— While the weather was frigid in Atlanta, things warmed up for Albany on Wednesday after the House Appropriations Committee included $19.8 million for a new multi-purpose facility at Albany State University and $1.7 million for Darton State College’s Student Services Center in the FY16 state budget.
The proposed $21.7 billion FY16 budget will be voted on by the full house later today. If approved, it will then be sent to the Senate. Area legislators are optimistic of passage. This is the first time funding for the new arts center has advanced this far in the past decade.
The threat of severe weather in north Georgia added urgency to the committee pushing forward its version of the budget and shut the general assembly down at noon.
“This is a great morning and I feel great for southwest Georgia,” Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, vice chair of the appropriations committee said. “The funding for Albany State and Darton were the last items added to the budget. It’s really a blessing for our region.”
The funding was originally in University of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby’s FY16 budget recommendation to Gov. Nathan Deal, but was removed before being sent to a House Committee. Greene credits Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, with getting it back into the budget.
“Freddie was instrumental in getting the funding back and I am confident she will be able to move it through the Senate,” Greene said. “The ASU funding really came down to either we play the game or pull the plug on it. The Governor really stepped up for us, but he also saw we were not going to give up.”
For her part, Powell Sims said “I always hold my breath until midnight on Day 40. But the entire delegation has been working quietly to get this done. I am very appreciative that the money is now in the budget. Credit really goes to Dr. Huckaby, (ASU Interim President) Art Dunning, (appropriations Chair) Terry England and (USG Sr. Vice Chancellor, External Affairs) Tom Daniel. Even now, I don’t know who all to thank.”
Powell Sims bucked her caucus as the only Democratic co-sponsor of SB 133, which is the Governor’s proposed creation of “Opportunity School Districts.” Senate Democrats had countered SB 124, which they called “Community School Districts.”
When asked if her support of the governor’s bill was a factor in getting ASU and Darton back into the budget, Powell Sims declined comment.
Regardless of how funding found its was back into the budget, Dunning was pleased with the move.
“As previously stated, we at Albany State University have been working with the Chancellor of the University System, Office of the Governor and members of the local legislative delegation to secure funding for construction of a multi-purpose facility on our campus. Today, we are grateful to the House Appropriations Committee for including funding for this project in its version of the 2016 budget,” Dunning said in a written statement. “We will continue working with members of the House and Senate as the budget process moves forward. We are also pleased that their support will, indeed, address the needs of our students and faculty at Albany State University, while creating a community asset for the City of Albany and the Southwest Georgia region.
“Our local legislative delegation — along with the chancellor and governor — has shown that they all continue to be champions for the education of all Georgians. We at Albany State are committed to this cause and will use this facility in our effort to create a more educated and prepared workforce for this region and the state of Georgia.”
Darton Interim President Paul Jones was also grateful for the funding.
“We are not only thankful to the House Appropriations Committee for considering our request, but also pleased that the Darton State College capital project request has been approved by the committee,” Jones said. “As this project moves through the budget process, we are hopeful that the Student Enrollment Center will become a reality. This one-stop-shop service will provide better access to services to our students.”http://www.albanyherald.com/news/2015/feb/25/albany-state-university-darton-state-college/