ALBANY — With the opening of the 2014 Georgia General Assembly looming on the horizon, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed the area’s legislative contingent to its annual Legislative Affairs Rise ‘N Shine Breakfast Thursday morning at the Merry Acres Event Center.
The four legislators —State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, and Reps. Gerald Greene, Winfred Dukes and Ed Rynders gave brief overviews on what they expected to see in the upcoming session.
Perhaps some of the most welcomed news of the morning came from Rynders in regard to funding for a new fine arts center at Albany State University. Rynders basically confirmed what former state senator and Georgia Board of Regents member George Hooks said two months ago that the more than $25 million to build the facility would be included in the next budget.
“I am optimistic that funding for a new fine arts center at Albany State will be included in the budget, as long as the community is politically smart enough not to create any unnecessary hurdles” Rynders said. “It’s important to remember that seven members of the budget-writing committee are from Southwest Georgia.
Rynders also added that he expects funding for the Port of Savannah dredging project to be included in the budget. Funding for that project is crucial to the future success of the inland port at Cordele.
There was also other budget news.
“For the first time in the past five or six years I don’t expect Gov. (Nathan) Deal to propose any decreases in the budget. We’re basically going to see a flat budget,” said Rynders.
Sims, a member of the Senate Education committee, said the past few months have been the busiest off-sessions in memory.
“We’re been all over at luncheons, summits and meetings,” Sims said. “Our challenges down here are more difficult than other areas of the state. There is huge interest in public education and how the money will be doled out.”
Greene stressed the importance of the Albany Area Chamber to all of Southwest Georgia.
“Albany and Dougherty County is the hub for our region,” Greene said. “This Chamber is a plus for all of us — it is a catalyst for growth in our region.”
Greene then cautioned about making predictions for the upcoming session.
“The legislature is a place where we won’t know what will happen until we get there,” he said. “We know that the budget is going to be there, and I think it will be a quick session because it’s an election year.
Dukes, who will be in his 18th year in the House, thinks the session will be smooth.
“I don’t think we’ll have a cantankerous session, especially since it’s an election year,” he said. “We are suffering from real challenges in education and some people are demonizing public education. This is a challenge we have to get beyond.”
State Rep. Carol Fullerton is recuperating from an automobile accident and did not attend.