Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Water, transportation and Obamacare on agenda at Eggs n' Issues breakfast

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 5:57 PM

click to enlarge 'Mr. President, we don't need no stinkin' insurance'
  • 'Mr. President, we don't need no stinkin' insurance'

Street preachers must read the papers.

Outside this morning's Eggs n' Issues breakfast, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual fete that kicks off the legislative session, a solitary man holding a cardboard sign warned lawmakers, lobbyists and business bigwigs scurrying inside that eternal damnation would be the ultimate reward for their sinful lives. No one paid him any attention.

Inside the Georgia World Congress Center, the state's titans of industry ate floppy slices of bacon and puffy scrambled eggs. State Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons, led Congressman Nathan Deal from table to table, helping him find President Barack Obama's birth certificate meet movers and shakers in his gubernatorial contest. Ah, the craziness that is the General Assembly is back.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Gold Dome's undisputed champion when it comes to vagaries, talked about "moving forward." Newly elected House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge impressed some attendees with his candor. And Gov. Sonny Perdue, the event's keynote speaker, topped off some earnest attempts at humor with a thinly veiled jab at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes, whom he booted from office in 2002 to take the governor's office. ("Y'all know what happens when you hire someone back you fired," Perdue said to the roomful of executives.)

But there was some good news: Perdue says the new legislative session has brought a "palpable" feeling of cooperation under the traditionally dysfunctional Gold Dome. He also told Mayor Kasim Reed, who welcomed the crowd, that the state's looking forward to working with the city — and appreciated Reed's willingness to work with the state.

In addition to proposals about teacher pay, state leadership said they'd focus on a few key issues during the 40 days of the General Assembly. Here's a brief synopsis of what they discussed.

WATER: Perdue, Ralston and Cagle all hope Alabama, Florida and Georgia can reach a compact over sharing water between the three states. Ralston hopes the issue will be resolved prior to the end of the session. Perdue told reporters after the breakfast that he'd be willing to call a special session and ask lawmakers to approve a compact later in the year should the governors come to terms. Ralston said conservation legislation might be on the agenda, but didn't get into specifics. Cagle said the state needs to expand and build regional reservoirs. Good luck finding money.

TRANSPORTATION: Everyone's optimistic that some sort of funding solution will pass this legislative session — something lawmakers have failed to do the last two years. Cagle supports a Senate proposal that would allow counties to band together, levy a penny sales tax, and then fund local transportation projects. But he says that's not a long-term solution, and other fixes, such as toll roads, need to be considered. Perdue, who last year opted to reform the Georgia Department of Transportation rather than support a funding proposal, cryptically told the crowd: "In the past I've not been prepared to recommend additional funding...but ladies and gentleman, I believe I think we're getting there now. And apologies to Forrest Gump, but that's all I have to say about that today." Aww.

HEALTH CARE: Many folks were hoping state lawmakers' shots at Congress' controversial proposal to make health care more affordable would just be political posturing. (Several lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow Georgia to opt out of the federal program.) That might not be the case from what was discussed this morning. Perdue and Ralston, who commended Georgia's congressional delegation for trying to stop what he thinks is an "unwise policy," say they're concerned by the alleged favor trading that took place when the Senate passed its bill. Ralston said the free market needs to come up with a solution to providing Georgians better access to health care insurance. Perdue, who called the federal measure's potential impact on states both "unimaginable" and "unmanageable," said he wants Georgians to be able to purchase out-of-state insurance plans. "With sweeping mandates on the horizon, the time's come to open up the insurance market and allow consumers to find plans that best fit their needs," he said." One lobbyist we spoke with at the Gold Dome says that's easier said than done as such a move could open a can of worms. Some insurance plans are required by state law to cover certain procedures and treatments — cancer screenings and minimum hospital stays for women who just gave birth, for example. Out-of-state plans could be place some those in jeopardy, they said.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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