Coweta legislators preview upcoming session


The 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly is set to begin on Jan. 12. The Citizen asked some of the members of the Coweta County legislative delegation two general questions- what they see as the statewide priorities for the upcoming session and what they see as the local (Fayette County) priorities for the 2015 session.

Members asked to comment included Rep. Matt Ramsey (Rep. – District 63), Rep. David Stover (Rep. – District 71) and Sen. Mike Crane (District 28).

•Rep. Matt Ramsey

“The 2015 legislative session is almost upon us and this session will undoubtedly be filled with robust debate about issues of critical importance to Georgia’s citizens,” Ramsey said. “As always, the most important responsibility we have is to manage the hard earned tax dollars of Georgia’s citizens through the annual state budget process. This year, budget and tax related issues will again be among the most significant issues on the legislative agenda.“

Ramsey’s priority issues include the budget and taxes.

On the budget Ramsey said “The Georgia Constitution mandates that the General Assembly pass a balanced budget every year. In the years prior to 2013, our budget efforts were primarily focused on making major budget cuts as a result of declining revenues, while also protecting critical services such as education, public safety, and infrastructure. Over the last two years revenues have begun to increase as Georgia’s economy has improved. Last year we were able to make significant new investments in core services such as education by making the largest single education funding increase in seven years with 72 percent of the $916 million in new revenue dedicated to K-12 and higher education. Over the past year revenues have continued to improve and this session’s budget process will again be focused on funding critical services and eliminating any fraud, waste or abuse within our state government.”

On taxes Ramsey said, “I also believe there will be a serious discussion about tax reform this session, particularly around efforts to reduce the state income tax from its current 6 percent. I strongly support efforts to simplify the tax code and reduce the tax burden on Georgia’s citizens in a way that helps both state and local economies grow. Through that process, it is important that we preserve important tax incentive programs, such as the Georgia film tax credit, which is resulting in significant economic expansion and jobs, particularly here in our home community. I look forward to a robust discussion regarding our state’s tax policy as we seek to maintain an economic climate that promotes jobs growth and prosperity for all of our citizens.”

•Sen. Mike Crane

Crane said the ever-present competing priorities will be most evident in the upcoming budget negotiations.

“Based upon the meetings and conversations we have had this year it appears that three areas will dominate this upcoming legislative session – transportation, education, and health and human services,” Crane said. “From a cost standpoint, education and HHS consume approximately 70 percent of state revenue and they are always on the top of the legislative/budget priority list.

“Because of the recent, and in many areas ongoing economic malaise, transportation has taken a back seat due to limited funding. With an ever-increasing backlog of important transportation projects, the focus this year will be on how to continue our work to make Georgia’s transportation network the best in the nation. As you might expect, the initial reaction from the lobbyists and many under the Dome is to ‘raise revenue’ which is a nice way to say raise taxes. Depending on who you listen to, the ‘revenue need’ for transportation is anywhere from $1 billion to over $4 billion per year, in addition to the approximately $2 billion per year we currently spend. I do not share this approach.

“First we must validate our project list. Every project must be cost effective and necessary. This list should be organized based on the real impact each project has on the safety and efficiency of our transportation network.”

In considering how the General Assembly should fund projects, Crane said the initial approach should include three budgeting areas – prioritization of anticipated revenue growth (from economic growth and population growth), cost savings and prioritized capital investments.

“First, commit a significant portion of anticipated revenue growth to transportation. I believe this could generate up to $500 million based on this past year’s growth,” said Crane. “Second, continue to drive efficiency into our government services delivery system in all areas. I believe there is room for at least 10 percent improvement which could provide as much as $800 million to $1 billion annually. Finally, we should prioritize our use of bonding for capital projects, moving transportation projects to the front of the line. This could provide between $200 and $400 million addition funding capacity each year.”

At the same time, said Crane, legislators can look at the dedicated revenue stream that comes from fuel taxes (federal, state, and local).

“If any tax can be considered fair, at least in concept, this is one of them,” Crane said. “In theory it is intended to be based on use and should apply equally to all. In actuality it is outdated and skewed to some extent through tax credits, etc. Our fuel tax system needs modernization so that it better provides for the cost of our road system. A good starting point is to make sure the ‘the 4th penny’ goes to transportation projects and not the general budget as it has in the past (this is valued at approximately $180 million per year). In short, it is always a matter of priorities under the Gold Dome. My priority and obligation is to protect the liberties of Georgians and that includes protecting their pocket books. I believe we can continue to serve Georgians well without demanding more from their paycheck. The only proven method to control growth in government is to tighten the purse strings. We have done it in the past, we can do it now.”

•Rep. David Stover

The Citizen did not receive Stover’s comments by press time.