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Top state officials from area huddle on agenda
Deal, Cagle focusing on budget
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Northeast Georgia's top three political native sons are firming up their legislative priorities, meeting at the Capitol to discuss ongoing ideas before Christmas.

"We're assessing where we are," said Gov.-elect Nathan Deal. "I want to see that we're on the same page."

As one of several meetings between the three Republicans since Election Day, Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, both of Gainesville, and House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge, met Thursday to discuss budget ideas and general housekeeping details before the legislative session starts Jan. 10.

The afternoon's agenda included a wide range of topics: Tuesday's recommendations from the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians, help for the state's public education system and plans to cut the state's budget by $1.6 billion.

"We never have a set agenda," Ralston said with a smile. "We talk about whatever is important to each of us. I started meeting with Gov.-elect Deal within 48 hours of his election about a wide range of issues."

Ralston's legislative priorities include preserving the HOPE scholarship and funding the pre-K program, but most importantly, balancing the budget.

"That's the one thing we've been working on now, literally, for many months," he said Thursday. "We didn't want to wait until we saw who was elected governor, and we couldn't wait until right before the session."

The three declined to explain specifics, saying that talks are mostly preliminary and they use the meetings to throw out ideas before proposing formal recommendations to staff.

"This is an opportunity for us to focus on what we ought to be doing in state government," Ralston said. "It's important that we address the core functions of government - it's an opportunity for us to downsize."

Georgia's top three have known each other personally for years, and the friendships seem to be helping to get business done, Ralston said.

"The main thing for everybody to understand is that I like to get my way," Cagle said with a laugh. "No, it really is about the budget, which is going to take center stage."

At recent public events, Cagle has emphasized the importance of job creation.

"If you look at the issues I care deeply about, it's about workforce development, education and making pathways to the American Dream," Cagle said Thursday. "It's about giving people the ability to make a living."

Deal, who has yet to release specifics on his legislative priorities, is also focusing on the budget.

"We've tried to stay consistent in meeting on a regular basis and talking about issues important to all of us and how we can work together to move the state forward in a positive way," Cagle said. "We will continue to do so."


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