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Forsyths state lawmakers ready to tackle budget, transportation

ATLANTA — As Georgia’s 2015 General Assembly begins this week, the seven members of Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation are preparing to tackle several issues of local importance.

Though each lawmaker — two state senators and five representatives, all Republicans — has his own projects, the overwhelming priorities are the state budget and transportation issues.

“We’re really hoping to get something done with transportation this year,” said Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, whose 51stDistrict includes a corner of northeast Forsyth. “I just got elected to become the majority whip, so I’ll no longer be the chairman of transportation, but I’ll still be heavily involved in that legislation.

“The first thing we’ll work on is the budget. That’s first and foremost on everybody’s mind, and we have to maintain a balanced budget in Georgia, unlike Washington.”

A new face will also be representing the county in the Senate, as Michael Williams begins his term in District 27. Williams, a Forsyth County businessman, agreed that transportation is a main issue, as well as tax reform.

“I do think during the transportation discussion there’s been opportunity to move a lot of the money from the general fund trough, lowering our state income tax to the state transportation fund, that’ll be something I’m pretty focused on,” Williams said. “My ultimate goal is to get us to a consumption-based tax.”

The budget and transportation are also issues for the local state House contingent.

“I think always No. 1 is the budget,” said District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville. “It’s the only thing we’re constitutionally mandated to do each year is pass a balanced budget. It takes up the most time in the House because that’s where revenue bills have to start.”

Tanner’s district covers part of north Forsyth.

District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming cited the budget and transportation, but also noted economic issues, especially what the state will need to pay toward medical costs.

“Even though we’re in better times financially, if you will, we’re looking at probably somewhere between $500 million to 700 million of the increase in budget revenue that we’ll see this year is already spent,” Hamilton said.

“It’s already spent on health care and for Medicaid. People get excited about the turnaround, but the mandates that continue to come to us because of Medicaid and the coming health care crisis is phenomenal.”

District 26 Rep. Geoff Duncan of south Forsyth said he plans to introduce legislation to go after bars that serve underage drinkers after the August beating death of 2014 South Forsyth High School graduate Michael Gatto in a Statesboro bar. The bill has been called “Michael’s Law.”

“We’re going to go after some of these establishments, these reckless bars across the state that are serving underage drinkers, underage children, and we’re going to try to attack the problem and hold them accountable,” Duncan said.

Mike Dudgeon, who represents District 25 in south Forsyth, said he was also concerned with the funding mechanism for schools, which has gone unchanged since the 1980s.

”The funding formula does not really work very well in the 21st century,” Dudgeon said. “This is not necessarily about how much total money the state spends, but about the formula that allocates it. And also we’re going to use that formula hopefully to have more flexibility in the local systems.”

District 22 newcomer and Cherokee County resident Wes Cantrell said his main issues for the session are the Religious Freedom Information Act, the Fair Tax and term limits for representatives

“I’ve already signed on to co-sponsor to a resolution on term limits to give voters of Georgia the opportunity to vote as to whether or not they want their state legislators term limited,” said Cantrell, whose district includes southwest Forsyth. “That was one of my campaign promises.”