Trey Kelley starting session as Majority Whip
The New Year brings with it a new session under the Gold Dome in Atlanta and 2019 marks the year that one of Cedartown’s own takes on a greater leadership role.
State Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) was elected by the Republican caucus to be the Majority Whip, where he’ll be responsible for making sure his fellow GOP members keep within their stated goals for the session.
His additional responsibilities come as 20 new members of the Republican caucus join the state house in 2019 that he’ll also help shepherd through their first term, along with longtime members of the house to wrangle as well. He said he was thankful for his colleagues in the trust they put in him to serve in the leadership role this term.
“The job of the Republican whip is to make sure that we have an understanding of our agenda, to make sure we’re united behind that agenda and we put forth an agenda that works for Georgians,” Kelley said. “That will be my responsibility. As we start rolling out legislation and legislative ideas, it’s I like to say the mouth and the ears of the caucus.”
He’ll have to stay in touch with leadership and members both during this term, staying busy along with committee assignments ranging from Ways and Means to the Judiciary, Education, Health and more.
Making Kelley’s role as whip easier is his longevity in office. He was elected in 2012, and in his past three elections ran without opposition. So during campaign season, he’s usually out helping other members gain the local support they need to stay in office.
“I think that’s something that’s beneficial to our community, because it helps me explain issues that are important to us and allowed me to reach a leadership position within the house,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have I known for several years, but there’s also a new group coming in as well. I’m in the process of building on those relationships, and everyday you try to build these relationships more so you have a mutual trust with each other, so that when they give me feedback on something that I have full faith in them, and when I’m talking with them, that I’m doing something or talking to them about something that good for their community, good for our caucus and ultimately good for our state.”
Even with the new job title, Kelley said ahead of the start of the session his first priorities remain to ensure local constituents get the service they need from the state, and his continued willingness to try and help where he can.
“For me my most important focus is always making sure that I’m serving my constituency in the 16th district. That means providing topnotch services, and being accessible and being transparent with the people who have elected me to serve in Atlanta,” Kelley said. “It is the greatest honor of my life. Every chance I get to walk into the Capitol in service of the people of the 16th district, I’m humbled by that and the opportunity they give me to that, so I look forward to it.”
Kelley has a long 40 days of work ahead during the 2019 session as ongoing and new issues are cropping up all the time that need the attention of the state house and senate. He said that with the GOP still in power in both houses and in the Governor’s office, the state will continue to make progress in many areas. One of those areas is in how children and adults alike have
been exploited over the past years.
“We also know that we cannot bury our heads in the sand. We have a problem with sex trafficking in Georgia. And we are committed to reducing the number of children that are being involuntary being put into the sex trafficking trade in Georgia,” Kelley said. “You’re going to see us take some measurable improvement there.”
This year’s session also will seek to continue work on a wide range of issues on everything from health care and mental health, to improving both rural and metro communities statewide in transportation infrastructure as well. He added that chief among those issues will be to continue improvements in education, especially in safety.
“We’re going to work on school safety, to make sure that not only are we funding schools at the highest level they’ve ever been funded. We’re seeing test scores improve in Georgia, the improvement in our workforce development in Georgia,” he said. “We want kids and parents and teachers and administrators have the peace of mind that when they walk into the schools, they’re going to be safe. And we’ve started that process in the last session and we’re going to continue building upon that.”
But his main point was that seeking a better Georgia is a big focus for the coming session in all fields.
“We’re going to continue building on the progress and the Republican efforts and the accomplishments that you’ve seen a Republicanled Governor’s office, a Republican-led House and Republican-led Senate get done for the citizens of Georgia,” Kelley said. “We’re cutting taxes, we’re going to keep doing that. We’re going to find other ways to cut our state income tax, and we’re going to improve on these agenda items.”
Also top among them is what ways the state can get greater access to rural broadband solutions across Georgia’s great swath of landscapes.
