By Maria Saporta
The board of the Metro Atlanta Chamber this morning adopted its 2010 legislative agenda calling for renewed initiatives related to water, transportation, education and economic development.
In the past several years, the Chamber’s legislative agenda has fared poorly in the General Assembly. And the fact that 2010 is an election year for virtually all of the state’s elected officials adds yet another complexity to the Chamber’s agenda this coming year.
John Yates, a partner of the Morris, Manning & Martin law firm who chairs the Chamber’s political action committee, said the greatest focus for 2010 likely will be water, followed closely by transportation.
The Chamber also would love to see progress on its school board governance reform recommendations, which Yates called a “motherhood and apple pie” issue. It also would like to see Georgia establish incentives for targeted industries so it can remain competitive with other states.
“These are the same issues we’ve been focused on for a while,” Yates said. “We need to focus on making progress in some key areas during this legislative session.”
When it comes to water, the Metro Atlanta Chamber has been working with Gov. Sonny Perdue on the Water Contingency Task Force to work on ways that the region can have adequate water supply for the future, either through conservation, new reservoirs or inter-basin transfers or a combination of the three.
The Chamber also is supporting full funding of a statewide water plan that passed in 2008, an investment of about $10 million.
It also supports appropriating $250,000 in state matching funds for the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District, to ensure long-term water management planning.
When it comes to transportation, the Metro Atlanta Chamber is supporting a regional funding bill.
“We call on legislative leaders to act quickly to come to an agreement on and pass a regional, voter-approved sales tax for the metro Atlanta region that contains the same opportunities for all of Georgia’s cities and counties,” the 2010 legislative agenda states.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber is partnering with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Regional Business Coalition and the Georgians for Better Transportation on pushing forward on a regional funding solution.
Last year, there was a legislative stalemate between the House of Representatives, which favored a statewide sales tax for transportation, the Georgia Senate, which favored a regional approach.
Renay Blumenthal, the Chamber’s senior vice president of public policy, said there has been “more movement towards a regional approach” because there’s growing recognition that a statewide sales tax would likely be defeated by voters.
Blumenthal is holding out hope that the legislature will pass a transportation funding bill this session.
“Water and the budget will probably take center stage this session, but we are hopeful that other issues like transportation and education can still be addressed,” she said.
The Chamber also is calling for the legislature to give MARTA the flexibility of using its one-cent sales tax as it sees fit. The tax, which is collected in only Fulton and DeKalb counties, has a state-imposed restriction that half must go towards operations and half towards capital improvements. That restriction needs to be removed, according to the Chamber’s legislative agenda.
The political dynamics of this year’s session will be intense. Last year, a stand-off between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, both Republicans, ended up killing several of the Chamber’s initiatives.
Now the state’s Republican leadership is feeling pressure because of serious competition from Democrats — most notably former Gov. Roy Barnes, who is considered a front-runner in next year’s gubernatorial election.
The question is whether the possibility of a Barnes victory will be enough to unify Republicans in the state. For example, will Republicans be willing to work together to pass a transportation funding bill to remove a major source of criticism about their lack of leadership in the state.