FORT VALLEY -- Peach County’s three state legislators -- two of whom will be working closely with Gov. Nathan Deal in the upcoming General Assembly -- heard from local officials and residents Tuesday night about their hopes for the upcoming legislative session.
The biggest request came from Fort Valley State University President Ivelaw Griffith, who asked for $4 million to work on a campus building and requested support for new degree programs.
But the audience of about 30 people in Massee Lane’s auditorium had smaller requests, too, such as asking legislators to try to help with marketing efforts or think about ways to get GED students to class.
Fort Valley Mayor Barbara Williams asked if legislators had heard of any efforts to fund the Even Start family literacy program she’d worked with. State Rep. Patty James-Bentley, D-Butler, offered to talk to a new state technical school leader about the program. State Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, said he hadn’t heard anything about funding but noted technical schools are clamoring for students while the state needs to fill some jobs.
To a question about economic development, Dickey said the state needs a “well-educated, trained workforce.” Talk in Peach County about a new high school, new school board members and efforts to launch a charter school all point to improvements, he said.
State Sen.-elect John Kennedy, R-Bolingbroke, said the deepening of Savannah’s port should bring more opportunities to Middle Georgia.
“We’ve got a lot not only to be grateful for, but a lot to be positive for,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy has been tapped to be one of Deal’s floor leaders in the Senate, while Dickey will be a floor leader in the House. That will give them regular contact with the governor.
“Peach County’s going to be well represented in the governor’s office,” Kennedy said.
Tuesday night’s event was put together by the Peach Regional Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President Tom Morrill noted other efforts to improve job training in the area, with Fort Valley State University planning to add majors and give students an opportunity to graduate simultaneously with a business degree and a pilot’s license.
Morrill, who works on the State Workforce Investment Board, said Georgia has a critical shortage of skilled labor. The $5 billion film industry is flying in carpenters because there aren’t enough here, he said. Job openings for underwater welders start at $100,000 a year, he said.
To help with the problem, Peach County is building a Workforce Development Center.
Also Tuesday night, legislators talked about transportation, with a state report suggesting Georgia is hundreds of millions of dollars short in its transportation investments. Dickey, who starts his third term Monday, predicted a struggle to identify where the money will come from.
“It’s going to be very heated and troublesome,” he predicted. “We’ve got lots of different ideas on where that money’s coming from, and it’s all coming from you and us.”
Proposals include increasing the state’s gasoline tax or shifting sales-tax proceeds toward transportation.
Fort Valley businesswoman Kay Meyer suggested legislators should measure success by how many bills they do not pass. She said she was opposed to a bill that would legalize cannabis oil for some medical treatments, worrying it would open the door to legalization of marijuana.
“Whatever you can do not to pass any more bills would be appreciated,” Meyer said.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.