Originally created 06/16/04

Breakfast becomes budget talk



Home from their prolonged stint at the General Assembly, Columbia County's legislative delegation reported back Tuesday about this year's session during a breakfast put on by the county's chamber of commerce.

While the all-Republican team briefed more than 60 chamber members about issues ranging from tort reform to water transfer rights, much of the discussion focused on where the money flowed or failed to appear in the state's lean budget.

"Our budget this year, actual state budget, was smaller than in 2001-02 fiscal year - that's rare," said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans. "Most times when you hear politicians talking about cutting the budget, what they're talking about is cutting the increase. I'm talking about an actual cut."

Two local projects whose funding was deferred in the $16 billion budget Gov. Sonny Perdue signed last month remain unresolved.

But neither a $4.6 million bond issue to build an Augusta Technical College building in Columbia County nor $890,000 in funding for Fort Discovery in Augusta have been permanently killed, the lawmakers said.

"I think we're going to hear something from the governor's office fairly soon about the design work to be done on the school," said Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling,

Mr. Brush added that $300,000 already had been set aside to pay for the designs.

As for Fort Discovery, which had requested $1.5 million from the state and laid off 40 of its 60 workers after learning that more than half the money was deferred, Mr. Perdue is still evaluating the National Science Center's contribution on the statewide level, said Sen. Don Cheeks, R-Augusta, who received a letter this weekend from the governor about the issue.

Mr. Cheeks said he pushed for the extra money to offset funding cuts the center has experienced in recent years.

"Everybody took a cut, and the $890 (thousand) put the National Science Center back to zero cuts for three years," he said about his request. "Did I get overzealous? Maybe."

But he highlighted $66 million the area received from a $324 million bond package to complete the Savannah River Parkway and other transportation projects, such as the addition of center turn lanes on Washington Road in Columbia County.

"We could go on and on and tell you how many millions of dollars through this delegation and my being on the conference committee saved, " Mr. Cheeks said.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at 868-1222, ext. 115, or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.