesday that the money for ASU's Charles Center was in Perdue's proposed budget.

"This is a very tough budget year; the Legislature is cutting billions of dollars from the state budget," Montgomery said. "So I think it's an encouraging sign that the governor included the Ray Charles Center among the 15 capital projects in his budget.

"Certainly it's early in the process, but I am cautiously optimistic that this project will move forward. I've talked with our local delegation, and they are going to do what they can to make sure the project makes it into the final budget."

Perdue approved funding for the ASU project last year, but it was cut from the final budget that was passed by the Legislature. That action led to verbal skirmishes among Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Albany, and Reps. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, and Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, over speculation as to why the funding was removed from the budget.

Rynders said Tuesday he's working with House leadership to catch them up on the project.

"I'm currently working with the new speaker (David Ralston) and the chairman of the higher education appropriations committee (Len Walker) to update them on the need for this project," Rynders said. "I am hopeful that when we get to the full budget hearings this year, the money will be left in."

Attempts to contact Dukes, Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, whose House District 151 includes Albany State, and ASU President Everette Freeman on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Rynders said Perdue's recommendation that $10 million be secured for Highway 133 right-of-way acquisition was a testament to the state's commitment to transportation needs in the region.

"The DOT recently committed to making (State Highway) 133 a priority among its projects, and I would think the governor's request for $10 million from the bond package demonstrates that commitment," Rynders, who is a member of the powerful House Transportation Committee, said. "We're going to keep our fingers crossed and keep pushing forward.

"The way this process works, the House or Senate could take some of the money out for this project or they could add to it. While it's early in the process, I feel good about our chances of holding onto this money for Southwest Georgia."