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Belton: Session continues to be productive
Dave Belton

The sixth week of Session has again been productive as we pass many more bills.

Most importantly, the Governor has apparently changed his mind about the “windfall” that is coming to Georgia due to the federal income tax cut that was done in Washington late last year. Because the Georgia income tax is “coupled” to the federal income tax structure, many Georgians will now experience an unintended increase in taxes paid to Georgia because many federal deductions are now eliminated in the federal code. The House and the Governor both want to correct this, but doing so will be tricky as no one knows how people will choose to file their taxes next year: (either the standard deduction which will now be much more attractive or itemized taxes instead). The projected estimates vary in the billions, making it difficult to forecast. Many in the House are pushing to lower the Income Tax like the House passed last year but the Senate did not vote on. Others propose we “de-couple” the federal and Georgia deductions. Either way, we intend to correct this imbalance, and will make a stab at lowering your taxes this year. ow

Another piece of good news is the $1.4 trillion that will go to the military due to the two-year Continuing Resolution that Congress finally agreed upon. It’s sad commentary that Washington hasn’t gone through a proper Appropriation Process since 1988. This agreement is only a two-year CR, but it is a lot better than the crisis-to-crisis nonsense we have been used to in Washington these past few decades.

Even better news is the Pentagon’s announcement that it will not seek a BRAC (base closure process) in 2019. This was exactly the outcome the Military Affairs Committee which I chair was seeking when we went to Washington last November. I’m also pleased about the Pentagon’s intentions to beef up Georgia’s installations at Fort Gordon, Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, Navy Kings Bay, and Moody AFB to the tune of billions of dollars. This was the secondary goal of my committee.

On a completely different note, I’m also pleased that the Federal Communication Commission has announced it is spending $2 billion in Federal money to fund Rural Broadband. This is something I’ve been fighting to fund for years.

A very important bill passed the Education Committee. It would allow public State Charter Schools to receive more equal amounts of money per child as compared to other public schools. The very marginal $17 million extra comes out of the total budget of $25 billion, and does not come from the education budget of around $9.7 billion. Thus, this bill actually adds money to education. Keep in mind, the state has added - on average - half a billion dollars to Education every year over the past decade. We also added an extra $367 million to the teacher retirement system for a total of $1.9 billion this year.

Several good bills passed the House this week. One is a “No Surprise” bill that would require healthcare providers to inform the patient – in writing – what their medical costs will be before the services occur. This does not include emergency care. The bill also requires healthcare providers to tell the patient if their care is “In Network” or not, and how much their insurance will pay. It also forbids healthcare providers from issuing bills after 90 days after the medical procedure, and also creates a dispute resolution process. Believe it or not, Healthcare is the No. 1 reason for bankruptcy in Georgia. Even worse, one in five Georgians is currently in a debt collection process because of Healthcare.

Another substantial bill that would solve a long-standing problem requires that the state use money that is collected for a special purpose to actually use it for that purpose. This no-brainer would require that you – the voter – ratify it in November of 2018.

Another bill would allow surviving members of a deceased veteran to receive their military income tax free. Nearly all states (except Georgia) give retired veterans a state income tax break. Another bill would make it illegal to knowingly provide a felon a firearm. The bill is backed by both the NRA and Georgia Carry. Perhaps my favorite bill eliminates 24 different state authorities that are no longer needed. So, yes, government can (theoretically) become smaller.

 

I certainly need your prayers as I serve the people of Newton and Morgan counties. You may contact me at davebelton112@gmail.com or 706-372-4114.