Legislators looked ahead Thursday at some challenges facing state government, including spending cuts, before the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Every member of Hall County’s delegation attended the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues event Thursday. Legislators included:
State Sen. Butch Miller, 49th District
State Sen. John Wilkinson, 50th District
State Rep. Lee Hawkins, 27th District
State Rep. Matt Dubnik, 29th District
State Rep. Emory Dunahoo Jr., 30th District
State Rep. Timothy Barr, 103rd District
The legislature will begin the 2020 session on Jan. 13. The Times will have a preview of the issues on Jan. 12.
Gov. Brian Kemp has called for 4% budget cuts this year and 6% budget cuts next year. Some areas like public schools, universities and Medicaid are exempt from the cuts.
“When you look at the economy in Georgia and the revenues that are being produced in Georgia, there’s a disconnect. The economy is red hot,” Miller said.
The state is missing out on $150 million to $200 million in sales tax from online purchases every year, Miller said.
“We’re missing that sales tax, an even playing field for the local merchant who is involved in his community, dedicated to this community, who’s buying the ad on the football field,” Miller said.
Consumers’ decision to buy used cars rather than new ones has also been a factor, and Hurricane Michael “decimated decades of production” in some parts of the state, he said.
Hawkins said cuts will be a “tough hill to climb,” and cuts were already made during the economic recession.
“There’s still not a lot of fat on the bone in state government,” he said. “It’s still lean and mean, and we’ve been doing a good job with what we have.”
A study committee in the Georgia House of Representatives is looking at gambling.
“I’m against any expansion of gambling in our state. Now, if someone can show me where it helps our quality of life and does good things for our state, I’ll be glad to listen and keep an open mind,” Wilkinson said.
Dunahoo said he has heard from people on both sides of the issue.
“Every time something comes before Georgia, we need to vet that process. We need to meet with the people and listen to both sides. I’ve been privileged to do that,” Dunahoo said.
The question could be sent to the voters to decide on the local level, Dunahoo said.
“If it comes forward, we will have to vote and put it before the people,” Dunahoo said. “And then hopefully, each county would have that opportunity, if the state passed it, to allow each county the opportunity to opt in or opt out.”
Dubnik asked, “Where will the money go?”
“If this were to come to pass and this were to go on the ballot in November and it’s something that we look at in Georgia, I think that that is a very serious consideration,” Dubnik said. “It’s not just yes or no, but what are we going to do with those revenues?”
Barr said he anticipates separate debates about casinos and sports betting.
“I believe we will have both of these discussions moving forward,” Barr said.
Miller said the forms of gambling being considered include casinos, sports betting and horse racing.
“I think the sports betting is probably, if there is a likelihood of one getting to the floor and having a vote in the House and the Senate, and then that coming to the people to make a decision, that one has the best chance. … Casinos and horse racing, I don’t think they have a good chance. I wouldn’t bet on them,” Miller said.
Sports betting could be added to the current state law on the lottery, Miller said.
Barr said he attended a committee meeting about vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes, and he expects the issue to come before legislators next year.
He said he heard from doctors who told legislators about how vaping can help people quit smoking cigarettes. However, he said that people purchasing illegal substances for their e-cigarettes had led to health issues and fatalities.
“We are concerned about what our kids are getting, and there may be a loophole or two that we should close,” Barr said.