Traffic, education key issues in race

CONYERS -- Only two things are sure bets in the race for the 95th Georgia House seat between Democrat Pam Dickerson and Republican Rodney Upton -- voters will send a new face to represent them in the General Assembly, and the person will be from Conyers.

Dickerson defeated one-term Rep. Toney Collins in the July 20 primary election, while Upton ran unopposed. This is the first time each has run for public office.

Whoever wins Nov. 2 will face some continuing issues at the state level that residents in the district know all too well -- budgets and spending, economic development, education and transportation. Both Dickerson and Upton participated in the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday night.

Dickerson said solving traffic gridlock in metro Atlanta is a key to kick-starting economic development. MARTA, the largest public transportation system in metro Atlanta, may be an answer. She acknowledged the system is not perfect but can be improved.

"It would be wonderful to take MARTA from the airport to Rockdale County as you have in some other states who have transportation systems such as Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago," she said. "And some of it is fairly new like Washington. We can look at some of those models, like the BART system in San Francisco, and improve on our system."

Upton said transportation is a complicated issue but lawmakers must be more forward-thinking.

"There's a lot of moving parts in transportation, and until we invent the hover car there's no simple answer," he said. Upton added that state leaders also need to start where commuters start. "They need to be thinking about suburbanites who spend three to four hours in traffic every day."

"For road projects, this is a good time to acquire land because of the shape of the real estate market, but we're running into budget problems and that's holding us back. Regardless of the economy, we need find a solution to the budget and do what we can do now to plan for the future."

Education brought different responses from the candidates. Dickerson was against additional state cuts in education and supports finding better ways to run government.

"State government needs to be more efficient fiscally," she said. "I don't want to see taxes raised, but I think there are ways to be more efficient.

Dickerson noted that the state Department of Revenue could come up with an additional $2 billion in sales tax revenue that retailers do not collect.

Upton, who has four school-aged children, said more parental involvement is needed and wasn't sure what state government could do to make that happen. He believed there could a mechanism to require parents to meet with teachers if their child's grades reach a certain level.

"The majority of our state budget goes toward education and then we continually rank in the 40s? Come on. We need to do something, and I don't think it's the teachers' fault," Upton said. We need a lot more parental involvement, and I think we need to enforce parental involvement. We should expect our parents to be involved in our children's education and not only when things go bad."

Dickerson pledged to defeat Senate Bill 55 that was passed this year and required county tax assessors to take foreclosures into account in setting property values. She said it was time to reconsider the move because it has affected property values too much and people could not get their equity out of their homes.

Upton disagreed with the move and said it would "create artificially inflated values" for property.