The local legislative delegation sat Thursday morning before members of the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce, waiting for the questions to come.
Rome City Commissioner Buzz Wachsteter asked the delegation about a uniform sales tax. Joe Cook, with the Coosa River Basin Initiative, soon followed with a question about water lost through leaky pipes. Doc Kibler, Rome Floyd Development Authority chairman, wanted to know about transportation.
In each case it came down to money.
“Your voices matter, and you need to keep asking and asking and asking,” said Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome.
A ballroom at Coosa Country Club was filled Thursday with people curious about the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 13. The chamber’s priorities include transportation, taxes and water, among others.
The state senator and representatives for the Rome area touched on those subjects before fielding questions.
Dempsey said one opportunity for infrastructure funding was the transportation special purpose, local option sales tax, which failed in the region that includes Rome and Floyd County.
Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cassville, added that one problem is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which he said throws up roadblocks to transportation projects. Coomer referenced U.S. Rep. Tom Graves’ transportation empowerment act bill, an initiative he supports that would give local governments more control over infrastructure projects.
Dempsey noted that Floyd County voters approved a SPLOST that will fund a longer runway at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport and a new tennis center near Mount Berry Square Mall.
“You’re for jobs. You’re for education,” Dempsey told the crowd.
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, told the group that state revenues are growing. However, the General Assembly must address the rising costs of K-12 education, retirement and Medicaid costs.
If state revenues grow 4 to 5 percent, those higher costs can be met, Hufstetler said.
Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, mentioned a bill that would require the state revenue department to share specific sales tax information with local governments. Rome City Manager John Bennett supports the bill.
Local governments currently don’t know how much any business pays in sales tax.
“We’ve asked for it, and we’re trying to get it,” Bennett added.
Fixing leaky pipes throughout the state that Cook asked about isn’t as certain. Cook said tax dollars aren’t being spent effectively.
Coomer said everyone has a project they believe deserves more money. One problem is that the legislature must balance the state’s budget, and not spend more than it takes in.
“That’s one of the things we’ll be looking at, but I can’t tell you you’ll see a significant change,” Coomer said.