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Belton: Weighing the major issues
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This week budget committees in the General Assembly have been working on a balanced budget. Believe it or not a balanced budget is the only Constitutional requirement of Georgia’s General Assembly.

It’s a pity the same cannot be said of our government in Washington.

Revenues were pleasantly up last year, and are expected to climb further in 2015 (+$276 million) and 2016 (+$670 million). The Governor plans to direct most of that increase on Education, as well as Medicaid growth and mandatory compliance with Obamacare. I applaud the Governor for funding Education: teachers have suffered great hardships during this Recession.

The Governor also wants to train students for the film industry with a new film academy.

The benefits to Newton and Morgan counties are obvious. He also wants to create “Opportunity School Districts” to take over failing public schools. A classic example of where this has worked before is post-Katrina New Orleans. I support both of these initiatives.

I do not own a crystal ball, but it seems the major issues we’ll deal with this year are: legalization of cannabis oil (for medical purposes only), solutions for rural hospitals, the religious freedom act, and transportation. I’ll take these in turn.

Cannabis oil: The legalization of cannabis oil is a topic that is near and dear to Newton County, as the Hopkins family lost two of their children and subsequently moved to Colorado.

The bill passed in the House last year but died in the Senate. The same bill seemed destined to pass this year when the Governor decided that a Committee must first be formed to determine how the cannabis (marijuana) oil could be produced in Georgia. Thus, the current, watered-down legislation states that possessing the oil is not a crime in Georgia but allows no legal way to obtain it. Federal law prohibits transferring it across state lines, and there is now no legal way to manufacture it in Georgia. This basically neuters the bill, and has caused great consternation in the House.
I am pushing for a return to the original bill that stated that the oil could be produced legally in Georgia under strict rules. But I wish to stress that legalizing marijuana for other purposes is dead-on-arrival in this legislature.

Solutions for rural hospitals: Rural hospitals are hurting financially. This is definitely a “rural vs Atlanta” issue, as many city folks suggest we should just shut down rural hospitals that can’t keep up. I reject this idea…rural hospitals are critical to the life of rural communities. But they must be made profitable. Unfortunately, this issue seems to have no easy solution.

Religious Freedom Act: I fully support the Religious Freedom act, and have already co-signed the bill. It basically states that the government cannot infringe upon a person’s right to practice their religion. This seems like a no-brainer — our nation, after all, was founded by pilgrims who were seeking religious freedom, and the 1st Amendment’s first statement declares that the government must not “prohibit the free exercise” of religion. Every state that touches Georgia and the rest of the South already have this common-sense law.

Transportation: The last issue is transportation, and it will — no doubt — be the most controversial. Georgia has been ranked the No. 1 state in the nation for business (by three different sources) in no small part because we’ve struggled through the Recession without raising taxes. However, the Governor and Leadership now feel we must devote an additional 1.5 billion dollars (every year for 10 whole years) to transportation.

It’s common knowledge in business that it “takes money to make money.” Experts predict that every dollar we spend on transportation will benefit the economy by an additional four to seven dollars. Georgia’s gas and per capita taxes are the lowest in the nation. Efficient cars and lower gas prices have lowered transportation revenues well below the rate of inflation. Proponents say we must invest in the future by raising taxes. I and many other House members are very skeptical.

Newton County Chairman Keith Ellis, Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, and Newton County Economic Development members David Bernd, James Johnson, and Serra Hall all visited me at the capitol.

I hope you will contact me with your constructive opinions regarding these issues. I can be reached at or 706-372-4114.

Dave Belton is the newly elected District 112 Georgia Representative. The Morgan and Newton County representative is serving in his first term in Georgia’s House. He is a resident of Morgan County.