Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, said Tuesday, Jan. 28, that the state legislature is into its routine.
He added that he is “not real happy with some of the cuts” in Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget.
Benton said he would vote for the budget, “whatever it is” and repeated his comments that voting against a budget also means voting against “a lot of things” he supports.
Proposed cuts that he mentioned were in programs that provide for people who “don’t have anything,” such as CASA – court-appointed special advocaties – a nonprofit group that supports children and teenagers in the court system, and Meals on Wheels.
Benton also said the governor has proposed “big cuts” in public safety. He explained that the cuts “could mean less state troopers on the road” and less training for the state troopers.
In some areas, he said, “It seemed like the cut was extreme.”
He said groups appeal to the legislature for more support “when we have additional dollars” and mentioned foster parents.
“A lot of good thing are going on” in the state, Benton said. He said the state’s quality basic education – QBE – formula is proposed for full funding for the third year.
He said unemployment remains as low as he can remember.
Revenue estimates for the year are “fairly flat,” he said, rather than growing at 2 or 3 percent.
Benton quickly said he had heard no talk of reversing the state income tax cut from 6 to 5.75 percent two years ago.
It’s not going to grow like it (the revenue) has in the past,” Benton said. “I don’t know whether we will see the additional cut that was in the legislation.”
He said he understands the legislature would have to vote to delay a second cut to 5.5 percent.
Benton said leaders in the legislature are “looking at a cut, but it would be smaller (than the legislation proposed).”
He was cautious about where he would vote on the income tax.
“You vote against a tax cut and . . . you’re going to get slapped around a lot,” Benton said.
He said the retirement committee, which he chairs, heard six bills two weeks ago and passed three.
One bill would allow teachers to go back to work full-time and still draw their retirement but only in teaching areas designated as a “critical shortage.” The state applies that designation, he said. Typically, mathematics, science or special education are designated as critical shortages.
He said HB 444 on dual enrollment also might pass this week.
He described the program as the “most successful and popular program we’ve done in the last 20 years.”
State government paid for that, he said, and it has increased in cost so much that the bill puts limits on it.
The bill limits students to 30 total college hours in dual enrollment and cuts it to juniors and seniors unless underclassmen qualify for the top HOPE scholarship. The bill also would allow sophomores to take technical college courses.
Benton said the House has not set an adjournment date. He repeated speaker David Ralston’s comment that he would wait to see what the governor’s budget cuts were before doing that.