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Cagle: Education drives Ga. economy as 'great equalizer'
Lt. governor seeks balance between spending needs, fiscal efficiency
Georgia-State-of-the- Casa-2
Gov. Nathan Deal, left, stands with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle before delivering his State of the State address Jan. 14 at the Capitol in Atlanta. - photo by David Goldman

In his speech at the state Capitol prior to the inauguration of Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle talked a lot about moral responsibility.

It was his way of calling upon lawmakers to support increased funding for public education in Georgia, an issue Cagle has pegged his legacy on.

“There’s no question in my mind that education does drive the economy,” Cagle said during a sit-down chat with The Times at his Capitol office last week. “Education is the great equalizer.”

But as he begins his third term in the office, Cagle said he understands that convincing his Republican constituency to support additional spending this year is a challenge, adding it’s necessary to demonstrate value in public funding.

“I’ve fought for more efficiencies in government than probably anyone, and I’ll continue to do that,” Cagle said. “On the same token, I recognize that we make investments.”

One of the ways that Republican lawmakers may be able to keep conservative voters happy is by lowering the state income tax. Cagle said he supports consumption-based taxes, and Republican lawmakers are likely to begin offsetting a lower income tax rate with hikes in sales taxes.

But Cagle added that zeroing out the income tax will have to take time to ensure that revenues for essential services are not lost, particularly for those most in need.

“You do have to ensure against being regressive,” Cagle said. “We don’t want to penalize those who are below poverty. That would not be fundamentally sound or right.”

Democrats are pushing to hike the minimum wage in Georgia this year following successful measures in states across the country in recent years.

Cagle said he doesn’t support these efforts, but instead wants to invest in education and create opportunities for workers to move up the ranks.

“Government’s responsibility is to do everything we can to foster that environment,” Cagle said.

But Cagle insists he’s not unresponsive to his liberal counterparts.

“You have to be inclusive,” he said. “I believe fundamentally that government works best when we work together. We need more statesman than we need more politicians today.”

Cagle said he has appointed more committee chairs from the opposing party than any of his predecessors, adding that every voice deserves to be heard in the larger debate.

A Gainesville native, Cagle may be lining up for a run at governor in four years, but for now he’s focused on 2015.

“Really what my future looks like starts every day,” Cagle said. “I believe I am elected to be an agent of change, to make a difference.”

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