“I think we’re seeing several technological advances that are going to help. One that we’re seeing called small cell technology, where you’re really talking about miniature cell towers at a more frequent level,” Kelley said. “I think that is something that is going to help expand access. I think you’re starting to see more satellites that are launched, and you’ve seen a marked improvement in terms of the satellite options that are out there. I know there are several in our community that have had that before.”
He said he sympathizes with customers of satellite internet for poor service, and he knows improvements are needed across the board for better internet access across Georgia.
Though he sees the services getting better, he also understands that like electricity access in the early 1900s in rural areas, broadband is the same challenge for the early 2000s.
In the previous session, the state legislature did establish laws to help define broadbandready communities and what rural areas are in terms of internet coverage, as well as expand options for utility providers to get involved, which will increase market competition.
“We’re also trying to find a way to put forth a funding mechanism that will act as a fund to help supplement the cost to get high speed broadband out to communities,” he said. “Access to the internet today is no different than access to electricity in the earlier parts of the 20th century. We’ve got to get that out to help our rural communities.”
Providing Georgia residents no matter where they live with affordable and quality health care also is an area he sees the state house continuing to push forward in 2019 as well. He said one of the tools to help fund hospitals in some of the farthest reaches of the state -the Rural Hospital Tax Credit program -- was a complete success now that 100 percent, dollar for dollar donations are allowed to be deducted from state income taxes. There are limits per individual, household, business and for each hospital to collect, but the $60 million program was completely used up and he sees a future expansion of the program on the horizon.
Rural health care will remain a challenge in south Georgia especially, which saw widespread damage in 2018 from the effects of Hurricane Michael. It will likely cause generational-scale of damage to the region, which lost not only millions of dollars in property damage and crops, but also will feel the loss of people in the region who might not choose to rebuild after the storm destroyed not just homes and businesses, but long term livelihoods. Kelley said fellow colleagues in the house are among those who are still reeling from losses.
Former Governor Nathan Deal called the legislature back into session back in November to help ensure the financial hardships felt by the damage the region took could be staved off in the short term.
“It had to be done,” Kelley said. “Governor Deal proved what kind leader he is for tackling those issues as they came up.”
He said that in talking with members from South Georgia he knows well – Sam Watson, Clay Pirkle, Gerald Green and others – they needed the real help.
“Sam Watson is a row-crop farmer, going from thinking he was going to have the best crop of his – he’s a young farmer, we’re around the same age – to thinking he was going to have the best crop of his career to having the absolute worst,” Kelley said. “That will be generational damage down there.”
The changes in the FY 2019 budget to help impacted areas will reflect how the budget is setup for FY 2020, a process already well underway. Kelley’s role in Ways and Means and now as Majority Whip gives him greater access to the budget, one he seeks to continue to treat with conservative ideals in mind. He’s expecting in the year’s to come to be able to work toward continuing to lower state income taxes to a target of 5 percent in the near future and keep it there. For now, it will be stepping down to 5.5 percent by 2020.
“I do think we can get it to 5 and see where our revenue estimates come in and go from there,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that if you cut income taxes, it leads to investment and increased revenue to the state. I think that’s what Georgia saw as we came out of the recession, is that Georgia did not have to raise taxes where a lot of states did, and we just got the numbers – more than 800,000 new private sector jobs under Governor Deal’s leadership. And that’s a direct result of keeping our taxes low and keeping our regulations at a conservative, common sense level.”
What won’t have any ill-effects on the state budget anytime soon is the shutdown in the Federal government, Kelley said.
Even if it were to extend once the state budget is approved in the spring by new Governor Brian Kemp, Kelley said funding mechanisms would require Federal officials to cut checks to cover any costs picked up by the state during the shutdown.
“The State of Georgia is prepared. We can weather that storm, and when it happens the state gets reimbursed for that. In terms of seting up our budget, we’re not concerned with that,” he said.
Locally, Kelley said he’s planning to follow the direction of city and county officials on where they might best see their efforts placed in seeking help with state funding for projects but expects to try to gain help for a proposed rework of Marquette Road, and additional work needed at Cornelius Moore Field.
The session is being gaveled in on Monday, January 14.