* Interest rising at state capitol.
The 2010 Georgia General Assembly starts Monday. As the session approached, Staff Writer Jennifer Sami visited with the five members of Forsyth County's state legislative delegation. Their answers to some of the pressing questions facing the legislature appear below.
1. How will this being an election year impact the session? (For Tom Knox, who is running for insurance commissioner -- Entering your last session, what are you most proud of during your eight years in the state House?)
District 9 state Rep. Amos Amerson -- "The only impact I see is that it may help to shorten the session so those who expect opposition can hold early fundraisers."
District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton -- "During an election year there is a stronger urge from many legislators to wrap up the session as early as possible because of their desire to campaign and raise money for those campaigns."
District 24 state Rep. Tom Knox -- "I am most proud [that I] authored and passed health care reform bill HB 977, making health savings accounts and health insurance plans more affordable and available to individuals and small businesses ... and authored and passed legislation to reduce rates and increase competition in the auto insurance industry."
District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy -- "I think how it usually impacts the session is we want to get in, get the state’s business done and get out. We want to get done as quickly as we can without spending any more of the taxpayers’ money. We don’t want to get in there to fool around."
District 51 state Sen. Chip Pearson -- "Citizens are paying attention more. Nationally mostly, but also with the budget [and] water property taxes, they are a bit more focused on the issues. I don’t know that the election year itself is the cause, but more the economy, Obamacare, cap and trade ... etc."
2. How do you propose to fix the budget? Specifically, what areas do you think could be cut or reshaped?
Amerson -- "My ideas will remain mine until the governor presents his suggestions through his budget proposals. Those proposals will be the starting points from which we will work."
Hamilton -- "Balancing the budget this year is going to be very difficult, but we will do it. Many cuts have already been implemented by the governor and the remaining will be made by the House and Senate through the appropriation committee process."
Knox -- "In order to fix the budget, we will need to cut spending due to the shortfall in taxes by approximately $1.5 billion. We will have no choice but to make cuts where spending may be desirable to not absolutely necessary. It will require all segments of the economy to participate in making reductions."
Murphy -- "People don’t really understand when we go in and have these budget hearings with agencies ... we don’t dictate to them what they need to cut. They tell us what they want to cut ... That’s why we have hours after hours after hours of appropriations meetings. To try to improve what we’re looking at and try to make it as less painful as we can to the agencies involved."
Pearson -- "We will look at what the constitutional requirements are for the budget, then statutory, and fund on a priority basis. If it’s not critical to those and/or public safety, it will not be funded."
3. Aside from the budget and transportation, what in your opinion are the top priorities this session?
Amerson -- "Property taxes ... health care and education, primarily because you cannot separate them from the budget. Education uses over 50 percent of the revenues and health care another 15 to 20 percent."
Hamilton -- "Education, water and tax reform will be back again this year. There will also be a renewed interest in ethics reform this year."
Knox -- "Georgia’s control over its citizens’ freedom to obtain health care insurance reform and regulation."
Murphy -- "I think we’re going to be looking at what we can do to help with the property tax situation and how we can ... try to put more money in the citizens of Georgia’s pockets.We will also look at what we can do to help small businesses and just help the public in general get back to work and improve their positions during this tough economic time."
Pearson -- "I’m working on several items for economic development, Rep. Tom Graves’ jobs bill will be back with some companion items, water and property taxes. We are also looking at a bill to give counties a way out of [1-cent sales tax] for non-essential things and use to roll back millage to help the property owners."
4. What is the most frequent concern voiced by constituents and how are you working to address that?
Amerson -- "Property taxes are the No. 1 concern of most homeowners. I have worked for senior tax relief in all of the counties that I represent. However, we need ad valorem tax reform statewide with proposed solutions brought to the voters."
Hamilton -- "Congestion and the need for jobs are the two most consistent concerns I hear. We will push again for transportation legislation and make several changes on the jobs bill that the governor vetoed and push it through again."
Knox -- "The most frequent concern voiced by constituents is the federal government’s attempt to take over our health care and nationalizing our banks, financial industry, automobile manufacturers and bailout of Wall Street losers."
Murphy -- "I think about 46 percent of constituents statewide, from the surveys we’ve seen, are concerned with jobs and the economy and where we are going with that. In the metro area, of course, they are concerned with transportation and traffic congestion and what we’re doing to relieve it. But the economy problems are still first and foremost on their minds."
Pearson -- "Jobs, jobs, jobs. Tax credits for job creation, reductions in regulations like EPD and others, and making Georgia more attractive to businesses overall."