A view from the House

The Covington News - - Opinion - Doug Holt Con­tact Rep. Doug Holt (RSo­cial Cir­cle) at (404) 6560152, or at Doug@DougHolt.org.

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.

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