If elected, Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel plans to continue to cut the state budget, promote entrepreneurs and small businesses, lower the state’s tax burden and endorse more technical school education and corporate-educational cooperation.
More than 80 Republicans attended Monday’s monthly GOP meeting to hear Handel, one of the Republican front runners and a favorite of some local party leaders.
Handel spoke about her experience cutting budgets and improving efficiency at the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, Fulton County Board of Commissioners and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
Like all candidates, she emphasized the need to create jobs, but she said the key is to make the state more small business friendly. She said the state can still pursue bringing in large corporate headquarters, but those numbers are dwindling.
Handel said the state’s tax burden, 27 out of the 50 states, is not low enough and causes the exodus of many entrepreneurs, who are trained at the state’s respected research institutions. She suggested possibly lowering income taxes, while raising sales taxes.
Fellow southern states like Tenn. and Texas have more robust venture capitalism climates, and even states like Kentucky have better incentives.
In terms of education, while per pupil spending in Georgia has doubled over the years, she said the results have not increased nearly as much. She said there needs to be more accountability, but said teachers need to regain much of the flexibility they’ve lost.
An audience member asked about reducing public jobs once the economy has recovered. Handel said from day one she will look to reduce duplication and waste in government. She said while many legislators support even cuts from many departments, she will cut more from the non-critical areas.
She said not every department needs its own human resources personnel, and some services would be better outsourced. She asked why the department of transportation needed to own three asphalt plants when private vendors could handle the duties.She answered a question about ethics reform, by saying she was working on legislation with representatives and felt aspects like gifts need to be addressed, and a gift cap set at around $100.
Handel was also asked for her opinion about health care, and she said the current reform being considered would be catastrophic. She said she supports being able to buy insurance across state borders, reducing fraud and creating a trauma care network.
She said she will continue to crack down on illegal immigration and suggested process of requiring citizen checks to acquire business and professional licenses.
When asked about the state’s water issue after the meeting, Handel said it appeared an agreement between the governors of Florida and Tennessee was becoming more likely. She said the intergovernmental agreements to sell water could be possible, which could put Newton County in a strong position. She said the state needs to pursue a system of state and local reservoirs and continue strong water conservation methods.
Local Sen. John Douglas and Rep. Doug Holt, both from Social Circle, also provided updates at the state level. The budget will dominate the session, but Douglas assured the crowd taxes will not be raised.
Holt said the general assembly will find a way to cut $1.2 billion, but he’s been disappointed with the political sniping, where departments have refused to consider further cuts. He said all departments need to work together.
District Attorney Ken Wynne was also invited to speak about recently being appointed as the fifth Superior Court judge. He said he looks forward to taking the bench whenever he’s sworn in, and he plans to follow the law and not make policy from the bench.
The Newton County GOP is planning to host another major event with state-wide political candidates in August. Chairman Ester Fleming said the local party does not endorse any one candidate, but he said the party is going to work on bringing the party together after the primary.
"We tend to have these bloody primaries, and then not fully support the winner afterward," he said.