To our readers: State Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) will be reporting each week during the Legislative Session. The session began Jan. 12 and is expected to last until the latter days of March.
Day 6 (Jan. 26): Although we were out of session last week, as a member of the Appropriations committee, I spent most of the week at the Capitol reviewing the governor’s proposed 2009 amended and ’10 budgets. The governor’s greatest authority in the budgetary process is that he sets the revenue estimates by which we must establish a budget.
The governor is proposing cutting the ’09 budget by $2 billion to a total of $19.2 billion and is proposing a budget of $20.2 billion for the ’10 fiscal year that starts July 1. Among the most controversial proposals included in the governor’s budget is a provider tax of 1.6 percent on hospitals and insurance companies to raise additional funds for Medicaid. The Homeowners Tax Relief Grant (HTRG), totaling $428 million, is also eliminated in the governor’s proposal for the ’09 budget, raising the ire of many legislators.
As fate would have it, as we arrive at the Capitol this morning we are greeted by mayors and city council members from across the state who are celebrating Mayor’s Day at the Capitol and who are very concerned about the status of the HTRG money. Having already sent out tax statements for the year and facing the possibility of having to send out another bill to taxpayers for the $200-$300 the HTRG would have provided, city officials are obviously upset.
It’s also Effingham County Day at the Capitol as we welcome elected officials and community leaders from back home and enjoy their traditional gift of raisin bread that is always a favorite for legislators.
Day 7 (Jan. 27): Although we don’t have any official business to attend to during today’s session, the committee process is well underway. With over 200 bills already having been assigned to various committees, this important and time-consuming process takes up most of a legislator’s day.
Among the bills being introduced to raise funds for trauma care is the so-called super speeder bill supported by the governor. This legislation would add a $200 fine for driving over 85 mph anywhere in the state and for driving 75 mph or more on a two-lane road.
Other bills to raise funds for trauma care include a $10 fee on the annual renewal of a car tag and a tax ranging from 50 cents to $1 on monthly telephone bills.
Day 8 (Jan. 28): As even more bills are read for the first time today, we have another short session without any official business. Today proves to be a very difficult and humbling day for myself, as we take time to honor the ACC Coach and Player of the Year, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson and Jonathan Dwyer. As an alum and diehard University of Georgia fan, I put my pride behind me as we honor these fine gentlemen and even get my picture taken with them. Trust me, it was not easy.
Day 9 (Jan. 29): While we adopt HB 117 to update and change references to certain House and Senate committee names during today’s session, most of our attention is on the report of Rep. Tom McCall, the chairman of the Agriculture committee who speaks to us on the recent salmonella outbreak caused by peanut based products from the Peanut Corporation of America’s Blakely processing plant.
Peanuts are one of Georgia’s main crops and Chairman McCall points out that the problem is not with any of the crops but instead is limited to the processing plant. Later that evening we enjoy the most anticipated event of the session when the Savannah-Chatham Seafood Fest is held at the Capitol. Tickets are at a premium and the food, as usual, is simply outstanding.
Day 10 (Jan. 30): Although every bill is important, some are obviously more important than others. HB 143 is debated today and commits the General Assembly to fully fund the Homeowner Tax Relief Grants (HTRG) for the current fiscal year as well as puts provisions in place for funding the grant in future years.
After much heated debate, the bill passes 117-55 and a week that started out with the HTRG looking like a lost cause ends on a much brighter note. The only question now is where we will find the $428 million in our budget.
Rep. Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 508, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-0213.