Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives Glenn Richardson was in town yesterday to speak to the Rotary Club of Covington about the upcoming election and his plans for the 2009 legislative session.
Richardson, the Republican representative from Paulding County who has served as speaker since 2005, was the guest speaker at Rotary's weekly meeting held at The Oaks Golf Course.
During his remarks he outlined the GOP House membership's newly decided legislative plans for 2009. In order of priority they are property taxes, trauma care, education and transportation.
Richardson said House Republicans planned to introduce a constitutional amendment to stem the rising values of real property, capping them at the rate of inflation or 3 percent, whichever is less, per year.
"Property taxes are rising at a rate greater than the rate of inflation," he said.
Richardson said some form of resolution to fund trauma care statewide would be introduced during the session.
"I will not tell you yet how we fund that, because I don't know the answer," he said.
On education, Richardson suggested that the House GOP would look to provide more funding for technical classes that could be taught alongside normal high school education courses for those students that wouldn't likely attend college.
He proposed reexamining how members are appointed to the Georgia Department of Transportation's board of directors by no longer having them voted on by legislators but appointed in part by the governor.
"I anticipate we'll do all of those very quickly in 2009," said Richardson of the four priorities.
He also made time at the beginning of his talk to give a hurrah for Republican presidential nominee John McCain and to talk about his party's prospects in November.
Partly as a result of an underwhelming performance from the Republican dominated Georgia legislature these past two years and changing national sentiments, the GOP is facing the loss of five to six seats in the House.
"We'll retain a significant Republican majority in the House," Richardson predicted.
Richardson also made some broad comments regarding his performance this past session. During the session flare-ups between Richardson and Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Casey Cagle, all Republicans, were much publicized and culminated in a dispute between Richardson and Cagle over the proper way to raise funds for transportation projects which resulted in no transportation bill being passed.
"I learned not to get to far out on legislation with my name on it," he said, referring to his ill-fated GREAT tax plan, which after many reincarnations died with a whimper this spring. In its original form, the plan would have eliminated all property taxes and replaced them with a wider sales tax.
The steps Richardson has taken since the spring to mend bridges with the governor in the face of a challenge from Rep. David Ralston for the role of speaker were evident on Tuesday when he emphasized the prudent financial stewardship of Perdue who built up the state's reserves from virtually nothing to $1.5 billion, just in time for the recession.
"There are some stories about the governor and I occasionally disagreeing. We do," he said. "By being fiscally conservative and very sharp... he built Georgia's reserves. There were calls during the sessions, this session alone by Democratic leaders that we were hoarding money and we needed to release it for education. Well, the governor didn't bite. So when the fiscal year ended this year we had money... and that's because of the good management of Sonny Perdue."
Richardson did not try to hide the fact that despite the state's reserves, there would likely be some significant cuts in services.
"We decided it's time to tighten our belts. I am not going to raise taxes. We're going to cut [services]."
He also seemed to voice support for Perdue's proposal to eliminate the statewide Homeowner Tax Relief Grant which reimburses local governments who provide a homestead tax exemption. Newton County was anticipating being reimbursed for $1.8 million from the grant for fiscal year 2009.
"Its mission has been circumvented," Richardson said of the grant, which was originally intended to lower property taxes. "I will look towards either reguiding it to its mission or figuring out a way to give homeowners relief if we look at a way to phase that out over time."