With my first session in the General Assembly now complete I am pleased to report that we passed many of the important pieces of legislation that I have outlined for you earlier and those are now on the way to the Governor’s desk for signature. The most important legislation that we take up every year at the State House is the budget. It is the General Assembly’s one constitutional obligation. I am pleased to report we have passed a 2009 budget that is balanced and provides funding for many important needs in Georgia.
Georgia has nearly 9 million citizens and a state budget of $21 billion to meet their needs. From education, healthcare, public safety, and transportation – legislators strive to meet all of those needs and balance them with fiscally conservative principles. This year, despite reduced revenues, we were able to meet the needs of our citizens for the coming year. Among other items, the 2009 Budget included pay raises for our teachers and state employees, funding for Georgia’s indigent defense program, full funding of the Governor’s recommended teacher pay raise and construction projects for our schools.
I am pleased to report Senate Bill 458 died on the last day of the General Assembly session without receiving any further consideration. This ill conceived legislation has been defeated. Its supporters could never make the case that the bill addressed the problem it sought to address. Nor, could they answer critical questions related to the impact of the bill on our local public schools. Upon receiving this bill in the House, I worked diligently with my colleagues to strip the bill of the most egregious provisions, particularly the language to force school systems to accept students from non-accredited schools. However, many of us made it known that regardless of how much the bill got amended, we still had many fundamental concerns with the proposal and would not support it in any form. In the end, the supporters realized there was not sufficient support in the House to bring it forward for a vote.
While the session included many successes, I was extremely disappointed we were unable to reach consensus on a tax cut. Both the House and Senate passed significant tax relief measures earlier in the session, with the House advocating elimination of the car tax and the Senate advocating a reduction in income taxes. Over the last week, House and Senate conferees negotiated but could not reach an agreement on a final package. During that time, the House passed several versions of tax relief measures, including a compromise bill that blended the House and Senate proposals, in the hopes the Lieutenant Governor would allow a vote in the Senate. In the end, no such vote occurred. The positive news is that there is a general consensus that we must reduce the tax burden on Georgia’s citizens and we have a great deal of momentum heading into next year. It is my sincere hope that the General Assembly will take this momentum and translate it into meaningful tax relief for Georgia’s citizens.
One of my top priorities this session was to work to bring some sanity to the budget process in Georgia and shine a light on the spending by our state government. I am excited to report we were able to pass important new legislation that will do just that. The Transparency in Government Act (SB 300) will require a report by every single agency each year that details the tax revenues and operating revenues received by the agency during the immediately preceding fiscal year, the expenditures by that agency the immediately preceding fiscal year and details on every contract entered into by that agency. In addition to these comprehensive reporting requirements, the state is directed to set up a publicly available audit website that will provide Georgia’s citizens easy access to every single one of these reports. This will ensure the taxpayers have an accessible means to keep tabs on the State’s use of their tax dollars.
With the 2008 session of the Georgia General Assembly now at a close, I want to again say how honored I am to serve this great community at the State House. My goal in writing these columns each week was to keep Fayette County updated on what was occurring at the Capitol during the session. I hope it has helped to shed light on the legislative process and keep the community informed on the important debates in the legislature this year. My intention is to follow up with a more comprehensive update in the coming weeks that will include more information on other measures that passed the General Assembly this year. As always, please call me if I can be of any service or answer any questions you or your families may have.