Leaders talk about issues at FVSU’s legislative breakfast

jmink@macon.comApril 23, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- In a section of Fort Valley State University’s Pettigrew Center sat some antique equipment, which many farmers have not used in decades.

A hand-cranked corn sheller and antique pesticide sprayer were two of the aged instruments on display Tuesday at the Ham and Egg Legislative Breakfast and Georgia Agricultural Showcase. While farmers have replaced antique devices with high-tech machines, the agriculture industry faces challenges -- most recently, federal funding issues. Legislators discussed those challenges, and others, at the 31st annual event, which allows residents to interact with elected leaders and their representatives. About 250 people attended.

“This is extremely important,” said Kena Torbert, family life specialist for the cooperative extension program at Fort Valley State. “They’re able to speak with those legislators one-on-one and get some solid answers.”

A big topic of the day was federal sequestration, automatic budget cuts that went into effect March 1, and the potential effects. Kenneth Cutts -- spokesman for 2nd District U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, a Democrat, -- spoke about the budget slices, as national airports reported delays Tuesday due to federal budget cuts and enforced furloughs.

“Sequestration was never supposed to happen. Both parties admit sequestration is a bad idea,” Cutts said. “But they were unable to come up with a consensus on how to stop it.”

Now sequestration means consequences for fields from education to agriculture, he said. Specifically, food inspections are facing an 8.1 percent -- or $318 million -- cut under sequestration, Cutts said.

“This country prides itself in having the safest food in the world,” he said. “But now we’re going to have less food inspections.”

Still, the country’s massive debt is just as damaging, he said, especially because the U.S. owes money to its competitors. It’s up to legislators to develop another, better solution to solve those money woes, he said.

“Increasingly in Washington, D.C., compromise is becoming a dirty word,” Cutts said, “and that is not how it should be.”

In addition to sequestration, leaders discussed other federal legislation that would impact regional agriculture. The recently introduced Water Resources Development Act could lead to limited water withdrawals from Lake Lanier, which would affect irrigation, said state Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry.

Currently, about 115 million gallons of water are withdrawn daily from the lake. That could drop to about 50 million gallons under the act, he said.

“It would be devastating,” he said. “This is a serious issue for the state of Georgia.”

Still, some statewide water legislation has made a positive impact, he said. For example, the 2010 Water Stewardship Act, which seeks to conserve Georgia’s freshwater supplies, has gained national attention, he said.

“It’s a good policy,” Tolleson said. “We’re doing things to have a positive impact.”

But when it comes to other happenings on a state level, some audience members had questions.

One of those concerns came from Fort Valley State President Larry Rivers, who said he constantly fields questions about pay raises for university faculty and staff.

“It’s been almost seven years since faculty and staff have gotten a raise,” he said. “Is there anything you can say that would be encouraging?”

Tolleson said he feels their pain. While the economy continues to make leaders nervous, “we’d be more than happy to have that dialogue with the Board of Regents,” Tolleson said. The Board of Regents governs the University System of Georgia.

During the breakfast, state Reps. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch; Robert Dickey, R-Musella; and Patty James-Bentley, D-Reynolds; as well as spokespersons for U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, also were on hand.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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