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Local delegation gets vital appointments

ATLANTA -- Discussing her appointment to the state Senate's

Appropriations Committee for the 2011 Legislative session Friday night, District 12 Sen. Freddie Powell Sims acknowledged that there won't be a lot of money to go around as the Legislature tries to parse out funds from an ever-dwindling supply.

But, Sims said, no one will know your district's needs if you don't have a seat at the table.

"If you've got no one there, there's no one to speak for you," the Dawson Democrat, who is starting her second term in the Senate, said. "This budget is going to be tight, and, frankly, there's not going to be a whole lot to go around. I'm just proud to be selected for a seat at the table."

While Sims will have an opportunity to make a case for the needs of Southwest Georgia's District 12 in the Senate, Leesburg Republican Ed Rynders will be one of eight subcommittee chairpersons guiding the process in the House. Rynders was named chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and will lead budget hearings on a number of high-profile state offices, including the governor's and secretary of state's offices and such vital departments as driver services, banking and finance, and revenue.

"There has been much concern about the influence of rural representation and, particularly, the diluted strength of representation in South Georgia because of the census numbers," Rynders said. "I think Speaker (David) Ralston has shown by his actions that he's concerned about the entire state of Georgia, not just metro Atlanta.

"Appropriations appointments are vital because that committee is what the Legislature is all about. When all is said and done, we have one job in Atlanta: to present a balanced budget. That all starts with appropriations."

Rufus Montgomery, who works with state Legislators as a lobbyist representing the city of Albany, said the Appropriations appointments are important for the region.

"Rep. Rynders' appointment as a chairman in Appropriations well-positions him to champion issues on behalf of Albany and the surrounding area," Montgomery said Saturday. "And Sen. Sims' appointment to the (Senate) Appropriations Committee attests to her willingness and ability to work with all of her colleagues to represent her district. She's earned the respect on both sides of the aisle, and that's important to the region."

In addition to Rynders, Republicans Jay Powell of Camilla and Penny Houston of Nashville also received Appropriations subcommittee chairmanships, Powell for Public Safety and Houston for Human Resources.

The trio certainly focus on the interests of Southwest Georgia in their efforts under the Gold Dome; each represents a part of Colquitt County (Rynders in District 152, Powell in 171 and Houston in 170).

"Don't think that having three subcommittee chairs from Southwest Georgia isn't a big deal for this region," Rynders said.

Sims offered a prime example of how she'll try to use her influence for one of the counties in her district as the Senate looks to chip away at funding for the Department of Natural Resources.

"One of my counties is concerned about losing the one DNR person they have because there are only going to be a few left (after cuts are made)," Sims said. "And guess where most of the Natural Resources personnel are located right now: in metropolitan areas. You look at the rural regions in the state and tell me where these folks are needed most.

"Hopefully I'll be able to have an influence in matters like this because it's an area that's important to the district. And the needs of this district come first."

Early estimates indicate that, even with an increase in sales tax collections in recent months, the state will need to chop between $1 billion and $2 billion from the Fiscal Year 2011-12 budget. That total includes federal stimulus funds.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that the stimulus money has to be paid back," Rynders said. "The good news is Georgia didn't take as much of that money as some of the other states did."

Under new House appointments announced by Ralston Friday, Rynders will no longer chair the Intragovernmental Coordinating Committee that is responsible for local legislation such as the lingering consolidation proposal that has hung over Albany and Dougherty County for years. Rynders will still be a part of that committee, but he'll start focusing soon on his appointment to the 22-member Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee.

That group will present a redistricting plan that is expected to take as many as six House and two Senate seats from South Georgia and move them to the huge region around metro Atlanta. Once census figures are released in early spring, the Reapportionment Committee will head a special called session to draw up new maps that must meet stringent guidelines and eventually get federal Department of Justice approval.

"This one's going to be tough," Rynders said. "We've got to meet population requirements without diluting minority voting strength, and we've got to draw the districts to reflect the population growth in North Georgia.

"And even after we finish, Justice will have to ultimately decide redistricting."

House District 150 Rep. Winfred Dukes and District 151 Rep. Carol Fullerton, both Democrats, also received appointments that position them to serve the region well. Dukes will serve on the Agriculture, Economic Development and State Planning and Community Affairs committes; while Fullerton was named to the Economic Development and Tourism; Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications; Health and Human Services; Higher Education, and Natural Resources and Environmental committees.

"Think about it; Rep. Dukes was named to three committees -- Ag, Economic Development, and Planning and Community Affairs -- and they're all important to our region," Montgomery said. "And Rep. Fullerton has an outsized number of vital committees, given her years of experience, and they're all great committees. That shows her effectiveness as a legislator."

Fullerton said she's particularly pleased to be a part of the Natural Resources and Higher Education committees, given the state's water concerns and the ongoing efforts to get funding for a fine arts building at Albany State University.

"Gov. Deal has already started talking about intrabasin transfers and building reservoirs," she said Saturday. "That's something the people in our region are very concerned about.

"I've also had a conversation with the Speaker about the Ray Charles Fine Arts Building at ASU, and frankly I don't know if the money will be there this year the way the economy is going. But if things keep improving, I'm hoping we'll have the funding in place by next year. It's something I'm counting on."

Messages left with Dukes and Powell seeking comments for this article were not returned.