The 2008 Legislative session is now behind us and the pundits have already begun to analyze our accomplishments, critique our work and pass judgment on many of the bills we adopted.
So I wanted to take some time and tell you myself about the most important things we did and why we did them. We adopted a statewide water plan and we made it easier for communities to build new water reservoirs. We adopted several measures to bring greater accountability to the state Department of Transportation and created a new funding mechanism to help local communities with local road projects. We adopted several measures to give Georgians much needed tax relief, opened the door to reform education in Georgia and enacted tough new measures to protect our children from dangerous predators. And we also passed a few new “sunshine” laws and two fiscally conservative budgets.
Our very first week in session we addressed Georgia’s long term water needs by adopting House Resolution 1022 creating the statewide water management plan. This plan provides a regional approach and long term planning for our future water needs, conservation and best use practices to ensure we are wisely managing our water supply. The governor has already signed this bill, and we should see communities implementing the plan. We also adopted Senate Bill 342, the Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act, that includes language from a House bill expediting the process of reservoir construction. Combined, these measures provide a long term and balanced approach to ensure we are acting wisely when it comes to our water supply.
Transportation was a key issue and shortfalls in transportation funding have brought up concerns about past management practices within the Department of Transportation. This year, we adopted two bills that I believe will help provide oversight at the DOT and also help communities complete work on local projects. House Bill 1189 requires the DOT to draft a statewide strategic transportation plan and present it to state officials. The plan must include costs, funding sources, and timelines for current and future DOT projects, and must be submitted annually beginning June 30, 2009. While this measure provides needed oversight, House Bill 1019 creating the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank provides cash to build roads. The governor has already signed this bill creating the Bank and it will provide low-interest loans to local communities for local road projects. We did not just create the Bank, we funded it in the 2009 budget for Georgia.
April is tax time but this legislative session we passed several bills to save taxpayers some money. House Bill 948 re-authorizes the annual sales tax holiday weekends for back-to-school shopping and energy efficient appliances. Families can shop tax free for school items July 31-Aug. 3. And Oct. 2-5, consumers can save by not paying taxes on the purchase of qualified energy efficient appliances.
I supported the passage of a new tax credit this year for families who adopt. House Bill 1189 provides a $2,000 per year income tax credit for families who adopt a child through Georgia’s foster system. One tax cut we adopted was passed by the House and Senate but still must be approved by voters in November. House Resolution 1276 would allow a property tax cut for businesses or individuals who own at least 200 acres of forested land and enter that land into a 15 year conservation covenant.
Every year we examine ways to provide financial resources to our schools and ways to improve how education is delivered. This year we adopted two key reforms that will improve our educational system. House Bill 1209, also known as Investing in Education Excellence or IE2, allows local schools to choose to enter into contracts with the Georgia Department of Education that will provide greater local control, flexibility, accountability and consequences for failing schools. We adopted House Bill 881, the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, to open the doors for new charter schools to come to Georgia.
Protecting our children is always a key concern to us as parents and legislators. This year we adopted Senate Bill 1, prohibiting convicted sex offenders from photographing minors without parental consent and imposing additional living and working restrictions to protect children at places like libraries and public parks.
While we do a lot of work during the legislative session, our constitution only requires that we pass a budget. This year we adopted two fiscally conservative budgets and we adopted a measure that adds a little “sunshine” to how we spend taxpayer dollars. Senate Bill 300, the Transparency in Government Act, will create a free and publicly accessible Web site that will contain information on how the state spends the taxpayer dollars collected.
Despite a decrease in state revenues, we adopted two state budgets that meet the needs of our citizens and controls spending. The FY08 amended budget included $20 million in equalization grants for low-wealth schools, $50 million for trauma hospitals, $40 million for construction of water reservoirs, and $210 million for school construction projects. In the FY09 budget, we added another $10 million for low-wealth schools, $50 million to restore austerity cuts to education, $210 million for QBE growth, a 1 percent increase for pre-K providers, pay raises for law enforcement, teachers and state employees, $2 million for community health centers, and $10 million for land conservation. We did all of this and still cut $245 million from the state budget.
With the legislature now in recess, I will periodically update you on important issues facing Georgia and things to come in the 2009 legislative session. In the meantime, I look forward to spending more time in House District 157 and I hope to see you soon.
As always, should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0213.