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Lawmakers talk issues at breakfast
Budget, health care loom large in 2013
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Forsyth County News

What they’re saying

The following are some excerpts of what the members of Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation, all Republicans, had to say Tuesday morning during the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s Pre-Legislative Session Breakfast:

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District 9 state Rep.-elect Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville talked about the confusion with the federal health care law and the unknowns  surrounding Georgia’s decision to let the federal government handle health insurance exchanges.

“One of the things that as a small business owner I’m concerned about is that with 50 or more employees, we’ll be forced to either provide health care at a certain level or pay a $2,000 per employee penalty,” he said. “… As state legislators, one of the big challenges we’re going to face is ... the state health care for our state employees.”

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District 21 state Rep. Calvin Hill of Canton, who will serve the new District 22 when the session begins, has been a big supporter of ethics reform, which he described as more than legislators accepting money from lobbyists. He also talked about his work on the zero-based budgeting subcommittee.

“We have eliminated approximately 19,000 state jobs. Now, we didn’t fire anybody. We just found out that these were jobs that various departments had slotted and budgeted for but nobody was in the chair … but they were still receiving that money,” Hill said.

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District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming, who will serve in the new District 24, talked about the state’s success in economic development, and pointed to the recent struggles of others to become right-to-work states.

“We’re already there,” he said. “We were successful several years ago with tort reform, we’ve had some setbacks on the legal perspective … we’ve had one of the best workers’ compensation programs in the country with exclusive remedies so I think you’re going to continue to see us move in that direction.”

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District 24 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth will serve the newly created District 25. On education, Dudgeon said there will be a lot of tweaking to manage the budget, specifically through money for technology.

“How do you get an AP physics teacher in rural Georgia? You don’t,” he said. “But if you have a high-quality broadband connection to a virtual classroom, guess what, you could get that teacher there. There’s tons of movement in this area … and I’d like to congratulate all the board members in this community for leading in the area.”

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District 26 Rep.-elect Geoff Duncan of Cumming talked about his small business experience, which he said puts him “right down on the ground with the issues that we face and the decisions we’ll have to make at the Capitol.”

“We look at health care, we look at investment, we look at opportunities to grow small businesses throughout this area,” he said. “It’s systems like this that we need right now that create a work force that’s ready for science and technology companies to come here.”

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District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming talked about the budget and the importance of working together with cities and counties to create something manageable.

“Everything else in the session is going to pale in comparison to us trying to straighten out our budget and get back on track,” he said. “We have to work with them as a state to get a balance of what’s going to be best ... It’s a very complicated issue, but it’s important that we work together.”

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District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega talked about the future of colleges in north Georgia, specifically the upcoming merger of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College.

“Lots of great things are happening in Gainesville and Cumming and Dahlonega with the creation of the University of North Georgia,” he said. “… I think it’s going to be a bright future for all of north Georgia … I’m really optimistic about it. It’s a positive step forward.”

— Jennifer Sami

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.”