The 233 men and women of the Georgia General Assembly gathered under the Gold Dome in Atlanta on Monday for the first day of the 2010 40-day legislative session. What lies ahead for them is more enough than work for the next two months or more.
As our own state Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) has pointed out many times in his column, just to the right of this, the state’s coffers aren’t exactly overflowing right now. Even the conservative estimates on state revenues have come up wanting. A state with half a million more residents is projecting to have the resources for a budget of five years ago.
It’s an election year for state lawmakers, so there may be more grandstanding than standing one’s ground over the next few months. Lawmakers are hesitant to up taxes and fees with the ballot looming. That means the alternatives are to start not just trimming the state budget but wielding a chain saw to the spending to cut more than $1 billion from it. Who should bear the brunt of those reductions will be another contentious issue to resolve.
On top of that, the state desperately needs to put some kind of transportation plan in place — and to make sure those plans for new roads and means of getting around the state are paid for. Our own legislative delegation is expected to continue to push for the Effingham Parkway. In reality, how successful they are may not be up to their efforts, given Atlanta’s own serious traffic congestion problems.
There also has been talk of taking a look at the state’s taxing and fee structure, some of which has not been addressed in decades.
Changes are already afoot from just a few months ago — Eric Johnson stepped down from his Senate seat and his position as president pro tem of the Senate to concentrate on his bid for governor. The controversial Glenn Richardson relinquished his post as Speaker of the House. Richardson attempted suicide in November and his ex-wife accused him of having an affair with a lobbyist, leading to his relinquishment of his House seat. That will be filled by a special election later, leaving the House one member short.
Lyons’ Tommie Williams is moving up from majority leader to take over Johnson’s position, and David Ralston of Blue Ridge is expected to bring a more even-tempered approach to running the 180-member House.
There’s always plenty of work to be done during the General Assembly. Sometimes, some of it gets done. Other times, it’s passed off to another year. This time, though, some things can’t wait — and more than a few very difficult and potential career-damaging choices may have to be made by state lawmakers.