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District 161 candidates split on T-SPLOST
district 161
Bill Hitchens gives his position on an issue during the candidates' forum, held Thursday at the Effingham County Board of Education auditorium. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

The two Republicans vying to serve Effingham County in the state House of Representatives District 161 seat shared differing views Thursday on how to stimulate the economy, whether the state should legalize gambling and the merits of Georgia’s proposed special purpose local option sales tax for transportation (T-SPLOST).

Bill Hitchens said the most crucial issue not only in Georgia but the entire country is "jobs, jobs, jobs," and Kristopher Moutray agreed — although they offered different solutions to the problem. The two will face off in the July 31 Republican primary, with the winner running unopposed in November to succeed Rep. Ann Purcell. Purcell has announced her retirement from the seat.

Moutray, a senior aircraft technician at Gulfstream, suggested that the key to jumpstarting Georgia’s economy would be completely overhauling the state’s "archaic" tax code.

"We need to allow businesses a regular, reliable tax code so they can move here knowing what they have, move forward and make plans for the long-term future and make Georgia competitive," Moutray said at Thursday’s candidate forum, hosted by the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce.

Hitchens, formerly the state’s Homeland Security director and Department of Public Safety commissioner, pointed to Effingham County’s proximity to the "largest economic engine in our state," the port of Savannah.

He said deepening the port will be vital to Georgia’s economy, as will supporting the proposed shipping terminal in neighboring Jasper County, S.C.

"There is a lot of work over there. It’s an opportunity for both the state of South Carolina and the state of Georgia, and it’ll mean a lot of jobs to this area," Hitchens said.

On the other hand, Hitchens said the subject of the next question — whether Georgia should allow casinos and paramutual betting — is "not the goose that laid the golden egg, like the port is." Hitchens said his years working in law enforcement taught him that "a lot of residue comes along with gambling activities."

He said that some people who buy scratch-off tickets at stores "stay there all day long. They put their whole paycheck in that thing, and a lot of families are deprived of the money they should have for food and necessities of life."

Moutray countered, "I don’t believe in legislating morality. I think they should allow the local communities to decide it themselves, or remove the burdens that are stopping that activity. If a county wants it or an area wants it, then that’s something they should decide themselves."

On the same day of the District 161 primary, Georgians will vote on the 2012 T-SPLOST. Hitchens plans to support the one-cent sales tax that, if approved, will generate an estimated $1.6 billion for road improvements in the coastal region that includes Effingham and nine other counties.

"I don’t like new taxes of any sort, but I understand that, if we’re going to live in a civilized society, we have to pay for services," Hitchens said. "(This tax) is going to be local. Each district in the state will decide locally whether they’re going to have it or not, and no money will leave this district and go to Atlanta or anywhere else."

Moutray agreed that the T-SPLOST has "some really good points in it" and said he might vote for the tax if it is back on the ballot two years from now. However, he said he cannot support a transportation sales tax until other priorities in the state are addressed.

"A lot of folks are inclined to vote for such a tax because it is a consumption-based tax, and most people would like to move from an income- to a consumption-based tax," Moutray said. "I myself am not inclined to vote for it now, because there hasn’t been any relief given to the ordinary folks on the other side of things such as income and property tax.

"As soon as we see some advancements in that direction, I believe that you’ll get a lot more support for this piece of legislation."

Hitchens and Moutray took markedly different approaches to their closing statements. Moutray expressed his disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act that had been announced earlier Thursday.

"Unfortunately, we’ve been stuck with something that I believe is an infringement on our liberties, and we as a state need to take appropriate action to defend ourselves from this kind of encroachment," he said.

Hitchens touted his 42 years’ experience in state government and his ability to treat the District 161 position as "(his) full-time job" now that he is retired.

"What I really bring to this job is relationships," Hitchens said. "I know and understand the system. I’ve written legislation, I’ve gone before committees and explained it, and I’ve been successful getting something passed almost every year."

To hear the candidates’ opening remarks in their entirety, click on the Featured Video section of