Bainbridge State College hosted a reception Wednesday at the Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center for area legislators as they discussed with members of the community what issues may dominate the upcoming 2014 Georgia General Assembly.
Sen. Dean Burke, and Reps. Jay Powell and Darlene Taylor all said the state’s budget would be the main issue.
“A lot of what we are doing is not in the form of trying to figure out where to spend money, but figure out where to save money,” said Sen. Burke, R-Bainbridge.
Sen. Burke, who also is the medical director at Memorial Hospital and Manor in Bainbridge, said his constituents are very concerned about health care, and state lawmakers will need to address it next year.
“The saving grace of it will be is that health care is going to be delivered smarter, better than it’s ever been done before. We are going to get waste out of the system. We are going to get better at what we are doing, and that’s going to save us all a lot of money,” Sen. Burke said.
Bainbridge State College President Richard Carvajal encouraged lawmakers to support continuing funding for the University System of Georgia and its 31 institutions.
Dr. Carvajal said the state’s higher education institutions are responding to Gov. Nathan Deal’s challenge to dramatically increase college completion rates and continued funding is therefore necessary to ensure that the positive moves being made in support of college completion can continue.
“While we are doing all that hard work to improve quality, we are saying this is absolutely the wrong time to take a decrease in funding,” Dr. Carvajal said.
He also made a plea for pay raises for university system employees, saying the need is becoming critical. Bainbridge State faculty and staff members have not seen pay raises since 2008.
“Our faculty members are in the position where they could leave us and go to the other states or even local K-12 districts and make more money,” Dr. Carvajal said. Quoting University of Georgia President Emeritus Michael F. Adams, Dr. Carvajal noted, “They don’t take our worst,” meaning that recruiters from other states or from school districts are not coming to steal Georgia’s worst faculty and staff – they come after Georgia’s best. Moreover, Dr. Carvajal said that this reality has the potential of dramatically impacting the quality of what Bainbridge State does locally.
Rep. Powell, R-Camilla, said state budget writers are hearing from many constituents on the need for pay raises because the state coffers have been tight and declining over the last several years. He encouraged state entities to continue to make their case because there are many state employees who have gotten the short end of the stick and have sacrificed for the good of the state.
“It’s going to happen to whoever can make the best case,” Rep. Powell said. “We are losing our best and brightest. They are coming after our best professors, not our worst professors. Pay parity may not happen all at once, but over time. You need to be able to make the case and compromise so at least there is a start.”
Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, talked at length on how health care will be a major issue legislators will need to tackle this year. She also said the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project is a must-do project, which is ready to move to construction thanks in part from Georgia’s $231 million commitment.
The deepening of the Port of Savannah is important to this region as well because that port is one of the few ports in the country that exports more than it imports. Furthermore, a lot of those exported goods are agriculture-related products produced in southwest Georgia, Rep. Taylor said.
Georgia’s General Assembly always convenes on the second Monday in January, which in 2014 will be Jan. 13.