Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County in the Georgia Senate, told a group of local officials last month that he expects healthcare and education to dominate much of the work of the session of the General Assembly that starts on Monday.
Cowsert, who is Republican Majority leader, was speaking even before the U.S. Senate began its efforts this week to unravel the Affordable Care Act.
“You hear Obamacare, Medicaid expansion,” he said. “That’s part of the issue. Every state, whether we continue with some types of subsidies, like the Obamacare system, or not, we have to make sure that our citizens have adequate healthcare.”
Cowsert said he also expects that the General Assembly is “going to spend a lot of energy on education funding issues” in the upcoming session, with affluent counties such as Oconee on one side of the issue and poorer counties on the other.
Cowsert didn’t use the terms “sharing of wealth,” but he talked instead about “shifting some money from the haves to the have nots to make sure every kid in Georgia gets a good education.”
Cowsert was joined in the session at the Oconee County Civic Center on Dec. 7 by Rep. Regina Quick and Rep. Chuck Williams, who split representation of Oconee County between them.
All are Republicans and in the majority in the Georgia General Assembly.
Cowsert said a big problem for the state is rural healthcare.
“There are a lot of parts of our state that are underserved,” he said. Cowsert is a member of the Health and Human Services Committee in the Senate.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen at the Federal level or how fast its going to occur,” he said.
Whatever happens will have a big impact on the state budget, he said.
Cowsert said the issue of education funding has been “percolating for a couple of years” and he expects it will be prominent in the session starting on Monday.
He said he expects that the General Assembly will be asked to revise the state funding formula, referred to as the QBE Funding, for Quality Basic Education.
“That is going to become a little bit of a tug-of-war between the haves and the have nots,” he said.
Some rural areas don’t have the tax base to provide adequate funding for their schools, according to Cowsert.
“It will be contentious,” he warned.
I’ve boiled down Cowsert’s comments into three clips, which are merged below. The full video of the session is embedded at the bottom of this post.
Rep. Quick was most reserved in her comments, but she did go out of her way to credit Cowsert with getting the funding in last year’s state budget for the expansion and renovation of the Bogart Library.
The budget conference committee of the Georgia House and Senate inserted $1.8 million for the Bogart Library in the budget even though neither the House nor the Senate had included the monies in the budgets they had passed.
Cowsert was a member of the budget conference committee and got the funding into the final budget document “when it wasn’t even on the radar in anybody’s budget,” according to Quick.
The library renovation is underway.
Williams On Calls Creek
Williams devoted some of his time telling the elected officials and administrators what he is willing to do as a legislator, using the proposed sewer line down Calls Creek as an example.
“We find ourselves in the position where we’ve got to decide where are the boundaries for us as a legislator,” he said.
If Oconee County is in discussion with EPD about how much treated sewage it can discharge into Calls Creek, he said, using the specific example, and he is getting calls from people advocating for a higher level and others advocating for a lower level, he said he would not get involved.
“The last thing I want to do is interfere in a process that our professionals at the state have been hired to do and inject just pure politics into that,” Williams said.
Williams spoke at some length about transportation issues and did say he is willing to ask the Georgia Department of Transportation to take a look at roadway problems that his constituents call to his attention.
He also praised designation of SR 316 as a freight corridor, saying the designation will help speed money to improvements to the highway by removing spending for those improvements from the required balancing of federal highway money by congressional districts.
He said he, Rep. Trey Rhodes from Greene County and local State Transportation Board Member Jamie Boswell have gotten GDOT to agree to construct passing lanes on SR 15 between Greensboro and Watkinsville.
Williams had made a similar announcement back in August at the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, on which he sits.
He said he and Rhodes have driven the route and told GDOT “where we thought passing lanes made sense from a traffic standpoint and minimizing impact on property owners.”
“We think we’ve stayed on the proper line there of facilitating, not meddling. We gave them our thoughts. They said ‘That makes sense. We’ll put the engineers to the drafting table and we’ll be back in touch with you.’”
Williams returned later in the conversation to Boswell, the local commercial real estate broker who is now the vice chairman of the State Transportation Board and who was appointed in 2013 to that body by Cowsert, Williams, Quick and other legislators from the 10th Congressional District.
“I cannot overstate, in my opinion, how fortunate we are to have him on the GDOT Board representing our Congressional District,” Williams said.
Williams contrasted Boswell with the District’s previous representative, Bobby Parham from Milledgeville.
“With all due respect, I’m not sure that, in his latter years of service on the GDOT Board, he could have found Oconee County, quite honestly,” Williams said.
Williams said Boswell “really has Oconee and Clarke’s, as well as the rest of the district, but he certainly has Oconee and Clarke’s best interest at heart.”
Boswell is the owner and broker for Boswell Properties and Boswell Appraisal, both based in Athens but with extensive listings in Oconee County.
The pre-legislative session is an annual event, and Melvin Davis, then Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair, hosted.
School officials and members of the Board of Education were not in attendance because of an announced conflict.
Current and incoming members of the Board of Commissioners did attend, as did members of the county’s Industrial Development Authority.
The meeting started at 7:30 a.m. and lasted a little more than 80 minutes.
The complete video of the session is below. Cowsert, in the center, is flanked by Quick and Williams.