Officials, lawmakers discuss county's concerns

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

ATLANTA -- The minute Bobby Reese walked into the Georgia Freight Depot on Tuesday, Gwinnett's schools superintendent was imploring him to save education funding.

During the Gwinnett Day festivities at the Capitol, it was the perfect opportunity to give a pitch for funding or other legislative concerns, although Reese said he was afraid locals could be disappointed at the end of the session.

"It's tough," said the state House member from Sugar Hill, pointing to a budget that has lost $4.6 billion in revenues in the past 15 months. "You can't spend the money you don't have."

Lobbyists and legislators met with Gwinnett's leaders during the second annual event, sipping cocktails and talking politics with officials from the county's government, schools, colleges, hospital and business sector.

The topic Chamber of Commerce officials clung to was the long-lasting debate on transportation funding. With a matter of days left in the legislative session, officials have not reached an agreement on a proposed regional penny sales tax to fund projects.

"We're trying to come up with a solution," said Tommie Williams, the Senate's president pro tempore who has been involved in a conference committee debating the proposition.

For many, the proposal has been on the back burner because of the state's financial crisis.

"Transportation is up at the top, but now we are trying to work on the budget, so we'll see," Rep. Len Walker said.

Demming Bass, the Chamber's spokesman, said the issue is key to righting the economic maelstrom because freeing traffic will help attract companies to the area.

"All the data shows that if we finally get this transportation funding bill passed ... we can create up to 320,000 jobs in the state of Georgia," he said. "This is one big step."

Commission Chairman Charles Bannister, a former legislator, said he would be surprised if the issue is resolved this year, but he said he hopes so.

"The whole state of Georgia needs the help," he said. "We really need to get off our duffs and move forward."