Georgia Today: New bill for more airline staff; Flooding in South Georgia; Perdue on budget cuts
LISTEN: On the Friday, March 31 edition of Georgia Today: Georgia U.S. representatives sponsor a bill aimed at producing more airline staff; rising waters in South Georgia force residents out of their homes; and Sonny Perdue joins us to discuss the recent budget cuts in the Georgia university system.
Orlando Montoya: Hello and welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Friday, March 31. I'm Orlando Montoya. On today's episode, Georgia representatives in Congress are sponsoring legislation aimed at producing more airline pilots and technicians. Rising waters in South Georgia have forced some residents out of their homes and the university system. And Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue joins me later in the podcast to talk about the legislature's decision to cut millions of dollars from its budget. These stories and more coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.
Orlando Montoya: Three members of Georgia's U.S. House delegation have signed on as original co-sponsors for federal legislation aimed at producing more airline pilots and technicians. Among them is Democrat Lucy McBath, who worked for three decades as a flight attendant for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines. She says the bill will add training at commercial airline schools as qualified expenses under tax-advantaged investment accounts, much like those used to save for colleges and universities.
Lucy McBath: We just need to be giving our young people more opportunity to chase their dreams — and chase their dreams in a way that also builds our economy. And it just really strengthens our our travel industry.
Orlando Montoya: Georgia Republicans Mike Collins and Drew Ferguson are also original co-sponsors. The proposal comes as the airline industry struggles with staffing shortages.
Orlando Montoya: It's official: WellStar is taking over Augusta University Health System. The University System Board of Regents voted today in favor of the takeover. The 632-bed Augusta University Hospital, currently run by the state's only public medical school, will be renamed Wellstar MCG Health. GBS's Ellen Eldridge has more.
Ellen Eldridge: Under the deal, Wellstar will also acquire the Georgia Cancer Center, Children's Hospital of Georgia and a rehabilitation hospital in Warm Springs. Wellstar CEO Candace Saunders says they plan to invest $800 million in facilities and training for future doctors.
Candace Saunders: Whether that's increasing the number of physicians and clinicians who study at the Medical College of Georgia and train at Wellstar and then practice in our Georgia communities or innovative virtual health care options.
Ellen Eldridge: Pending regulatory approvals, the organizations plan to close the merger in late summer. For GPB News, I'm Ellen Eldridge.
Orlando Montoya: South Georgia is watching rising waters coming down the Flint River from this week's storms. About 40 homes were evacuated in Montezuma, where water levels peaked yesterday. That water is now reaching the impounded Lake Blackshear, where Ronnie Miller manages the dam for Crisp County Power.
Ronnie Miller: It's going to increase the rest of today. And we're slowly letting the lake refill, actually, because we — we lowered it seven foot, so we'd have room to take those flows.
Orlando Montoya: Miller does not expect a lake to go above its normal pool.
Orlando Montoya: An Augusta public defender is facing a felony charge for handing an inmate a roll of toilet paper. The Richmond County Sheriff's Office said yesterday that Attorney Rodriguez Burnett was arrested for distributing contraband to a detainee, his client, at the county jail. The inmate took the roll's wrapper and hid it in his clothing, later sharing the wrapper with other inmates. The sheriff's statement says detainees often use toilet paper wrappers to roll tobacco or other substances, and so it's considered contraband. Introducing contraband to inmates is a felony.
Orlando Montoya: The University System of Georgia is denouncing the $66 million in budget cuts that state lawmakers approved for the system on Wednesday. The cuts will hit each of the system's 26 public colleges and universities differently. They range from an estimated $12 million cut for the University of Georgia to a $200,000 loss for Atlanta Metropolitan State College. Earlier today, I spoke with University System Chancellor Sonny Perdue.
Sonny Perdue: It's disappointing because for 30 years, really, since Zell Miller brought the HOPE Scholarship to Georgia, the General Assembly has invested in higher education whenever they've had the money. While I was governor, we didn't have money, but we tried to spare the — the university system as much as possible relative to other agencies. And the sad part is, is that we've always invested in higher education in Georgia. That's a reputation Georgia has.
Orlando Montoya: The Senate said that the university system could use reserves to absorb the $66 billion in cuts. What do you make of that assertion?
