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Handel ready to take axe to government
karen handel 1
Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel speaks to members of the Effingham Republican Party. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

A Republican gubernatorial candidate is calling for a 10 percent cut in the state’s workforce.

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who addressed the Effingham County Republican Party on Monday night, has proposed that the state cut 10 percent of its workforce, excluding teachers and public safety officers. Such a move would save approximately $484 million, according to Handel.

“The beast, if I’m governor, is going on a permanent diet,” she said of state government.
Lawmakers are grappling with budget holes in excess of $1 billion, and Handel said the days of the state spending plan topping $20 billion are


“This is a hard correction in terms of revenue. It is reality,” she said. ‘The new normal for state revenues, even in this environment, is about $15 to $16 billion. We’ve got to do things to lower the tax burden and make our state more competitive to drive job creation. I come from the school of thought that if you lower taxes it will best reignite the economy.”

Handel said she is in favor of lowering the income tax and raising sales taxes. A former chairwoman of the Fulton County Commission, Handel also wants to give local governments more say in how they spend sales tax.

Currently, counties and cities are restricted from using sales tax for operations.

Though she is not in favor of the fair tax idea for sales taxes, Handel also called for a look at reshaping the state’s tax code.

“There’s no perfect system out there,” she said. “But can we adjust what we have? Absolutely.”

Handel also said the state’s education system is “fundamentally failing young people and teachers in this state.”

Though spending on education in the state has doubled in recent decades, she said the test scores have not doubled and the dropout rate has not been cut in half. Handel called the 30 percent dropout rate “unsustainable for this state.”

“We must do things differently,” she said.

She also called for an end to teacher furloughs.

“The teacher furloughs must stop. They must stop,” Handel said. “The notion of going to a four-day school week? Our kids need more education, not less. A furlough is what you use to manage a short-term cash flow issue.

“This is not a short-term cash flow issue. It is a long-term structural deficit. That means some hard choices are going to have to be made.”

Teachers also have to spend too much time with paperwork and that detracts from the time they can spend instructing students, Handel said. She also said the state needs to leverage its technical college system in the fight against dropouts.

“They are incredible,” she said.

Most kids make the decision to drop out in the seventh and eighth grades, Handel said, and the state needs to partner with companies to develop a curriculum that will attract jobs. She also called for accountability in the classroom.

“I disagree with the notion that kids can’t get a zero,” she said.

She lauded the ESCAPE program, such as the one used in Decatur County schools, that aids elementary students with behavior problems that hinder their learning development

Handel said she was open to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s idea that teacher pay should be based on student performance and not factors such as experience.

“Our current teacher pay system is not optimal,” she said.

Handel’s 10 percent cut in the state employment ranks drew notice after she walked into the press den at the Legislative Office Building to discuss her idea with reporters.

“I knew there was going to be a lot of squealing,” she said. “But this is reality. The budget situation, it is dire. There is a $1.2 billion hole for FY11, and 12 and 13 aren’t so good either. If we don’t make hard, tough decisions now, we’re just going to make the coming fiscal years even worse.”

As Secretary of State, where she cut the workforce by 20 percent, and as a county commission chair and director of once-floundering Chamber of Commerce that was restored to financial health, Handel said she’s the only candidate with the track record of balancing budgets, coming up with bold programs and fostering economic development.

“We’ve enjoyed some extraordinary times in this country and this state,” she said. “And we’re now in a place where sacrifices are going to have to be made that are going to be painful for us, but are going to secure the future for the next generation.”

Handel left home at 17 and her first job was at AARP. She went to school at night for 10 years, she said, studying accounting.

“When you come from turbulence,” she said, “you love the security of the fact that 2 plus 2 equals 4, every time.”

Handel spoke to about 40 people at the Effingham Hospital’s community room on Monday night, drawing the largest crowd yet for prospective Republican gubernatorial candidates. It was her second visit to Effingham during her campaign.

Handel is one of seven hopefuls for the Republican nomination in the July primary, and she said a recent Rasmussen poll showed she has the biggest advantage over Roy Barnes. Barnes, the governor from 1999-2003, is seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic nod.
The Feb. 22 Rasmussen Reports poll showed Handel with a 45-36 percent lead over Barnes, and state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine with a 45-37 lead over Barnes.

“I may not have the most money,” Handel said. “But I have the biggest and deepest grassroots network.”