‘Macon Day’ at Capitol has different feel in 2009

ATLANTA — It wasn’t the same this year, but Macon still had its day Thursday at the Capitol.

There was no evening buffet from area restaurants, no open bar, none of the “Taste of Macon” hospitality that had become so popular with the folks who work at the Georgia Capitol.

In this economy, the traditional evening party just didn’t seem right, and sponsors weren’t eager to foot the bill, Chamber of Commerce President Chip Cherry said. But about 150 local folks still visited Atlanta on Thursday, sitting in on economic development sessions during the day and doing a little lobbying.

Macon’s contribution isn’t the only thing different about the session this year, and Cherry said the difference is palpable in Atlanta. Budget cuts and contention over a proposed overhaul of the state’s transportation department have made for a legislative session with “a whole lot more questions than there are answers,” Cherry said.

“You can tell that senators and representatives just appear to be under a great deal more stress,” Cherry said.

Legislators had hoped to have lunch with the folks from back home, but extended debate on a bill that will allow Georgia Power to raise its rates delayed them. Instead, local legislators visited in shifts, discussing the fading possibility that a new penny will be added to Macon and Bibb County’s hotel-motel tax and other issues under debate in Atlanta.

That sales tax, meant to help the state-owned sports and music halls of fame in downtown Macon, has divided local legislators. Longtime state Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, has said he wants to see the tax benefit not just the museums, as has been proposed by the Macon City Council and Bibb County Commission, but the Douglass Theatre and construction of a new football stadium and amphitheater.

Even if all the other local legislators agree, which so far they don’t, it’s probably too late to get the deal done this year, Lucas said Thursday. That made some visitors unhappy.

“So we get zero,” said Chip Koplin, of Macon Iron.

“It’s about politics and that really upsets me,” Koplin said.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.