On Monday, the 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly formed and organized at the State Capitol in Atlanta. I am deeply honored to be able to represent you in the House of Representatives and take this responsibility seriously as I look forward to a productive session.
As we begin, I’m always mindful that as constituents, you have the right to be informed of the legislation being addressed and how I voted on key issues that directly affect the community in which we live. Because of that, I will continue to write a weekly column explaining what is being addressed this session and how it affects your quality of life, your pocketbook and your future.
One of the first tasks that we must address is regarding the state’s budget. You will undoubtedly be pleased to know that most of my colleagues in the General Assembly try to be frugal regarding spending, taxes and new programs. Our state constitution requires that we submit a balanced budget to the governor each year for his signature. Georgia is one of only a handful of states that has obtained the highest bond rating available. That means we pay our bills, balance our budgets, and don’t spend frivolously.
With this in mind, the most extensive issue that we face almost immediately is the need to approve a fiscal year budget that will take us through mid-year 2016. What we call the “big budget” is anticipated to be around $22 billion.
Georgia is beginning to rebound from the sluggish economy over the past five years and our budget experts anticipate government revenues to increase by almost $1 billion over last year’s receipts.
While our budget seems big in number, very little of it is discretionary spending. Most of the money in the budget is dedicated to programs mandated by the federal government. This includes K-12 education and Medicaid. As our state continues to be an attractive place to live and work, our student population will grow and we will have to help fund that growth.
Our Medicaid budget has grown exponentially with the growth of our state population. Our contribution to the Medicaid program has grown from $2 billion a year in 2008 to over $3 billion for 2015. That’s a huge part of the state’s budget.
The two major issues that we will address that are not budget-related is the use of medical marijuana and a potential transportation tax. Let me address both of these issues based on the information that is currently available to me. Marijuana oil has some medical benefits for those that suffer from health conditions causing seizures.
I support tightly-worded legislation that allows the use of marijuana oil for medicinal purposes only and has stiff penalties outside of this use. I will not support legislation that allows for marijuana to be grown and sold for recreational drug use. This is an emotional and hotly-contested issue, but one that could have great benefits for people with severe medical conditions.
As the debate continues, I will keep you informed, particularly as a vote approaches.
Regarding the potential transportation tax, there are several things to consider. Our roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure have fallen woefully into disrepair since the needed funding to maintain them fell delinquent during the economic downturn in the past several years.
The Transportation Joint Study Committee has suggested either an additional 1 percent sales tax or a state gas tax hike as new revenue options to make up Georgia’s transportation funding shortfall. A new sales tax is estimated to raise $1.4 billion annually. Unfortunately, it costs almost $1.5 billion a year just to keep our roads and bridges functional, which doesn’t leave much room for necessary improvements. You can be assured that I will consider any tax increase carefully and will keep you up-to-date on our deliberations and considerations.
Please feel free to contact me with any concerns as we begin this session. Your input is valuable to me. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (404) 656-0178.