With state revenues continuing to fall short, the upcoming legislative session will be dominated by budget cuts, according to Rep. Matt Ramsey, (R-Peachtree City).
The first order of business will be trimming the current 2009-2010 budget in the amount of several hundred million dollars, Ramsey said. Then legislators will get to slice funds from the 2010-2011 budget, with the potential cuts ranging from $800 million to upwards of $2 billion, he said.
“We’re past cutting the fat down to making reductions hopefully as painless as possible in core state services,” Ramsey said.
Raising taxes is not an option, Ramsey said, calling it “a terrible idea to heap a financial burden on families and businesses” as they try to recover from the poor economy.
“We will continue belt-tightening and not look for ways to grab people’s hard-earned money,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey is hopeful his bill to ban cellphone use by drivers under 18 years old will gain early momentum. The bill was approved by the House last year but got bogged down in the Senate in the final days of the session last year.
Ramsey is also expecting to introduce legislation to ban drivers of all ages from texting while behind the wheel.
“I think the data is pretty compelling,” Ramsey said. “You are 23 times more likely to get in a crash if you text while driving.”
That statistic was published in a study of drivers of all ages, Ramsey added.
Along with budget cuts, another major issue this year will be transportation, Ramsey said. With no money to spend on projects, the emphasis will be on giving local communities more tools to help with infrastructure improvements, he said.
There is some talk of shifting the state to a regional model of transportation planning and funding, which would allow metro Atlanta to address its issues and communities in north Georgia to band together, for example, Ramsey said.
Many cities and counties have asked the state to allow a referendum that would allow a constitutional amendment so several jurisdictions could implement a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax together to fund regional transportation projects. But Ramsey said he doubts such a proposal would pass muster with state voters.
Ramsey said the new chairman of the transportation committee in the House of Representatives and the new Department of Transportation commissioner have some fresh ideas about dealing with transportation issues.
“I’m going to keep an open mind but frankly I just don’t see additional taxes as an appropriate thing to do right now,” Ramsey said.
Another big issue looming at the Gold Dome is water use, as a federal judge is requiring metro Atlanta to reduce its water withdrawal levels at Lake Lanier to the levels allowed in 1975, Ramsey said. The reduction must be complete within three years, which is not enough time to build new reservoirs, Ramsey said.
Instead the state is looking at implementing solutions developed by a special task force on water usage in hopes of showing the court it intends to comply.
Although the water issue won’t directly affect Fayette County’s water supply, if metro Atlanta were to have a major water shortage it would significantly affect Fayette, Ramsey said.
“If metro Atlanta goes belly up, it’s terrible for Fayette County,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey is also working on legislation to close a loophole that allows teachers charged with having sex with a student to use consent as a defense if the student is 16 or older.
Ramsey said he didn’t think anyone should be able to use consent as a defense for having sex with a minor, and particularly for authority figures such as teachers and coaches.