How do you propose to balance the state budget? Government should live within its means and balance the budget by prioritizing spending just as families and businesses do. I will not support additional taxes to balance the budget. Instead, we should adopt a zero based budgeting approach, perform audits of every state department, and insist on cost/benefit analysis for every state program. We should also ensure that the public has easy access to detailed information about government spending, and allow citizens to recommend ways to improve our budget. My immediate budget priorities will be for education, public safety, and the infrastructure that is necessary for economic development. Longer term if we ensure that state government is limited and efficient we can balance the state budget with lower tax rates as more businesses, families, and retirees are attracted to the state creating a larger tax base.
Do you support any kind of tax increase to generate more revenue for the state?
No. Bigger government and higher taxes are not the answer. High taxes are stifling job creation in Georgia and should be cut. Georgia has the 16th highest state and local tax burden in the nation. Our tax burden is higher than in any neighboring state, and we also have some of highest corporate income taxes in the world. To be competitive, to attract more jobs with better wages, and to ensure our economy is growing rather than shrinking, we need comprehensive tax reform with real tax cuts.
Tax reform should have happened long ago, and the current recession offers an opportunity to make real progress on the issue. My focus as a state senator will be on lowering and eliminating income taxes to make Georgia more competitive both regionally and internationally. As a state, we should focus on emerging from this recession with lower taxes that are simple and fair.
Where in state government should spending cuts be made?
Many state departments have gone decades without real oversight. While they may have started with a modest budget and good intentions, many are now top heavy bureaucracies that deliver little value to taxpayers and citizens. Even in areas where the state is required to and should provide services, as with education, we must make sure that every dollar is spent wisely. As one excellent example of wasteful spending, the 2009 state budget included over 100 million dollars for the bureaucracy in the central office of the state department of education. This money should have been returned either to taxpayers or to local schools that were furloughing teachers.
Do you support cutting the high salaries found in education in the state?
I believe we currently pay unnecessary and ineffective bureaucrats too much while paying effective teachers too little. Prioritizing quality instruction – over facilities, administration, credentials, and tenure – is essential to cost effective public education. If we spend less on top heavy administration and gold plated facilities, and more on putting a great teacher in every classroom, we can do more with less. The debate over school spending should center on whether schools are spending money effectively on people and programs that deliver results.
Do you support Georgia adopting an anti-illegal immigration law similar to the one adopted in Arizona?
We should insist that the Federal government do its job and enforce our borders. When and where the Federal government fails, Georgia and other affected States have the right to act. Georgia already has a very tough law on the books that is similar to the Arizona law. Georgia law allows police officers to determine citizenship when an arrest is made, whereas the Arizona law allows a citizenship check when a person is “detained” and before they are arrested. I believe our state law, if enforced, will allow police to properly identify illegal immigrants while respecting our Constitution. Unfortunately our state law is rarely enforced. We need to listen to law enforcement officials and adopt new measures that will enable them to effectively enforce immigration laws.
Should the children of illegal immigrants be allowed to attend Georgia colleges if they pay out-of-state tuition rates?
We can no longer turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants utilizing state or federal services and receiving benefits that they are not entitled to receive. Approximately 3% of the students enrolled in Georgia’s Colleges and Universities are properly documented international students. The children of illegal immigrants who wish to attend college in Georgia should follow the same rules and application process that properly documented international students follow when seeking admission. No one should be here illegally, and illegal immigrants should not be allowed to take a shortcut that puts them ahead of legal immigrants who follow the rules.
Do you support the state giving up some of its control over local education and turning that over to local school boards? If so, what areas should be turned over to local control?
Local schools should reclaim control from both the State and Federal Department of education. Improving education is a complex problem, and we won’t have success with a centralized one size fits all approach. A better way to achieve results is to give local schools the flexibility to do what works for their students and not tie their hands with state mandates and a battery of meaningless standardized tests that get in the way of actual learning. It is also important to allow local schools more flexibility with how they spend money. Revenue generated by the local penny sales tax should be spent according to local needs rather than state mandates. No two schools or students are alike, and each should have the flexibility to do what works for them, whether that calls for bringing low performing students up to grade level, or allowing high performing students to surge ahead.
Do you support the state giving taxpayer incentives to companies looking to open business in Georgia, or should such incentives be banned in the state?
Broad based tax relief for everyone will do more to stimulate our economy and produce jobs than will tax gimmicks and special tax exemptions for a few. Georgia should welcome all companies with a low tax rate, rather than a targeted few who are offered special incentives. A better approach would be to give every business an incentive to locate or expand in Georgia by reducing or eliminating the state corporate income tax.
Special incentives should be allowed in exceptional cases, but the exceptions should be few, and the burden of proof high. Currently we have no way of knowing whether special tax incentives, or exemptions, have been effective in creating jobs because Georgia has not attempted to perform a cost/benefit analysis for these programs. We should take a fact based approach, and if there is not strong evidence supporting a specific exemption, we should provide tax relief for all rather than special exceptions for a few.
Do you support a multi-county sales tax to be used for transportation in the state?
No. I support improving our roads and expanding road capacity by using the gas taxes which are already collected here in Georgia for that purpose. Unfortunately the state diverts too much of the state gas tax for other purposes, and the federal government keeps fifteen cents of every dollar in gas tax collected in Georgia. If we prioritize our spending, keep our money at home in Georgia, and spend gas tax dollars already being collected to improve and increase road capacity, we could dramatically increase spending on transportation without additional taxes. While the General Assembly passed a bill last year allowing local voters to approve additional sales tax funding for transportation, the bill also includes provisions which punish regions which do not approve additional taxes. I do not support this coercive approach.