Local legislators were questioned on issues ranging from transportation to car tax to economic development during the Conyers/Rockdale Chamber of Commerce's annual Post Legislative Breakfast held Thursday.
Rep. Pam Dickerson, D-Conyers, Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick, D-Lithonia, and Senator Rick Jeffares, R-Locust Grove, spoke with Chamber members on the impact of bills passed this year for local residents and small businesses during the meeting held at the Georgia International Horse Park. Senator Ron Ramsey was invited to participate but did not attend.
The legislators were asked about their stance on the transportation special local option sales tax referendum, also called the TSPLOST, that will appear on the ballot July 31. Both Dickerson and Kendrick support the penny tax for transportation improvements, though Jeffares said he does not feel the tax is fair.
"I think it should be some type of a user-fee based tax. I think it is going to penalize the retired people because they are the ones spending the money and not travelling."
Kendrick said, "I look at this 10, 20, 30 years from now I don't want small businesses to fall behind the surrounding areas...because the second biggest thing business owners want besides education is transportation so people can get to their businesses." Dickerson said she also supports the tax because she looks at "the big picture" and how it will impact local governments.
All three legislators did agree that a bill should be passed that will require government officials to turn over all fees collected in their offices rather than keeping any for personal use, such as passport fees. The three also said they are against installing tolls on existing HOV lanes. Furthermore, they were also in agreement that an exploratory committee should be formed to look at ways to create new reservoirs and wells.
Dickerson described bills she worked on that did not pass this year, including a bill to allow non-profits, schools and charities to more easily sell food for fundraising and a bill against using another person's image or Photoshopping an image onto an adult website.
Jeffares' bills, which also did not pass this year, included a hunting-season exemption for the terminally ill and a bill that would return unclaimed Lottery prize money to the HOPE scholarship fund instead of putting it back into the lotto pot.
Kendrick described bills she had voted against, including the tax overhaul - a foot-high stack of paper put on her desk an hour before the vote - since she did not have a chance to read it before the vote. She also opposed a bill that redefined "small business" as having 500 employees or less instead of 100 employees or less.
David Shipp, Chairman of the Chamber's Governmental Affairs Committee, asked legislators if they felt the cost of $78 million in tax incentives given to Baxter International, a pharmaceutical company coming to Covington, was a "prudent use of taxpayer funds." All three legislators agreed the creation of high-paying jobs and the allure for other industries will be well-worth the cost.
Laura Wilkes-Fralick, Director of Government Affairs with the Georgia Department of Commerce, also described several bills passed this year that affect Rockdale County. Among those were HB 386, which eliminates sales tax on energy use in manufacturing over four years, mandates on-line retailers with a presence in Georgia to collect and remit sales tax. It also reinstates the sales tax holiday.