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Lawmakers talk issues at breakfast

Budget, health care loom large in 2013

POSTED: December 19, 2012 12:34 a.m.

The state budget, health care and transportation will be among the top priorities for lawmakers when the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes next month.

All seven members of Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation talked about the upcoming session Tuesday morning during the annual Pre-Legislative Session Breakfast.

About 140 people attended the event, which was organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Lanier-Forsyth, at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

In past sessions, Forsyth was represented by five legislators. With new district lines drawn this past session, however, the county will be part of two additional House districts, for a total of five, and two Senate districts.

The seven men, all Republicans, who represent those districts discussed their backgrounds, goals and predictions for the 2013 session Tuesday. They focused on the budget and three large components of it — education, health care and transportation.

Because of the hour schedule, there wasn’t much time remaining for audience questions after the legislators spoke.

But District 51 state Rep. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, who previously served on the state transportation board, responded to a query about the future of roads after the recent failure of the 1-cent regional transportation sales tax referendum.

Gooch said the Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, likely was rejected by voters because there’s a “lack of trust in government” and because it encompassed “too many counties with too many differing needs.”

“TSPLOST was a miserable effort to get something to happen,” Gooch said. “There’s going to be some tough decisions that are going to have to be made in Georgia to fix the road problems and traffic problems.”

Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming said the mind-set of citizens needs to change along with any new infrastructure. Had people been more open to the proposed tax, or other alternatives to transportation funding, more could be done to alleviate congestion.

“Our infrastructure needs are far greater than the amount of revenue that we get coming in,” Hamilton said. “Until we change the funding formula, we’re going to continue to suffer that.

“If it has an impact on you, look a little bit beyond that … the only way that we’re going to increase the volume of some of these roads is to do what would appear to negatively impact some people.”

When asked how the Affordable Health Care Act could affect the state budget, District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming said there are only estimates, including $3.1 billion or $3.7 billion over a 10-year period.

“It’s so gray out there, nobody really knows what it’s going to cost,” Murphy said. “So it’s what has gotten everybody concerned and everybody … is not putting money into expanding their business and not putting money into the economy because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

District 21 state Rep. Calvin Hill of Canton, who will represent a portion of southwest Forsyth when he shifts into District 22 in January, had more of a grim prediction of how the health care law will impact Georgia.

“That’s $3,500 to $4,000 for each and every person in the state of Georgia,” he said. “… That’s what it’s going to cost and that’s where the money’s going to come from — out of your pockets as the taxpayers.”

Kathleen Kenworthy, a guest of the Rotary Club, said the event didn’t instill much confidence.

“We understand that they have hard choices, but they’re coming from the same place they always have,” she said. “It’s just going to be harder because the federal government’s making it harder. Nothing’s going to get better.”

Mark Bond with Hayes James and Associates offered a more optimistic outlook.

“I’m confident that they’re going to be able to make the hard decisions to balance the budget,” Bond said. “It’s not going to be easy. There may be some things people don’t like. Cutting education will unfortunately probably be one of them because it’s the largest part of the budget.”


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