ALBANY, Ga. — As the state legislature readies itself for its 2012 session, officials with the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce are preparing themselves to pitch a broad-ranging agenda to state leaders.
The chamber’s 2012 legislative agenda focuses on three areas: economic and work force development, initiatives to promote a pro-business environment and quality-of-life improvements.
Taking a deeper look, the chamber is asking legislators for a few specific items including eradicating the state’s sales tax on energy used in manufacturing — a move that proponents say would save Albany’s Proctor & Gamble plant millions each year and make Georgia more competitive — and supporting funding for the complete widening of State Highway 133 from Albany to Valdosta, a key request from the heads at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.
The chamber’s legislative agenda includes supporting the competitive economic development program that will stem from the Governor’s Competitive Initiative once it’s fully unveiled and funding for College and Career Academies at pre-2007 levels.
The agenda covers broad issues — such as opposing any decrease in state tourism dollars — to much more targeted issues such as support for granting tax-exempt status for agricultural aircraft sold in Georgia, a nod to Albany’s Thrush Aircraft, whose chief competitor enjoys a similar tax exemption in Texas.
“When our legislative affairs committee began discussing a few months ago our 2012 agenda, we tried to be as inclusive in the construction of our agenda as possible,” Deborah Bowie, senior director of Public Policy and Communications for the chamber, said.
“There are several items of significance ranging from supporting graduate medical education to opposing any reduction in funding for tourism to supporting a statewide trauma center. However, if there is a theme among our legislative priorities in 2012, it would have to be transportation,” she said.
While the agenda is specific to the Albany area, it does share some overarching themes with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 agenda, according to Joselyn Baker, a spokesperson with the Georgia chamber.
Some of the shared initiatives are for the Governor’s Competitiveness Initiative, clear and informative ballot language for the Transportation Sales Tax Referendum set for later this year and eliminating the sales tax on energy.
The Georgia chamber also has other requests of legislators including “Modernize(ing) Georgia’s revenue structure through broadening the sales tax base and reducing income tax rates,” and “ enact(ing) regulatory reforms that streamline government and help create an environment that stimulates economic and job growth.”
One area on which the state’s chamber and regional chambers will likely differ deals with access to water and the construction of surface water reservoirs.
According to Baker, the Georgia chamber supports “utilizing continued input from Regional Water Councils, implement the Statewide Water Plan by expanding Georgia’s surface water storage inventory and protecting responsible and currently authorized use of regional interbasin transfers.”
Some in Albany’s legislative delegation have fought against interbasin transfers, fearful that it may lead to water being transferred from Southwest Georgia — where it’s needed for agriculture, industry and residential consumption — and transferred to Atlanta.
Other issues being pushed by the Albany chamber are increases for graduate medical education funding, opposition to reductions in Medicaid reimbursements and support for a dedicated source of funding for a statewide trauma care network.
“Perhaps the most important thing to relay to the public is the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce’s commitment to advocating for the region, even in uncertain times and in difficult legislative years,” Bowie said. “Next year is an important year for Southwest Georgia — not just because it is election year but because we, as a region of 14 counties, will have less resources and representation as a result of reapportionment.
“Now more than ever, it is critical that we pull together, pool our resources and build consensus on the things that will help all of us down the road. We can do that if we invest in ourselves first.”