State Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, right, speaks to city officials during a meeting between the Albany City Commission and the region’s state legislative delegation Monday. Sitting with Dukes are, from left, Assistant Albany City Manager Wes Smith, Mayor-elect Dorothy Hubbard and state Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg.
ALBANY — The writing is on the wall for the Albany Procter & Gamble Plant, and in a rare show of unity local elected officials are stepping up an effort to keep the doors of the plant open.
Monday morning, the Albany City Commission and the Dougherty County Commission held separate meetings with members of Dougherty County’s state legislative delegation to pitch issues they feel are vital heading into the 2012 legislative session in Atlanta.
Chief among them for the city of Albany is legislation that would repeal a costly sales tax on energy imposed on manufacturers that many have labeled a burden on the state’s industry and a hamper to recruiting new jobs in the state.
The tax is seen as especially costly to the Albany P&G paper plant, which is the state’s second-largest consumer of energy.
In a story first reported by The Albany Herald this summer, P&G officials have been lobbying heavily to repeal the tax, which is mainly utilized in Georgia in the Southeast. Alabama, Florida and South Carolina have no energy tax, and Tennessee and North Carolina have a tax smaller than Georgia’s.
The measure was put into a larger, more comprehensive tax reform bill last year that stalled on its way to becoming law.
Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, and Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, each said that the energy tax issue would likely come up again this year, either on its own or, more likely, as another larger tax reform bill.
While repealing the energy tax would cost the state $160 million in revenues, some on the Albany City Commission say that it’s vital to keeping P&G’s doors open.
“I don’t have to remind anyone that the writing is on the wall with P&G. ... They’re about to finish construction on their other paper plant, and they’ve been yelling for years about the energy tax and the cost of health care,” Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike, who also sits on the legislative committee for the Georgia Municipal Association, said.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that if we lose P&G it would be a massive blow to the community, and I want to be able to look the citizens of this town in the eyes and say we did everything we could to keep it from happening.”
Additionally, City Manager James Taylor told the representatives that the city would like them to push for the last part of funding for Albany State University’s Fine Arts Building; to support legislation for college and career academies; and to consider overhauling legislation that requires local business owners to file affadavits each year proving their citizenship, saying it’s frustrating for small businesses.
“And we want you all to go to the Capitol ... go to Atlanta and tell them that south Georgia is still in the game,” Taylor said. “Our residents are just as important as those in Atlanta.”
City leaders also asked the legislators to consider another look at the state’s anti-copper theft laws so that they, at the municipal level, could help stem the tide of metal thefts in the area.
In the county meeting, less was discussed, but one of the items that was brought up prompted a heated response from one county commissioner.
Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard asked the delegation if there was any current legislation or pending legislation that seeks to alleviate what many view as an incentive for people receiving government assistance to continue to have children or for some type of parenting courses for those receiving state assistance who find themselves in jail or on probation.
In response, Rynders said that he has constituents who don’t want big government meddling in their lives or the lives of others, especially when it comes to legislating morals or contributing to social programs.
“You know, I have constituents who think that values ought not to enter into it; that government shouldn’t tell me how to raise my child and do you know why? Because it’s not their problem. They’re graduating, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re becoming productive citizens, so anytime government wants to take that big hand and reach in and interfere with my life, then that’s too much government,” Rynders said.
“Then on the other hand, we have people that turn around and go ‘please pay me and my mama for my grandchild, because I have a drug problem; I keep getting locked up.’ ... So whose values are we talking about?” Rynders said. “I can tell you my constituents will look at you tomorrow and tell you ‘You want my taxpayer’s dollars? I have compassion. I’ll help you, but I don’t want it to become a way of life. At some point, I expect you to feed, clothe and send your kid to school.”
Commissioner Muarlean Edwards attempted to explain that, while the programs may need reforming, they shouldn’t ultimately hurt the children, using an example of a family where there were repeated stints in jail and yet the mother had multiple children, saying that educating parents was the proper way to turn things around.
“Didn’t she know how to get pregnant?” Rynders asked, prompting Gaines to launch into a loud rebuttal.
“You’re going to sit here and demean us?” Gaines said at one point. “I’m saying that we’re owed an opportunity. ... I grew up poor. Where my daddy worked from sunrise to sunset and we drank colored water, but I pulled myself up and got educated and made my own way in this world. It’s not all about handouts, its about opportunities.”
Earlier in that meeting, Gaines and Rynders enjoyed a civil discussion following her suggestion that legislators consider forcing parents who are on some kind of state assistance to take parenting classes that would be paid for out of that assistance.
After hearing that suggestion, Rynders suggested that the job of helping impoverished parents may be better handled by members of the church and the nonprofit community, rather than through government; although he said earlier that there was talk of a bill that would require drug testing in order to get unemployment.