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Road tax gets thumbs down at candidate forum
State House hopefuls reject T-Splost, casinos, disagree on immigration law
Kris Yardley stands Tuesday to respond to a question during a political forum for state representative District 25 candidates at the Spout Springs branch library in Flowery Branch. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A proposed sales tax to fund transportation projects in Georgia won't be getting much support from South Hall's next representative in the General Assembly.

The most support any candidate for the House District 25 seat would show for the 1 percent sales tax Tuesday was to say he was on the fence.

And only two candidates — William "Sonny" Sykes and Bobby Banks — could say that much.

The other five men seeking to complete James Mills' term, including lone Democrat Paul Wayne Godfrey, made no secret of their opposition to the proposed tax at a forum at the Spout Springs Library.

The forum was sponsored in part by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, which publicly endorsed the tax last week. The Times and Jacobs Media were co-sponsors.

A special election on Tuesday's ballot will fill the final year of the term Mills vacated when he accepted an appointment to the state Pardons and Paroles Board. If no candidate earns a majority, the top two will meet in a Dec. 6 runoff.

Georgia voters will decide the sales tax in regional referendums in July. If passed, it is expected to generate about $1.26 billion in funding for transportation projects over a 10-year period.

Dominic Ottaviano, a business owner from Braselton and first-time political candidate, called the
tax "counterproductive."

"I will not support anything that's a raise in taxes, and that's what it is," he said. "Just because they can't spend the money they have doesn't give them the right to tax more money."

Godfrey called the tax "penny rich, pound foolish."

"It's not a cornucopia of money for us; we're going to have to stop somewhere," said Godfrey.

"Priorities — that's how we're going to pay for the roads if we don't have the SPLOST, and we need to align our priorities to the needs of the people."

Businessman Emory Dunahoo Jr., said people have to stop being conditioned to pay taxes.

"Yes, we need better roads, but if we stop wasting money, we could build these roads," he said.

Builder Todd Reed also said the government should look for the funding elsewhere in the state budget, while Kris Yardley, a former Flowery Branch councilman, said it wasn't the right time for the tax.

Sykes and Banks were the only ones who said they were unsure of how they would vote on the tax.

Sykes noted the chamber's support of the tax, and indications that a majority of residents are against it.

He said people should consider the relationship between the elimination of congestion on roads and the safety of Georgia's children.

Banks, a former Hall County commissioner, said he did not think the tax would pass, but he noted that the current funding plan "is the only plan on the table."

Later in the forum, none of the candidates said they would support a tax increase if elected. All of the candidates except Godfrey also agreed Tuesday to support of term limits if elected.

Yardley said he would limit himself to 12 years in the office if elected. Godfrey also said he only planned to seek one more term to the General Assembly if elected.

The candidates also differed on issues of immigration and education Tuesday.

Godfrey called Georgia's new anti-illegal immigration bill a mistake that should be revisited in the upcoming legislative session. Reed, too, said the bill needed to be improved.

Godfrey, Reed, Dunahoo and Sykes each suggested a Georgia-based guest worker program to bring in migrant employees to work in Georgia's agricultural sector. Banks said he was not for such a program.

Yardley, on the other hand, said he agreed with the new state law.

"If the federal government won't (apply immigration laws), the state of Georgia needs to assert its right to do so," said Yardley.

When asked about whether they would support school vouchers, only Banks said no Tuesday night, stating that he wouldn't agree with public money being used in private schools. The rest of the candidates said they would support such a program.

In response to a question on casinos, only Ottaviano said he would vote in favor of allowing them in Georgia, though he did not support them personally.

A study released by the Georgia Lottery Corp. last week estimated that casinos in key locations, including Lake Lanier, could generate nearly $1 billion in annual revenue.

Godfrey said the expansion of gambling could divert revenue from the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship.

Sykes and Reed said they oppose casinos on moral grounds.

Banks said he would not personally vote for casinos, but would not "wear my religion on my sleeve" and would not keep residents from voting on the issue.

"I think part of being a free country means that you're going to let things happen that you don't always agree with," said Ottaviano.

"It depends on where you stand on any issue, but you've got to take whatever issue that you find the most repulsive and when you see somebody doing it, look at them and say ‘you know what, I'm glad I'm in a free country where there's free enterprise.' And, you know, it's pretty much that simple."


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