TIFTON — The Annual Chamber of Commerce Legislative Appreciation Breakfast was held on Aug. 29 at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Tifton Office.
Representatives Penny Houston, Sam Watson and Clay Pirkle attended the event and gave attendees updates on upcoming legislation.
Houston said that the only thing people seem to be talking about is who will be replacing Senator Johnny Isakson, who announced his decision to retire at the end of the year.
“I have no idea who might come up (as an appointee),” she said. “Whoever does run is going to have to run for reelection again in 2020. There’ll be two United States Senate seats up for election in Georgia, so you can expect sheer bedlam… it’s going to be some kind of election and everybody’s going to be focused on this state.”
Houston and Pirkle also mentioned that Governor Brian Kemp has announced a budget cut of 4 percent in the supplemental budget and 6 percent in the main budget.
Houston, Watson and Pirkle all sit on the appropriations committee for the state legislature. Houston said that meetings about the cuts are expected to start in October.
“It’s going to be tough for some agencies to really cut because we cut before,” Houston said.
She said that she was really proud of the things that are happening in Tifton, mentioning in particular the groundbreaking on a new Diagnostic Veterinary Clinic at the University of Georgia Tifton Campus.
This new facility will offer large animal vet services in South Georgia, preventing livestock from having to be shipped up to Athens for diagnostic tests.
“People from all over South Georgia will be using this new diagnostic center,” Houston said.
Houston also said that she was put on an economic study committee and is expecting sports gambling and casinos to be a topic of discussion.
“I hope we don’t do anything to hurt the lottery,” she said. “We have a lot of money coming in from the lottery that helps education and we don’t need to do anything that will take money away from the lottery and the Hope Scholarship.”
Watson said that Georgia is in good financial state with revenues being up in June and July.
“I feel like the economy is still good and we’re doing good as a state,” he said.
Rural development has remained a priority for all three representatives, said Watson. He sits on the Rural Development Council, which meets in different parts of the state to study the needs of rural areas.
“We’ll devote another two years to moving across the state to talk about those issues, education, work force, economic development, healthcare,” he said, adding that the general assembly has put approximately $2 million in the budget for rural Georgia.
“We know there’s a lot of problems out there. If we don’t hear from y’all, the people on the ground, it’s hard to know what the problems are. If you don’t know what the problems are it’s hard to fix them, so we’re trying to have panels at all these meetings as we go forward to see if we can know more about what’s happening on the ground level and fix those problems. It’s still cool to be rural at the capital, I tell that to everybody. I continue to think about if we’d had this same push 10 years ago, if people had put some kind of incentive in legislation to help rural Georgia, where would we be today? That’s what’s happening now.”
“We are going to look at a scaled back budget,” Pirkle said. “The ag teacher that taught me… said you plan for the worst and hope for the best. That was the tone I got from the governor when he talked about how we need to have a budget that comes out and shows a four percent cut just in case. We’re looking at the global economy and Sam mentioned that the state’s doing quite well, but we need to make sure out financial house is in order.” he said.
Pirkle ended his remarks by requesting that the attendees join him in prayer for Senator Greg Kirk, who is dealing with ongoing health issues.