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Officials address variety of issues
Chamber breakfast covers taxes, roads
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Forsyth County News

Taxes, education, water and roads were among the topics addressed by Forsyth County delegates during a breakfast Wednesday.

The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce held its annual Pre-Legislative Breakfast at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.

About 100 people turned out for the event, which featured questions for several local state legislators and U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, whose District 7 includes some of south Forsyth.

State attendees included Sen. Jack Murphy and Reps. Mark Hamilton and Mike Dudgeon.

Jerry Bowman, chairman of the chamber’s public policy committee, served as moderator of the event, which was sponsored by AT&T.

He said the breakfast was different this year in that just one question was asked of each legislator relating to a specific area on which he had some expertise.

Hamilton was queried about tax reform and whether additional legislation would surface in 2011.

He explained how a 2010 House bill created a group that will study options.

"We wanted to come together to look at the tax code in Georgia to see what could allow us to be more competitive with other Southeast states," he said.

He said that group produced a 100-page report, from which several versions of new tax legislation were written.

Among the top suggestions was to lower Georgia’s personal income tax from 6 to 4.55 percent to make the state more competitive with others.

But when lowering one portion of tax income, he said, legislators would have to find other ways to make up the difference.

Some options included increasing consumption taxes and taxing causal sales.

Dudgeon, a former member of the Forsyth County Board of Education, was asked what role he sees state government playing in education in 2012.

He said he believes some legislation may come out of a commission of which he is a member that is studying "what we are doing right and what we’re doing wrong" to prepare Georgia students for the work force.

He said other bills may focus on updating some of the curriculum and funding mechanisms that date to the 1980s.

"We need to rewrite those to reflect a modern school system," he said.

Other legislation, he said, would likely focus on distributing funding for school nurses and capital improvement projects more evenly across systems.

Another bill could increase funding for professional development, he said.

Sen. Jack Murphy fielded a question about Georgia’s water situation.

He noted that state leaders were pleased with a decision earlier this year that overturned a previous ruling that Lake Lanier was not intended to provide drinking water.

Murphy said the greatest battle concerning Lanier is attempting to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to raise the lake’s full pool level from 1,071 to 1,073 feet above sea level.

"The lake has been at 1,073 at least 300 times in its history, but you ask them and they say they’ll have to study the effects it would have," he said. "But we already have all the information."

In regards to the tri-state water wars with Alabama and Florida, Murphy said he believed Georgia is close to a resolution with Alabama, but "Florida still has a lot of species they’re trying to protect."

He said Georgia leaders also hope to reach some sort of agreement with Tennessee to allow withdrawals from the Tennessee River, which could then be used to fill new reservoirs.

In the absence of state Sen. Steve Gooch, who was unable to attend the breakfast, Hamilton took a second question about transportation.

He called the state’s transportation funding and population "the perfect storm."

"We’re the fourth fastest growing state in the country, yet we’re 49th as far as what we spend on transportation infrastructure," he said.

He encouraged voters to study the "wish list" of road improvement projects that are part of the upcoming referendum for a new 1-cent transportation sales tax, known as TSPLOST.

"If you like what you have now, then vote no," he said. "Or if you want more, then vote yes."

Woodall was asked to address any federal topics he felt may be of interest.

"Every week, at least in the House, we’ve had to repeal federal regulations," he said. "And we’re not repealing regulations from the [George W.] Bush administration or the Clinton or the Bush Sr. or the Reagan administrations. Every week, we’re repealing things that have happened in the past two years."

Among upcoming issues, Woodall said he believes the most important will be passing a balanced budget. Furthermore, next year’s election could be a turning point in the country’s history.

"I think 2012 will be the largest voter turnout ever seen in our lifetime," he said. "I don’t know what direction things will go in, but I believe it will be better if we’re all involved in it."