The 2012 legislative session began on Jan. 9 with the General Assembly in “mid-term” posture. Being halfway through a two-year legislative term, there are many bills already in the system, so the committees have something to work on right from the beginning. On Tuesday night, Gov. Deal delivered his second state of the state address, in which he outlined his legislative initiatives and some highlights of the budget proposals he is presenting to us.
The governor's primary themes were jobs and the economy, education, transportation and infrastructure, and criminal justice. Out of those topics, I'd like to touch on a few key points. He proposes several incentives to spur job creation in the state, to include elimination of the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, which has put us at a disadvantage regionally. Most Southeastern states either don't have that tax, or apply it at a significantly lower rate. He is also interested in modernizing Georgia's existing job creation tax credit to focus on the small businesses that create most new jobs these days. Those credits currently kick in when a business creates 50 or more jobs. Helping small business will require lowering that threshold. I strongly agree with both of these proposals, because they provide the kind of incremental fulcrum that can leverage greater competitiveness at a time when it is badly needed.
Gov. Deal also feels that we must make any further budget cuts that are necessary in areas other than education, which is the same stance he held last year (and which we honored in the final budget). This is something else that I agree strongly with, and from present indications, I'm pleased to see it looks like the House and Senate will follow suit again.
As to the budget as a whole, the fiscal 2013 spending plan (which will take effect in July) will be an easier budget to compose than the last several, but will still present some difficulties. While revenue has been slowly trending up for over a year, the anticipated total for the next budget will be 9 or so percent less than the peak of receipts before the recession. Add in the fact that inflation has slightly eroded the value of a dollar since that time, and that Georgia has added perhaps a million or more citizens, and it becomes clear that this will still be very much a recession budget. The past several years of tight budgets have taught the state and most local governments a good deal about getting more value out of each dollar. In fact, in terms of revenue per capita, Georgia has become one of the least expensive states in the nation. Or to flip the coin, one of the more efficient ones. Conditions should continue to improve, but I suspect we are getting the feel of the new "normal."
I'll conclude this week by covering a couple of interesting new bills. Each year, I find the inventiveness of my House colleagues to be surprising, sometimes exasperating and occasionally downright entertaining. So please remember, while I may present a bill or resolution as "interesting," that doesn't imply that I support it. I'm just trying to give you an inside glimpse of your venerable and inevitably quirky Legislature at work.
HB 659 would dramatically increase the penalty for hazing in school (K-12 or college/university) by making the offender ineligible to enroll in any school in Georgia. While the cure proposed in this bill may seem extreme, it might not be lightly dismissed, having been introduced by a committee chairman.
HB 661 requires that professional personnel of charter schools meet the same certification requirements as those in public schools. Clearly the author feels this question deserves a good examination and debate, given the increasing popularity of charter schools in Georgia.
Appropriations hearings will occupy the next week, so we won't be in session again until the following week. I'll continue with more new bills two weeks from now.
State Rep. Doug Holt can be reached at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.