Most Georgians list transportation, education and immigration as some of the biggest issues facing our great state. Last week the state House passed legislation addressing each of these important issues.
The Georgia 20/20 Statewide Transportation Act, sponsored by Rep. Vance Smith Jr., offers a clear vision for the state’s transportation needs. This legislation allows Georgians to vote in November 2010 to approve a 10-year, 1-percent statewide transportation sales tax that expires at the end of 2020.
The 20/20 Act also puts accountability and transparency measures in place to ensure the money is used on approved statewide transportation projects. This will generate funds to improve Georgia’s road, rail, bridge, and general aviation infrastructures.
The House and Senate have differing legislative solutions to try and solve our transportation needs. The main difference is the Senate version would make the sales tax regional; the House version would make the sales tax statewide. The different versions for funding transportation will hopefully be worked out in conference committee.
From an educational standpoint, Georgia lacks science and math teachers at all grade levels. For example, our state colleges and universities produced only one physics teacher last year. This demonstrates the significant problem our state faces when trying to attract teachers in high-need areas. House Bill 280 seeks to fix this problem by increasing the salary of math and science teachers in Georgia. It is hoped that this incentive will encourage more teachers in these critical areas.
For the last several years, Georgia has passed some of the strictest immigration laws in the country. Despite this, a loophole in our elections laws allowed thousands of illegal immigrants to register to vote. As a result of this problem, we passed House Bill 45, which requires all people registering to vote to prove their citizenship.
Birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports and U.S. naturalization documents are among the numerous types of proof that will be accepted. This small step is crucial to preventing voter fraud and preserving confidence in the electoral system.
We have never experienced cuts to this extent in the state of Georgia and difficult decisions have to be made, none of which are easy. From the federal stimulus package, we are going to accept approximately $1.1 billion that will help to soften the cuts, but many more cuts will have to be made. From the stimulus funds, $467 million will be used for the revised 2009 budget to help fill some of the gaps. The rest of the federal stimulus money will be used to help cover some of the shortages in the 2010 budget. Some have argued that we should accept all federal money that we are offered; however, as legislators in Georgia, we somewhat disagree. For some of the federal stimulus funds we could accept, there are strings attached.
As your elected officials, we are trying to figure out what the strings are and what federal money we are willing to accept. We have to do what is most beneficial to the people we represent and to the state of Georgia.
Finally, the House and Senate amended our previously set schedule. This new schedule will result in the General Assembly concluding the 40th and final day of the legislative session for this year on April 3.
The state House addressed several of the issues that are important to most Georgians this week. However, I want to know what you think is important and what you think we need to be addressing.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please contact me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-5116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.