2010 legislative wrapup: Budget handled, texting drivers banned


April 29 finally saw the gavel come down for good on the 2010 session of the Georgia General Assembly. This year was an incredibly challenging year due to our state’s budget issues; however, a number of important pieces of legislation were passed by the General Assembly and now await signature by the governor.

Among many others, the General Assembly addressed important water, economic development, tax reform, transportation, public safety and criminal justice issues this session.

Of course, the most difficult challenge of the session was dealing with a massive drop in revenues over the past two years.

Despite our historic economic downturn, the General Assembly was able to balance the 2011 budget and the 2010 amended budget through spending reductions, government efficiency, and downsizing government.

Since Fiscal Year 2008, state spending has been cut nearly $4 billion (over 25 percent). Through that time Georgia maintains the highest bond rating — AAA — which is currently held by only six states.

In addition, the state has reduced its government jobs by over 7,000 over the past two years. Georgia also remains the most fiscally responsible state in the nation as the lowest per capita spending state in the nation and the lowest per capita debt state in the nation.

Further, education remains priority #1 with the highest percentage of our state budget going to education in state history (combined 59 percent to K-12 and higher education). It was a challenging year, but I believe our state remains on the right course and is poised to rebound in the years to come.

I am very proud to report that legislation I have been working on for two years to address the dangers caused by cellphone use while driving was adopted by the House and Senate and await the governor’s signature.

HB 23 and SB 360, collectively will make it illegal for drivers with learner’s permits or Class D licenses (typically 16- and 17-year-olds) to use a mobile phone while driving and for Class C license holders (i.e., adult drivers) to write, send, or receive text-based messages while driving.

We know statistically that texting while driving has become one of the most dangerous activities that can be performed by a driver while driving and puts us all at risk.

We also know that our teen-graduated driving laws (aimed at diminishing distractions for new drivers) have not kept up with the proliferation of new technology available to drivers.

These measures will ensure our state’s roads will be safer and that many parents will not receive the call they fear most after their children begin driving.

The General Assembly also passed SB 346, which makes comprehensive changes to Georgia’s property tax code, including valuation notices, hearing officers, and oversight for boards of equalization.

The bill requires that a property owner’s valuation notices shall be sent by the appropriate board of assessors each year, and it must contain an estimate of the current year’s tax assessment.

These measures, and others, are meant to provide property taxpayers with a clear understanding of their tax burden, and provide enhanced appeal options to prevent property valuations from expanding beyond accepted, fair market value.

The General Assembly also passed important legislation aimed at providing more efficiency and transparency in the state and local budgeting process.

SB 1, known as the “Zero-based Budgeting Act” will annually require the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to provide analysis that includes a zero-based spending plan for a state agencies no less than once every three years for each agency.

This will ensure the General Assembly will continue to demand penny by penny accountability by our state’s agencies in their spending practices.

The General Assembly also adopted HB 122 which will require counties and municipalities with an annual budget exceeding $1 million to post their yearly budget and audit on a central state website, like the state’s government does on an annual basis.

This will allow the people of Georgia to investigate online not only how their local government is spending their money but how their local government is stacking up compared to other governments.

In addition, the General Assembly adopted SB 148, which will provide the General Assembly a method by which the efficiency of our state government shall be reviewed and the productivity of each agency evaluated.

It creates a joint House-Senate committee called the Legislative Sunset Committee, which will have the authority to review all state agencies, including all boards, departments, advisory committees, authorities, bureaus, offices and any other state entity of the executive branch regardless of its designation and to set in motion the elimination of outdated, inefficient and useless entities.

These are but some of the important measures adopted by the General Assembly this year. As I said, it was a very difficult year, but one marked by a great deal of progress on a variety of issues and challenges that have been facing Georgia in recent years.

I continue to profoundly appreciate the honor of representing Fayette County under the Gold Dome in Atlanta. With the session now over I will discontinue my weekly update columns.

However, I always look forward to hearing from members of this community and never hesitate to call on me if I may be of service to you or your family.

[Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City) was first elected to the District 72 post in December 2007. He is a law partner with Warner, Hooper, and Ramsey, P.C., in Peachtree City. He is unopposed for reelection in the Republican Primary in July and faces no Democrat opposition in November. His email is matt.ramsey@house.ga.gov.]