Trey Kel­ley start­ing ses­sion as Ma­jor­ity Whip

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Myrick [email protected]­stan­dard­jour­nal.net

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.

Trey Kel­ley

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