Lawmakers to study five major subjects

A look at five of the top issues the General Assembly will address during this legislative session, which begins Monday.

TRANSPORTATION

For three years, the House and Senate have argued over two competing plans to create additional funding for roads and transit systems. One proposal would raise a statewide sales tax, and another would allow communities to individually or collectively raise their local sales tax.

Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said Friday that discussions between leaders of the two chambers in recent months could lead to a breakthrough. "We're continuing to work together to find that solution as we have for the last three years," he said. "We're close."

Advocates of greater transportation funding are beginning to feel more optimistic than they have in years.

"For the first time in three years that we've been knee deep in this, we seem to be making progress," said Joe Fleming, a lobbyist for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

WATER

The ticking down of the deadline for an alternative to Lake Lanier for metro Atlanta's water is almost audible in the Capitol since a federal judge ordered Georgia to stop withdrawals by 2012. Gov. Sonny Perdue drafted a committee to make recommendations, and he is negotiating with Florida and Alabama over conditional use of Lanier.

During the session, legislation is expected to streamline construction of reservoirs and provide some funding from the sale of bonds for their construction.

At the same time, legislators from areas outside of Atlanta will be keeping a close watch for anything that would end a legal prohibition against moving water from one river basin to another. But that's not an immediate likelihood, according to George Israel, the president of the Georgia Chamber, which has been eager to see Atlanta maintain enough water supply to remain economically viable.

"You can't do it by 2012, and you can't afford it," he said.

TRAUMA CARE

There hasn't been any dispute in recent years of the need to fund a statewide network of advanced trauma-care hospitals. Only four cities have the most sophisticated facilities, and lawmakers have made repeated speeches about the risks to people living elsewhere.

No one has agreed on a way to pay for it.

Former House speaker Glenn Richardson supported proposals to add a $10 fee to the annual tag for automobiles, but that idea stalled. His departure gives hopes that his opponents in the Senate might no longer have a reason to hobble the fee.

ETHICS

After Mr. Richardson resigned as House speaker in the wake of allegations from his ex-wife that he had an affair with a lobbyist, political observers have speculated that significant ethics reform will be passed this year. Legislators from both parties have offered proposals, and Mr. Perdue said Friday he will add his own say.

GAMBLING

Many legislators around the country are looking at the expansion of legalized gaming as a way to impose a "voluntary tax" that will help fill some budget deficits, said Sujit CanagaRetna. the senior fiscal analyst for the Council of State Governments.

One of the few committee hearings held since the last session adjourned dealt with legalization of betting on horse races. And racing advocates are hosting the first legislative reception today, just hours before the traditional kickoff of the reception series, the Wild Hog Dinner.

At the same time, another group favoring a casino for Atlanta has also been lobbying for removal of the constitutional prohibition against other forms of gambling besides the state-run lottery.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.