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Georgia lawmakers pause on proposal to fund Mercer medical school in Columbus

The state of Georgia may consider spending $9.3 million toward a Mercer University plan for a four-year medical school campus in Columbus. Mercer’s main campuses are in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah.
The state of Georgia may consider spending $9.3 million toward a Mercer University plan for a four-year medical school campus in Columbus. Mercer’s main campuses are in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah.

State lawmakers will not consider money for a Mercer University medical school campus in Columbus during a special session that began this week.

That’s after Gov. Nathan Deal nudged lawmakers to stick to hurricane relief, the main reason he called them to a session in Atlanta.

What’s now in lawmakers’ budgets is some $270 million in emergency funding for storm-hit communities, where many residents saw their livelihoods vaporized as Hurricane Michael destroyed crops, orchards, timberland and infrastructure, leaving dangerous debris behind.

At a Wednesday budget hearing, Deal asked lawmakers to cut two items that had appeared on the draft budget Tuesday: $9.3 million toward a Mercer medical school campus in Columbus and $35 million for Chattahoochee Technical College to establish an aviation academy in Paulding County.

“Both of these are worthwhile projects,” Deal told the state House Appropriations Committee. “They have local support that we hope you would look at in the next session of the Georgia General Assembly.”

The committee took up the governor’s suggestion and quickly passed the budget amendments.

Columbus Republican state Rep. Richard Smith said Mercer was cut because it didn’t have to do with Hurricane Michael relief.

He said he expects both items — the Paulding aviation academy and Mercer — to come up for consideration at the Legislature’s next regular session in January.

Mercer University’s School of Medicine has long received state funding to train doctors who will go work in Georgia’s underserved rural areas. The private school is still on track to receive some $24 million for that mission for the year ending in June.

Mercer has declined to discuss details until the legislative process is done. The school already trains some third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus.

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