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Democrats urge for boost to school funds
Candidates for governor also say tax changes would help economy
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Election calendar
March 16: Special election to fill vacancies
April 26-30: Candidate qualifying for state and local office
June 21: Last day to register to vote to qualify for state primary
July 20: State primary
Aug. 10: State primary runoff, if needed
Sept. 21: Special election to fill vacancies
Oct. 4: Last day to register to vote to qualify for general election
Nov. 2: General election
Nov. 30: General election runoff, if needed

ATHENS — As he and four other Democratic candidates in the race for Georgia’s governor squared off Tuesday in their first televised debate, David Poythress made at least one promise none of the other candidates in his party made.

“As governor, I will not draw a salary until the state comes under 7 percent unemployment,” Poythress said as he held up a white sheet of paper that was, presumably, the written promise.

Poythress, the former commander of the Georgia Army and Air National Guard, said that while there are strategic plans to improve the state’s economic situation — many of which were mentioned by the other four Democrats on the stage with him for the televised debate at the University of Georgia in Athens — a governor must show his commitment to getting Georgians back to work.

But much of Tuesday’s hour-long debate centered on the state’s education system, with former Gov. Roy Barnes, D-Marietta, claiming education was the main reason he returned to politics, and Ray City Mayor Carl Camon, a 15-year educator, said he would find a way to “show the teachers the respect that they deserve” if elected governor.

“I don’t know that there’s anything more important that we do in this state than educate our kids,” state Attorney General Thurbert Baker said.

And each candidate said the state’s education system will continue to suffer until it receives the proper funding. Providing that funding would first require improving the state’s current practices to collect sales tax, the candidates said.

While Barnes was the first to mention that if the state’s Department of Revenue provided point-of-sale information to local governments who collect local sales taxes, it would “dramatically increase” the amount of tax collected, state Rep. DuBose Porter made sure to mention that he introduced legislation in 2009, House Bill 356, requiring just that. The money saved from an overhaul of the state’s sales tax collection alone would save enough money to keep teachers from furloughs, Porter said.

Poythress also mentioned overhauling the infrastructure of the state’s Department of Revenue, calling it one of his first priorities if elected. But Camon offered that the state would have more funding for the state’s education system if it could simply cut down on the number of students who had to repeat a grade level.

Each candidate used the forum to make promises to the state. Porter promised to use sales taxes to fund a high-speed rail system in Georgia. Barnes said the state could create 10,000 jobs by re-engineering its buildings to be more energy efficient. Poythress promised a commitment to water conservation.

Baker, of Stone Mountain, called for an overhaul of the state’s property tax collection system that would require properties to be reassessed every year.

He said accurate assessment of property values was one of government’s most important functions.

“We’ve got to get it right,” Baker said. “Voters deserve a fair shot at their tax assessments each and every year.”

Debate moderator Tim Bryant of Cox Radio compared Camon’s South Georgia hometown to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, and asked him what experiences prepared him to hold a statewide office. The question elicited laughter from the audience and the candidates, but Camon said the experience at the local level will keep him aware of the people’s needs.

“You can’t run behind a skyscraper in Ray City and hide from citizens,” he said.

And while the other four candidates touted their statewide experience in their closing remarks, Camon said he didn’t need it.

“Some people are conditioned to believe that you have to be a millionaire, that you have to be from a large city ... to be the governor of Georgia,” Camon said. “We could continue to vote the same way we’ve been voting but we’re going to continue to get the same results we’ve been getting.”

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