0

Officials make pleas to legislators

LAWRENCEVILLE -- With unemployment at an all-time high, civic and business leaders Thursday tried to convince legislators to invest in water, education, transportation and economic development initiatives in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

Pleas came from the local K-12 school system, colleges, hospital and more, during a Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce event to kick off Monday's session.

Aware of lawmakers' upcoming task of trimming at least $1 billion more from an already tightened budget, Gwinnett Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks stressed that if money is cut that the system would like the opportunity to be flexible in how that is done.

Others made tempered petitions for more funding, but Sen. Don Balfour said after the event that those requests aren't likely going to be fulfilled.

"There's a lot of great programs and a lot of great needs, but we don't have more money, we have less money," the Republican from Snellville said. "We're going to have to cut good programs."

Balfour, a leader in the Senate as the head of the Rules Committee, said he did not foresee movement on raising the tax burden on people already struggling in the faltering economy, which likely will mean the long-awaited revenues for transportation and trauma care may not surface in 2010.

But Rep. Donna Sheldon, head of the Republican Caucus in the House, was more optimistic.

"I think we'll get transportation addressed," she said. "Job growth and economic development are key and transportation is part of that."

Flexibility for schools and water initiatives are also likely to move forward she said, and Rep. Brooks Coleman, the chairman of the House Education Committee, said he arrived late to Thursday's event because he dropped bills to provide that flexibility.