Like the holidays, the 2020 session of the Georgia General Assembly is just around the corner, but before the 40-day session kicks off, three lawmakers representing Forsyth County recently gave their thoughts on what to expect at the state House and Senate.
On Tuesday morning, the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted District 27 state Sen. Greg Dolezal and state Reps. Marc Morris (District 26) and Kevin Tanner (District 9) at a pre-legislative breakfast, where the lawmakers asked pre-submitted questions and questions from the audience.
Here are what the members of Forsyth County’s legislative delegation had to say about issues facing the state or likely to come up during the session.
In recent years, the prospect of legalizing gambling in the state has popped up, a proposal all three said they were opposed to.
Tanner said such a change would be a large undertaking that would eventually need to be approved by voters.
“Ultimately, the constitution of Georgia would have to be changed to open up for additional forms of gambling outside the HOPE lottery,” he said. “In order to do that, we would have to pass in super-majorities in the House and Senate legislation a constitutional amendment that would allow that to occur. Then it would have to go to the voters.”
Tanner said he was not “overly hopeful” the proposal would pass this year.
Morris said if gambling is considered, he expects a big push from the industry’s lobby.
“This is coming, and you’re going to have to make a decision on it. Is this what Georgia wants to be known as?” he said. “Everyone goes to Las Vegas and looks at the front door, and I would encourage you before you make a decision to vote on this – because ultimately [voters] will make the decision – I would like you to take a look at the backdoor of gambling and what it brings to that community.”
The lawmakers also answered questions relating to a proposal that has already drawn the ire of Forsyth County Commissioners, a bill that would limit the ability of local municipalities to put zoning restrictions on properties.
Dolezal said local rules across the state gave areas “a sense of place” that differentiate them from other areas and felt those decisions should be made by local communities rather than the state.
“I know the reality is most of you people who walked in the door here, you don’t know my name, you probably don’t know the two gentlemen next to me on this table. Most people don’t know who their state elected official is,” he said. “What I can guarantee you is you don’t know who the state elected official is in Savannah or Brunswick or Pine Mountain, but I bet you know your county commissioner. … I think the government that is closest to the people is the best form of government.”
Responding to a question about proposed cuts in the state budget and whether that signaled a looming recession, Tanner said an issue with the state budget was it had been planned with the expectation of higher revenues, which did not happen.
“The economy is extremely strong, but one of the things I think we have to be very careful of is overpromising on what we can deliver on raises, on new employees, etc.,” Tanner said. “The tax revenue is only going to grow at a certain rate, so there is some concern there.”
Dolezal said the state had budgeted for about 3% revenue growth but the actual rate was about 1%.
“The best guess that I’ve heard is that the reason for that is our number one industry in the state of Georgia is agriculture, and agriculture took a massive, massive hit with the hurricane last year,” Dolezal said.
In addition to the budget question, there was also a question on the second half of a proposed teacher pay raise.
Earlier this year, the assembly approved a new $3,000 pay raise for teachers in the state, a portion of the $5,000 promised on the campaign trail by Gov. Brian Kemp with the remainder to be approved later.
Tanner said while it would be politically convenient for him to say the second half of the raises were on their way, it remained to be seen whether it would be approved in the coming session.
“I’m not sure what the governor’s plan is with the budget this coming cycle, but I am concerned about what it will take to get the additional $2,000 this coming cycle, especially if we’re going to be looking at cutting other agencies as significantly as we’re looking at cutting,” he said.
Tanner said if not approved this year, the raises will be approved within Kemp’s first term.