State leg­is­la­tors pre­pare for 2011 ses­sion

The Covington News - - Front page - By Gabriel Khouli gkhouli@cov­

The start to this year’s Ge­or­gia Gen­eral Assem­bly was in­ter­mit­tent, but Newton County’s team of state leg­is­la­tors are al­ready busy, par­tic­u­larly the three fresh­man who are en­ter­ing a new arena.

As the lone re­turn­ing mem­ber and lone Newton County res­i­dent, Rep. Doug Holt (R-So­cial Cir­cle) said he ex­pects to take the lead on any is­sues af­fect­ing Newton County. He said he’ll be re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing the three fresh­man leg­is­la­tors, Rep. Pam Dick­er­son (DCony­ers), Rep. Andy Welch (R-Lo­cust Grove) and Sen. Rick Jef­fares (R-Lo­cust Grove), in the loop of Newton County af­fairs.

“I think they will bring some good back­ground knowl­edge to the ta­ble. They’ve all been very straight­for­ward, and I think we'll be able to gel as a team,” Holt said Fri­day. “I sus­pect I’ll head up the home ef­forts, since I’m the only per­son liv­ing in Newton.

"That’s the ap­proach I’ve al­ways taken. For any­one not from Newton, I’ve tried to take care of the Newton in­for­ma­tion. With­out (Sen. ) John Dou­glas, that will be much more of my fo­cus.”

Fis­cal Year 2012 Bud­get

Bal­anc­ing the bud­get will once again be the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s main fo­cus in 2011, Holt said, as the state stares at the pos­si­bil­ity of a more than $1 bil­lion deficit for fis­cal year 2012, which be­gins July 1.

In his Wed­nes­day State of the State ad­dress, Gov. Nathan Deal pro­posed to end teacher fur­loughs, while propos­ing sig­nif­i­cant cuts to higher ed­u­ca­tion and cut­ting 14,000 state po­si­tions, the ma­jor­ity of which are va­cant. The state will have to fur­ther re­duce spend­ing as fed­eral stim­u­lus money is set to ex­pire this year.

“I find the gover­nor’s pro­posal to cease cut­ting ed­u­ca­tion fur­ther very in­ter­est­ing and would like to do that if at all pos­si­ble,” Holt said.

Sen. Jef­fares said he started go­ing through his copy of the gover­nor’s 428-page bud­get re­port Thurs­day. State rev­enue fig­ures trended higher in the lat­ter part of 2010,

and Jef­fares said he’s hop­ing the rev­enue deficit will be closer to $1 bil­lion than $1.5 bil­lion.

“Af­ter a week or two, we’ll have a whole lot bet­ter idea,” Jef­fares said Fri­day.

2011’s Other Key Is­sues

The Repub­li­can Cau­cus has been dis­cussing its other ma­jor is­sues for the year, and Jef­fares said job cre­ation, eco­nomic growth, il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and reser­voirs and wa­ter is­sues top the list.

Rep. Welch said his fo­cus dur­ing the cam­paign was on tax re­form and he won’t sway from that in 2011. On Jan. 7, the Spe­cial Coun­cil on Tax Re­form and Fair­ness re­leased its re­port on how to re­struc­ture Ge­or­gia’s tax code, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing per­sonal in­come tax from 6 per­cent to 4 per­cent and in­creas­ing prod­ucts sub­ject to sales tax, in­clud­ing gro­ceries.

“I cam­paigned on tax re­form,” Welch said Fri­day. “So, in or­der to achieve my goals, I’m go­ing to be look­ing through the tax coun­cil’s 97 page doc­u­ment to scru­ti­nize that. It does in­clude some re­forms we’re look­ing for.”

Welch said he will also fo­cus on ad­dress­ing the Hope schol­ar­ship, which would be cut by $279 mil­lion next year un­der Deal’s bud­get, and cre­at­ing jobs by pro­mot­ing eco­nomic devel­op­ment projects.

Ge­or­gia will also un­dergo re­dis­trict­ing in 2011, fol­low­ing the re­lease of the 2010 U.S. Cen­sus num­bers, and Welch said he will keep close tabs on that process.

Rep. Dick­er­son said her pri­or­ity this year is to sim­ply be­come ac­quainted with the is­sues and stay ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic. She said she was ex­cited to see Gov. Deal pro­pose end­ing teacher fur­loughs, which was one of her top agenda items dur­ing the cam­paign. Ed­u­ca­tion is­sues will be at the top of her list.

First Few Days in Of­fice

“My first im­pres­sion is that it was ex­cit­ing,” Dick­er­son said on Fri­day, re­flect­ing on the first two days of the 2011 ses­sion. “We will be very busy ex­am­in­ing all the ini­tia­tives the gover­nor has pro­posed to set in place.”

De­spite be­ing the lone Demo­crat in Newton’s leg­isla­tive team, Dick­er­son said she felt the group would be able to work to­gether ef­fec­tively.

“It’s not about me or the party, it’s about the peo­ple,” she said.

Jef­fares said he felt a great re­spon­si­bil­ity, be- cause he was rep­re­sent­ing so many peo­ple.

“I thought about it a lot; it’s kind of over­whelm­ing, rep­re­sent­ing 200,000 peo­ple. You have to think about ev­ery­thing you do,” Jef­fares said. “I’m the one rep­re­sent­ing them. I put a lot of faith in that. I’ve asked a lot of ques­tions (of the party lead­er­ship). They’ll prob­a­bly be tired of me ask­ing ques­tions soon.”

Jef­fares is one of 14 Repub­li­can Fresh­man sen­a­tors, and the ma­jor­ity lead­ers have been very help­ful in get­ting the large class up to speed.

Welch said the ex­pe­ri­ence has been hum­bling.

“The amount of work ahead of us, just on our state bud­get, is an enor­mous task and work­ing to min­i­mize the im­pacts of state govern­ment on lo­cal tax­pay­ers is go­ing to be a pri­or­ity,” he said. “It’s a daunt­ing task.”

As the vet­eran of the group, Holt was the only one who had a good idea of what leg­is­la­tion he wanted to in­tro­duce this ses­sion. He said he was in­trigued by Deal’s com­ments in his inaugural ad­dress where he spoke about parental in­volve­ment in ed­u­ca­tion. Holt is re­search­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for leg­is­la­tion deal­ing with parental in­volve­ment and dis­ci­pline in class­room ed­u­ca­tion.

“I feel more strongly that this is part of the root cause of our prob­lems in ed­u­ca­tion,” Holt said.

Holt is also con­tinu- ing to work on a bill he in­tro­duced last year that would give busi­ness and res­i­dents a way to ad­dress con­flicts with their lo­cal boards of health, which don’t cur­rently have any over­sight.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly will re­con­vene on Jan. 24.

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