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Posted: May 14, 2009 11:30 p.m.

Local legislators discuss recent session's 'winners, losers'

Budget a winner, transportation a loser

The Georgia Legislative Assembly ended its 2009 session on April 3, and according to Sen. John Douglas (R – Social Circle) the state budget was a winner because the state didn’t have to raise taxes. However, he said the state’s transportation system was a loser because no bills were passed.

The year’s winners and losers were one of the many topics discussed by Douglas and Rep. Doug Holt (R – Social Circle) at Friday’s post-legislative wrap-up, hosted by the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce at DeKalb Technical College.

The two local legislators talked about the bills they supported and opposed during the past session but first offered their thoughts on the state’s budget.

Douglas said the house and senate worked together better than in previous years and managed to cut $3.3 billion for FY 2010, including 10 percent cuts to most departments, with only a 3 percent cut to education. He said the budget was a winner because the state didn’t have to raise taxes. In addition to not raising taxes, the state passed legislation to prevent property tax assessments from being raised and kept the two sales tax holidays: no sales tax for back-to-school items from July 30 to Aug. 2 and no sales tax for water and energy-efficient products from Oct. 1 to Oct. 4.

Holt agreed that restraint was greater in Atlanta, as evidenced by less pork in the budget this year. He warned that the trend of double-digit declines in revenue from the previous year could force the legislature to meet in special session in order to cut even more from the budget. Douglas said he hoped a special session could be avoided because it cost taxpayers around $40,000 a day to hold, exacerbating the budget deficit.

On the legislation side, Holt talked about continuing efforts to overhaul the state transportation system. He also mentioned the recent ethics bill, which allows legislators to be publically named if they don’t pay their taxes. In addition, HB 193, which was passed last week, changes the definition of a school year, from 180 days to a certain number of hours. This will allow schools to go to a four-day week if gas prices rise.

Douglas talked about SB 14, which prevents sex offenders from serving on the school boards.

“When I brought it up, people at the capitol looked at me like I was mad, but I said it almost happened here in Newton County,” he said.

Douglas also talked about bills requiring driving tests to be administered in English and the Jobs Act, HB 481, which provided a myriad of tax cuts and credits, but was rejected by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Several community members asked questions, including about transportation projects. Douglas said he was hoping to get at least one Newton County road project on the second round of stimulus funding handed out by the DOT.

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