A view from the House
The 2011 legislative session had a rough start. Only events mandated by the state Constitution were held during our first week. Everything else was cancelled due to the historic snow and ice storm that temporarily paralyzed Atlanta.
Still, the General Assembly did convene on Monday, with the House re-electing our Speaker (David Ralston) and Speaker Pro Tem (Jan Jones). Governor Deal was sworn in that afternoon.
On Wednesday, the governor presented his first state of the state address to us.
He touched on several themes, with the primary one being a focus on defining the core responsibilities of state government. This I think is a simultaneous recognition of two concerns: our tough fiscal times, and the strong public sentiment that government must limit itself to those functions that the people cannot provide for themselves. Considering that state revenue will not return to pre-recession levels for quite some time (and to per capita levels for an even longer time), such an effort is not just an agenda, it is an unavoidable responsibility. I stand ready to support Governor Deal in this task.
He touched on issues of transportation, the burdens of Georgia’s correctional system and saving the HOPE scholarship program. He also discussed education, the state’s most significant mission. First, he offered hopeful news for local school systems, declaring that he opposed further cuts to K-12 programs (and in terms of state funds, his budget proposal delivers on this promise).
I found it refreshing that the governor intends to engage the problems of low parental involvement and classroom discipline, which are often ignored because they are so difficult to grapple with. I’m interested in this because I’m reaching the conclusion that these two problems are causes of our educational difficulties.
We’ve lavished attention and money on everything else for decades, but apparently this amounts to nothing more than treating symptoms. I agree with the governor that it is time for a change.
Now I’ll turn to my customary start-of-session business of recapping the “most interesting” new bills and resolutions. Please note that while I may say a bill is “interesting,” I’m not necessarily supportive of it.
HB 25 would define postsecondary education (via the state university system or technical colleges) as a public benefit, and reserve that benefit for citizens and legal aliens. The bill requires enrollment eligibility be checked through the federal Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement program, as is the case for many other benefits. This bill is no surprise given last year’s news stories concerning illegal immigrants attending state schools.
HB 31 is another shot at capping the rate at which property tax assessments can increase. The bill would limit such increases to a maximum of 3 percent or the rate of infla- tion, whichever is less. Last year, a nearly identical bill made it out of committee, but not to the House floor.
HB 34 proposes using sales taxes to reduce homestead property taxes. The tax and credit program would be offered locally via a referendum, much like local option sales taxes, and would last for a specified number of years if approved.
HR 11 seeks to limit how the state government can use revenue surpluses. It would require that surpluses be applied first to fill the reserve fund, and then any excess be used to reduce income taxes. The reserve is filled when it reaches 8 percent of the current budget. Since this is a constitutional change, it would be offered as a statewide referendum.
Appropriations hearings will occupy the next week, so we won’t be in session again until the following week. I’ll continue with more on new bills two weeks from now.