Sonny Perdue: Well, let's talk about that for a second, because I think that's an important point that needs to be clarified. It was said that we can absorb it because we have $504 million in money that's leftover in that way. And that's that is true in one regard. It's almost like a retained earnings in business, but it's — it's not evenly distributed. And we have no ability in the Board of Regents to redistribute that among other institutions. For instance, of the $504 million, 82% of that is held by six of our largest institutions. The other 20 do not have those kind of balances, and their cuts, proportionate cuts of the $66 million would be more than the — than the reserves that they have. So this carry-forward money that was discussed I think may have unintentionally misinformed the Senate in a way that they think we can redistribute that. But we don't have any — that belongs to the institution.
Orlando Montoya: The funding was in Gov. Kemp's original budget. Do you have any idea why the reduction on funding happened and did you have any kind of heads up?
Sonny Perdue: Well, the General Assembly was very gracious to us in the amended budget as we appealed to $105 million appropriation to fund the electronic medical records that was needed for Augusta University in the health system there. I think it's unfortunate that the original cut that came from the Senate was $105 million-plus, and I guess you'd probably need to ask the Senate about their motives in that area. But the governor's budget did include it; the House budget, when it came from the House, the full funding was included as well. And when it appeared in the Senate that the funding disappeared.
Orlando Montoya: You sent out a list of financial impacts for each university, ranging from nearly $12 million for the University of Georgia to $200,000 for Atlanta Metropolitan State College. And I think what everybody wants to know is can you tell us what those cuts will look like? You know, what programs or staff could be affected the most?
Sonny Perdue: No, we can't because this has been sprung on us very quickly. We were already making plans for less money as it was in realigning people programs, eliminating unfilled positions and those kind of things. In fact, in some institutions, we were already — it was already affecting people who were employed as well. So we've got to go back to the drawing board now and see how we can manage this additional cut at those universities, those institutions that some of them that are least able to accommodate them.
Orlando Montoya: That was the University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue talking about the $66 million in budget cuts that state lawmakers approved on Wednesday.
Orlando Montoya: Reactions in Georgia to former President Donald Trump's indictment yesterday were largely muted. Georgia's Democratic members of Congress had nothing to say about Trump on their social media accounts, although the Congressional Black Caucus, which represents many of them, applauded the announcement. Gov. Brian Kemp also didn't mention it on social media, although the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that he told WSB that he thought the prosecution was politically motivated. Political reporter Matt Brown was monitoring Georgia reactions for The Washington Post and spoke to GPB's Political Rewind.
Matt Brown: Rep. Andrew Clyde came out and said that he believed that this was an example of America's two-tiered justice system, which is something that is a fascinating inversion of the discourse that you normally hear Democrats and Republicans talk about on this issue.
Orlando Montoya: Rome Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene called the prosecution a, quote, "witch hunt" and posted on social media that she would attend a protest in New York on Tuesday. Beyond Trump's legal woes in Manhattan, he faces a Georgia investigation looking into whether he and his allies illegally interfered in the state's 2020 election.
Orlando Montoya: The Atlanta Braves beat the Washington Nationals yesterday, 7-2 on Opening Day at Nationals Park. All but two of the Braves 12 hits were singles. They got some help from three errors by Washington shortstop C.J. Abrams and a bases-loaded walk by Nationals starter Patrick Corbin. Pitcher Max Freed exited the game early with what Atlanta said was left hamstring discomfort. Manager Brian Snitker said Freed will miss a start and probably head to the 10-day injured list. The Braves play in Washington again on Saturday and are on the road for a few days before the home opener at Truist Park next Thursday.
Orlando Montoya: Very excited to announce that Georgia Public Broadcasting has a couple of new podcasts for you to check out. First, A Fork in the Road. The GPB TV fan favorite now has a podcast. A Fork in the Road features Georgia's farmers, retailers, artisans, chefs and other key players who help provide Georgia-grown products to folks in the Peach State and beyond. Host David Zelski walks us through the interesting stories of the origins of these businesses, how they operate and what it takes to succeed. Second is the Peach Jam podcast. Now, this is really fun. It features songs and stories from a variety of the incredibly talented and diverse bands and artists who call the Peach State home. Recorded live in our GPB studios, you can get a front row seat for the intimate musical performances and free-flowing conversation from a truly eclectic variety of Georgia musicians. And as always, subscribe to our podcasts at GPB.org/Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Orlando Montoya: And I'm glad you joined me for today's edition of Georgia Today. If you haven't yet, hit subscribe on the podcast. Take a moment right now and keep us current in your podcast feed. Hit subscribe. And as always, if you have feedback, let us know. Email us at GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. It was nice sitting in for Peter Biello for a few days, but he'll be back on Monday. As for me, I'm Orlando Montoya. Have a great weekend.
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