As we enter the election season, The Times wants to know what issues matter most to voters in our area. The candidates have their ideas and plans, but what do you care about most? Is it the economy and jobs? Taxes and government spending? National security? And how would you like your elected officials to address those chief concerns?
We would like you to send us, in your words, a short letter expressing your views on the top issue in this election. Please limit it to 150 words, and include your full name, hometown and a contact phone number. The Times will publish a sampling of the best submissions in an upcoming edition previewing the election. A reporter also may contact some of you for an accompanying story.
You can send your submissions by e-mail (preferred) to email@example.com (please put "issues" in the subject line); by fax to 770-532-0457; or by mail to The Times, P.O. Box 838, Gainesville, GA 30503.
In Georgia, however, voters who patronize the Republican Party are getting a little confused with the "brand" elected to govern at the state Capitol. From the governor to the GOP majority running the state legislature, leaders are putting forth an agenda that looks quite different from the Republican "menu" that has been sold to voters for decades.
The GOP under the Gold Dome is fervently pushing tax hikes to solve its budget woes, making the state Capitol feel more like the twilight zone.
Instead of cutting personnel, closing unnecessary and duplicative departments, agencies, commissions, boards and outdated programs and costly regulations, we see the governor and legislature embracing a host of tax increases.
Yes, many in the General Assembly are voting for tax hikes. Sadly, only a few lawmakers are resisting and they are being ostracized for it. Let's review:
- With hospitals struggling to adapt to "Obamacare," the state legislature adopted a 1.5 percent tax on hospitals. The House and Senate have bills to lift the ban on the sales tax on purchases by Georgians on the Web. Merchants would be offered a monetary incentive to collective a "voluntary" state sales tax. Gone would be the days of tax-free shopping online.
- Seventy-five pages of new taxes and tax hikes sold as "user fees" for Georgians. Many of these fees are highly problematic, including a more than 100 percent fee hike on some equipment licenses, home day care operators and even a tax to have your day in court. How does this help average Georgians struggling to make a living during an economic crisis?
- In a last-ditch effort to win lawmakers' votes, the bill included a 0.25 property tax cut, but not until 2012, if there is enough money to pay for it. Forecasts are for the state budget to get worse before it gets better. The same goes for another sweetener, a phase-out of the state income tax for some seniors if the state can afford it. That sounds like a ploy out of President Barack Obama's playbook - tax before handing out any goodies.
- A House resolution for a $10 tax on car tag fees to fund a statewide trauma network. Not so long ago, lawmakers were talking about removing the annual tax on vehicles. Now they want to increase it by $10 in a ballot question to voters this fall to cater to the powerful hospital lobby that is pushing for these trauma centers in rural Georgia.
We know its tough cutting a $17.8 billion state budget in a year when tax receipts are down beyond economists' wildest expectations. But don't reach for taxpayers' empty wallets. The Republican "brand" has been to cut spending, even when every special interest group screams there are no more cuts to be found.
The GOP under the Gold Dome still has time to do the right thing: eliminate the state workforce by 10 percent; pass a sunset bill to eliminate unnecessary departments, agencies and commissions; seek to privatize more government services; and bring state employee benefits in line with the private sector.
Georgia families are making tough choices every day to balance their checkbook. It's time those who govern do the same.
Virginia Galloway is state director of Americans for Prosperity. J.D. Van Brink is chairman of the Georgia Tea Party.