The 2012 Legislative Session is officially underway, and there is much work to be done. Many Georgians are faced with the daily reality of tightening their wallets to secure the future well-being of their families due to economic uncertainty on both the state and national level. With that said, it is imperative for state legislators to champion policies that reduce state spending and encourage efficiency in state government.
This year, we will be focused on balancing the state budget, amidst a projected $1.9 billion dollar budget shortfall. In an effort to reduce state spending, legislators will have to make some tough choices in Fiscal Year 2012 as stimulus funds, reserves and one-time funds are no longer available. On the bright side, state revenue collections have steadily increased over the past several months.
In addition to our constitutional mandate to balance the state budget each year, one of our top priorities this session will be focused on strengthening Georgia’s economy through job creation. I will continue to support pro-business principles that will not only put more Georgians back to work and attract companies to do business here in the Peach State.
Comprehensive tax reform continues to be the prevailing issue up for debate this legislative session. During last year’s session, the Special Joint Committee on Georgia’s Tax Structure considered several pieces of legislation including lowering the Georgia income tax rate to 4.55 percent, providing a sales tax exemption for energy used in manufacturing and increasing taxes by 1 percent on tobacco and groceries. Over the next several weeks, I will continue to look into measures which demonstrate responsible fiscal management.
During these challenging economic times, many Georgians are seeking financial assistance through programs such as Medicaid and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. SB 292, known as the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, was recently introduced to ensure responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds. If passed, this legislation would require individuals seeking government assistance to undergo screening for illegal drugs to determine welfare eligibility. The proposed legislation is intended to help families that need assistance while also providing help for individuals who need rehabilitation from illegal drug use.
As a state senator and public servant, it is incumbent upon me to shape public policy that provides for the safety and well-being of my constituents. During the summer months, I had the opportunity to serve as Ex-Officio on the Regional Transportation Roundtable. The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 provides a 1 percent regional sales and use tax to fund all modes of transportation for a period of ten years. I like the idea that all of the projects are decided by local elected officials and that all of the money collected in a region is spent in that region if the voters approve. Ultimately, the final decision will be left in the hands of us as taxpayers. On July 31, 2012, a special referendum will be held to decide whether to approve a 1 percent sales tax to fund a series of projects approved by the Regional Transportation Roundtable. The vote will be historic for the advancement in transportation in our region.
Over the past several years, theft of metals, such as steel, copper and aluminum, has grown at an alarming rate. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, copper thefts cost the national economy approximately $1 billion per year. In an effort to curb metal thefts here in Georgia, the Legislature passed a law in 2009 which strengthened metal purchasing laws and pushed for tighter restrictions. In recent years, Georgia’s law enforcement community and the public has raised more concerns over increasing metal theft in Georgia. This session, I will work with my fellow legislators to address the best way to reduce this costly crime.
Now, more than ever, state lawmakers are focused on reducing the size and scope of government while continuing to streamline government operations. Sunset Reviews, currently enacted in several neighboring states such as Florida and Alabama, serve to evaluate the productivity of state agencies and entities. In 2011, legislators called for similar measures through the creation of a Joint Legislative Advisory Committee. As part of the committee’s functions, the General Assembly would be able to routinely review and evaluate the productivity of government agencies. I am cosponsoring this legislation for Georgia.
I will continue working with my colleagues in both the House and Senate to pass public policies which promote fiscal responsibility at a time when it’s needed most. As your representative of the 47th Senate District, I look forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact my office, and let me know how I can serve you best.