Last Friday I was fortunate enough to attend the Oconee Chamber's legislative update with State Rep. Bob Smith, Sen. Bill Cowsert, and Congressman Paul Broun Jr. It was an interesting session. Cowsert and Smith agreed that water, taxes and transportation would top the list of key issues for the state legislature this year, with both of them also focusing on the MCG/UGA partnership at the Navy School. Surprisingly, both Smith and Cowsert feel like Speaker Glenn Richardson will emerge a "winner" on the GREAT plan whether it passes or not. I disagree, but won't belabor the points I have made in earlier posts.
The most pointed discussion came when school board members David Weeks, David Williams and Chris Franklin challenged Sen. Cowsert to return austerity cuts to the schools and updated them on the situation in our local schools, where they are fighting hard to maintain the level of excellence the community expects. Sen. Cowsert made some solid points of his own about funding growth.
The one issue that was underplayed when it came up was transportation. Sen. Cowsert called this an "Atlanta problem." It's not. Its a growth problem, and all growing communities in the state need help with transportation dollars and strategies. And while Atlanta does have its issues, I would contend that a healthy Atlanta is absolutely critical for the health of this region, and most of the rest of the state. My wish list: more aggressive local funding for sidewalks and repaving, an upgraded 316 (or at least a long-term plan for doing so), improved air transportation options, and commuter rail from Athens to Atlanta. The last three of these could be economic engines for this region. This is also an issue where Rep. Broun can help us, but he did not address it.
Overall, these dialogues are very positive and important for the community, and it was great that Oconee hosted one.
Also, on a matter related to my previous post, the Athens paper also shares the news about Watkinsville's streetscape funds here.