Eggs and Issues

District 47 State Senator Frank Ginn (L), District 33 House Representative Rob Leverett (C) and District 32 House Representative Alan Powell (R) spoke Friday at the Madison County Chamber of Commerce's annual "Eggs and Issues" breakfast.

State legislators told a Madison County crowd Friday that the right to farm needs to be made into law and that schools should be fully funded.

State Senator Frank Ginn and Reps. Alan Powell and Rob Leverett sat at a table before members of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Madison County at the Jackson EMC Neese office banquet hall last week, talking about the issues of the day during the Chamber’s annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast that was co-hosted by the Rotary Club and catered by the Ila Restaurant.

The Republican legislators were each asked about potential legislation to protect farmers from litigation as population increases in agriculture-based communities. “Right-to-farm” legislation passed the House in 2019 but failed to get through the Georgia Senate. Leverett said that the legislation will get introduced again, noting that if no one else introduces it, he will. Ginn and Powell also both support the action. Madison County is one of the top ag-producing counties in Georgia.

“What’s happening in society, is there will be a guy with a life-long dairy farm in a community, and a subdivision moves in next door,” said Ginn. “Cows produce methane. Methane is an odor. More and more people move in to a subdivision and they say there’s an odor here we don’t like. So they sue that farmer. And the whole crux of what’s going on in our farm industry is if we don’t pass the right to farm, that farmer can only stand so many lawsuits. We see this happen time and time again. We’ve got to do something to protect the farm industry.”

Powell said too many people who move to rural areas don’t see the importance of agriculture in their own lives.

“People that are moving in don’t understand,” he said. “They think those eggs just mysteriously appear. They don’t know that they have to be produced, nor do they understand the techniques of agriculture. That needs to be made known.”

All three legislators also back full “Quality Based Education” (QBE) funding. The state of Georgia has a QBE formula to determine how much money school systems should get, but the state regularly fails to provide enough funding to match what its formula dictates. Meanwhile, revenues are up significantly in Georgia, and legislators were asked if this could lead to full funding for schools.

Leverett said Georgia is in good financial position, and he hopes this will lead to more funding for education.

“It’s a crucial issue for us in the House and the general assembly to make sure the state is funding the educational system,” he said. “I don’t know what the odds are. I don’t have that sort of position, but I do know it’s something we’re supporting and trying to do.”

Powell said Georgia doesn’t borrow money to operate its budget and that many states “wish they were in as good a shape as the state of Georgia.” He said the state has done well to establish a $3 billion shortfall reserve fund.

“You may remember during the bad times we were able to sustain state agencies and state projects and things like that,” said Powell. “Well, your state right now has over $3 billion in a shortfall reserve. Sounds like a lot, but that’s only enough to survive a few months if there’s a major collapse of the economy.”

He noted that property owners often struggle with rising ad valorem taxes. And funding for education from the state helps offset tax strains on local property owners.

“I hope it (education funding) will go up,” said Powell. “Escalating ad valorem tax has created so much anxiety.”

The legislators addressed other issues, too. Ginn spoke about transportation, noting that legislation passed several years ago that set up a new way for the state to fund transportation has paid dividends, and adding that infrastructure improvements must remain a focus.

“When you say ‘what difference does that make,’ if you have goods you’re trying to move across the country and you don’t have those transportation corridors to get them done, you know what happens when that’s not working and that directly impacts business,” said Ginn. “To me, the folks that we owe a debt of gratitude is folks like y’all helping to fund better infrastructure, because that drives better business. And all of us benefit from what’s going on in our business community. When we have a strong economic side of the state, there’s no bounds to what we can do.”

The legislators spoke about redistricting, noting that the Madison County commission and school board districts remained mostly unchanged, while Powell’s District 32 in the Georgia House picked up voters in Madison County’s Mill district from Leverett’s District 33. Madison County is also now in the U.S. Congressional 10th District instead of District 9, which is served by Andrew Clyde.

Both Leverett and Powell spoke of changing populations and demographics in the state and how rural Georgia is losing influence politically to the fast-growing metro-Atlanta area.

“I don’t like a lot of these Democrats moving to our state to get away from Democratic regimes and then imposing all of those Democratic thoughts and ideas on who they elect in their state government,” said Leverett.

Powell spoke of the influx of residents to the Atlanta area after hurricanes.

“Those folks moved to Atlanta by hordes and they didn’t leave,” he said. “Immigrants that are coming in, for some reason the Atlanta area seems to be a very appealing place to them.”

Powell said the city-rural divide is becoming more pronounced.

“So where we’re at today, it’s really becoming more them versus us; that would be metro versus rural,” said Powell. “Their needs, their wants, their desires are certainly different than those in the rural areas. Rural folks seem to be a whole lot more self sufficient. And that’s the way it always has been and hopefully it always will be, ag-based, industrial-based. So there’s the future of what lies in front of us.”

Powell said “everybody in here can see the growth.”

“Just a few years ago, Gwinnett County was a solid red county,” he said. “Now, it’s a solid blue county. And that migration is pushing further up. And I’ll tell you that I’m just amazed at the politics of this day. I’m amazed at the division, the animosity that seems to be so fluent today. A lot of that has had to do with the change of demographics in the state of Georgia.”

Powell voiced other concerns, too, such as inflation.

“The policies of Washington that go back several years, it’s created a situation that our economy is on the verge of it could very well be in shambles,” he said. “I’ve always had a belief I’ve lived with that you can’t borrow yourself out of debt and you can’t spend yourself into prosperity. Well, that’s what’s happening. What are we up to, a $19 trillion debt? Borrowed money from overseas, China and places like that, well, that comes with a cost.”

Powell said protecting Second Amendment rights is a big issue, and he urged those on hand Friday to be involved in election reform.

“Some local counties, they invented rules, and most of these were in the metro areas,” he said. “There was a lot of things that went on that needed to be corrected and we hopefully have corrected that with the election reform. So there will be some election reform that will probably come forward this year.”

Leverett said he’s focused on getting a “Patients’ Bill of Rights” passed. He shared that his mother passed away this past year, and he was not allowed to see her in the hospital.

“I learned first hand how important that bill is,” he said. “And I’m really committed to trying to get something done on that front.”

The Georgia General Assembly will convene Jan. 10.

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(1) comment

Virginia Moss

I realize these are politicians bending to their voters, but it sounds like these guys are pro-business and want to attract business to Madison County in order to collect more taxes to run the county. Then they turn around and say they want to protect farmers from the growth that such goals would bring. They want things to stay the same in Madison County, keeping others out so that there will be no clashes between farmers and new residents. Well, if more businesses come to Madison County, where will the people who own and work at these businesses live? Where will their children go to school? Outside the county? Perhaps we should build a wall all around Madison County and operate just two check points to keep the "undesirables" out, only letting them in to work at these new businesses and then leave the county before sundown. Would that be conservative enough?

Republicans have always promoted business interests above all else. If business is so essential, then we should all be celebrating the powerhouse that is Atlanta. There are reasons there is wealth there and one is that urban people have learned how to get along with each other packed close together, making concessions for the greater good so that all have a chance at opportunities. That means working together rather than attempting to be self-sufficient, everybody trying to stand alone. There's something to be said for that. I'd like to think I could be totally self-sufficient, but that's not how the world works.

Republicans also have always promoted fiscal responsibility, but as every farmer knows, you have to have seed money (loans) to get started each year. Nothing wrong with this at all; you just have to be smart about it (and often lucky). And there's the challenge. Borrowing money for future growth makes sense unless you don’t want future growth. So, which is it that these three guys want? You can’t have your eggs and eat them, too.

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