The upcoming legislation, agriculture, ethics reform, property tax reform and a $550,000 check from the Department of Transportation were all on the table along with the breakfast foods at this year’s annual Legislative Eggs and Issues Breakfast, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Jackson EMC.
State representatives Alan Powell, Tom McCall and state senator Frank Ginn were at the meeting at Ila Restaurant last week to give an overview of issues the state is currently facing and to take questions from Madison County community leaders and citizens.
Rep. Powell said to expect next year’s upcoming issues to be “all about the money.” He said many issues face the state, in part due to the “irresponsible nature” of the state’s prior administration. “Governor (Nathan) Deal has tried to get the budget back under control,” he said, adding that the fact remains that the state is $400 million over budget just in Medicaid expenditures.
“We can’t afford the new national healthcare plan,” Powell said, of the Affordable Health Care Act, more prominently known by the moniker, “Obamacare.”
He said that with a fresh crop of new legislators coming into the state house it was hard to know what new legislation might be introduced.
One item on the list may be an amendment to limit gifts to legislators from lobbyists to $100 or less. He said he personally favored going with “zero.”
During his turn to speak, Rep. McCall thanked Madison County for giving him a higher percentage of votes in last month’s election than anywhere else in his district.
He said all legislators are required to do in this, or any, legislative session is to pass a balanced budget and “be done in 40 days.” And he agreed that the budget is already “in the hole” over federal healthcare.
He also said he did not, nor did he understand why any legislator would sign the Grover Norquist “Americans for Tax Reform pledge not to raise taxes, which he called “stupid.”
“That (pledge) is ridiculous because you don’t know how you’re gonna’ have to vote,” he said.
McCall said beginning in 2013, those buying cars were going to be exempted from the “birthday tax” (ad valorem tax) on their vehicles, paying instead a seven-percent up front tax when purchasing the vehicle. He also said there would be no marriage penalty on income tax.
“We figure if you’re married, that’s penalty enough,” McCall joked.
McCall said that he wanted to remind citizens that the state capitol building is “yours as much as anyone’s” and invited everyone to come visit it.
Senator Frank Ginn said winning his second election last month was actually sweeter than the first time he won the senate seat formerly occupied by insurance commissioner Ralph Hudgens.
“I have learned that you can do nothing down there by yourself,” he said, adding that he was “the luckiest man in the U.S.” to have two friends (McCall and Powell) on the “other side of the building” in the House of Representatives.
GA DOT LMIG FUNDS; D’VILLE RED LIGHT
Madison County received a $543,713 check from the Georgia Department of Transportation for the 2013 Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants (LMIG) program for local road improvements.
Commissioner Stanley Thomas pointed out during the breakfast out that the county would have gotten $1.6 million if the T-SPLOST bill had been passed this year. “We still have the same problems and the roads must be fixed,” he said.
Dove agreed that it was a “far cry” cry from the amount of money that the county could really use to improve roads.
Ginn told the crowd that the DOT recently allocated up to $420,000 to improve the intersection at Hwys. 98 and 29 in Danielsville. He pointed out that it was a team effort between Danielsville Mayor Todd Higdon, chairman Dove, McCall, Powell and himself. “We worked together to get this done,” he said. The Danielsville city council recently voted to use the funds to replace the red light with a roundabout.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
Local attorney Victor Johnson asked what, if anything, legislators planned to do about restoring trust to the trust act bill, in which special fees are imposed such as those for used tire disposal, erosion control and underground gas tanks, which were designed to be used for environmental protection but are instead often being used to balance the budget.
Senator Ginn said he “supported 100 percent” that the special fee should go for the purpose to which it was designated for. McCall agreed, saying that there is currently “a semi-tractor trailer load of tires” that had been illegally dumped in Madison County, with no money in the state’s trust to clean it up.
Powell said he is also adamantly opposed to shifting funds that were designated for a specific purpose.
“I support it, but I’m not sure how to get the thing done,” he said.
He also said that implementing excessive surcharges on speeding tickets and other violations creates a level of disrespect toward law enforcement officers. In fact, he said he was in favor of decriminalizing a number of traffic violations and taking away some of the surcharges.
Former tax assessor board member and county commission candidate Larry Stewart asked if there was ever going to be any “serious reform” on property taxes, pointing out that though some patchwork had been done, he thinks a much-needed overhaul is due.
Ginn responded that the state had “gotten out of the property tax business” by declining the .25 mil that it used to receive from those taxes. “All of it (property tax bill) goes to fund local government,” he said. “All of that money stays here in this county… Property tax is the methodology to fund local governments.”
Johnson also asked about whether legislators would consider making using a cell phone while driving a traffic misdemeanor, similar to what was done with the texting while driving law.
“Cell phone usage while driving kills people as well,” he said.
“No,” Ginn replied. “We are not a ‘nanny state’ – if someone causes a wreck, they pay the price. That is not a government responsibility to tell you how to run your lives.”
He added that he would not have voted to pass the law against texting while driving had he been in office.
The new Charter School Amendment was discussed. Powell said that he felt the amendment passed due to the high level of dissatisfaction among voters with public schools, particularly those in the Atlanta metro area.
“I think there is more of a level of dissatisfaction with public school than most things, particularly in other parts of the state,” he said.
Chamber president Marvin White pointed out that Madison County is a Charter School System and that it has come a long way in raising its graduation rate from 50 percent to more than 70 percent in recent years.
McCall said the local system has little to worry about as far as a charter school coming in to compete for local dollars, pointing out that the county is big on agriculture and the school system is working to incorporate that into its curriculum as a charter system.
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