On Monday, January 8, 2017, the 155th General Assembly will convene for the 2018 Legislative Session when my colleagues and I plan to address several key topics. Along with legislation remaining from last session, as well as new legislation, we will review reports from the study committees that have been meeting during the interim.
One of these study committees is the Senate Special Tax Exemption Study Committee. The committee, comprised of six senate members, worked with key stakeholders to examine the costs and benefits of state tax exemptions. I agree with the study committee’s recommendations that we should continually and carefully review tax exemptions and credits. As outlined in the committee’s final report, the newly created review schedule and templates will help us examine if each exemption has the potential for a Return on Investment (ROI) and will allow us to address any outdated exemptions that may hurt businesses – big and small.
Reviewing exemptions will ensure that Georgia’s economy and businesses can continue to thrive, furthering our ability to maintain the perfect credit rating which Georgia has maintained throughout several downturns, even when most other states’ ratings have dropped. Even with the current perfect credit rating and with continuous tax revenues going up – 2.7 percent for the year – we must be cautious with our projections, spending, and savings.
Another issue that is important to Georgia’s economy as well as the overall prosperity of our citizens is healthcare. In the current climate, it seems that everyone wants to pay as little as possible for the best benefits while believing that their healthcare should be someone else’s problem. Before numerous changes are made to our healthcare system in the state, we need to evaluate changes made on the federal level. We should not be overly reactive to the perceived crisis and expand scope of practice for under-trained healthcare providers. A big issue that does need immediate attention is mental health. Like other healthcare issues, a lot of the problems within mental health diagnosis and care is due to failure of the affected individuals knowing how to care for themselves. Drug abuse and the current epidemic of overdoses are a closely related and urgent problem. I think a solution for current healthcare issues would be for us to incentivize personal involvement in each person’s healthcare instead of the government overreaching and getting too involved in everyone’s healthcare.
Like healthcare, education will top our priority list this year. I believe that fixing education will require making tough choices in the management of education. Additionally, we must decide if education is a state issue or a local issue. If it is a state issue the state should pay the bills and be responsible for the outcomes, if it is a local issue then the school boards should pay the bills and be responsible for the outcomes. Rewarding poorly performing schools with more state dollars doesn’t seem right. If more money meant better results Atlanta City Schools would be on the “Dean’s List”.
Additionally, we will address transportation, which is similar to healthcare and education in that many are looking for someone else to pay for it. Traditionally, Georgians don’t want to give up the independence of using their own vehicle to travel back and forth to their jobs. On the other side, users of mass transit systems have traditionally not paid for the services they use. Although mass transit may work in urban counties, I do not think mass transit works in rural areas. I believe this issue should be left to each community instead of trying to apply a standard “solution” for the entire state.
These are just a few of the many issues we will address during the 2018 Legislative Session. I highly encourage each and every one of you to stay informed and to reach out with any questions and suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you as we prepare for session at the State Capitol.