The Georgia budget and proposed spending cuts were near the front of local lawmakers minds during a breakfast hosted by the Rome Floyd Chamber at the Coosa Country Club on Wednesday.
State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said that Gov. Brian Kemp has taken a cautionary stance with respect to the state budget, asking state agencies to look at cuts of 4% in the existing budget and cuts of up to 6% for the 2021 budget.
“These are proposals, nothing has been cut yet,” Dempsey said. “It’s better to be prepared than to be caught off-guard.”
Floyd County Commission Chairman Scotty Hancock said local government officials are worried that if cuts occur — particularly in areas like the new mental health court, drug court, the Public Defender’s office, health department, and GBI Crime lab — that they would have a trickle down impact on local government.
“Y’all know what’s going to happen. If those cuts happen they are going to come to our next Commission meeting wanting to know if we’re going to keep those programs going,” Hancock said.
Those cuts are contingent on the state revenue stream.
State Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, who serves as chairman of the Senate Finance committee, said “If we can bring in the revenue that we should be bringing in, we will help the cities and the counties and the schools.”
The senator said he anticipates this year will be a soft year for corporate income taxes, in part because many of them overpaid last year.
“There is revenue that should be collected that will help pay the bills so that there is less pressure at the state on income tax and less pressure locally on property taxes,” Hufstetler told the chamber group.
Hufstetler also suggested that Georgia needs to bump its taxes on tobacco products.
“We heavily subsidize cigarettes in the state. ... If we were the same level of taxation as the nation we would bring in another half billion dollars, and as a side benefit the studies from other states show that we would prevent 28,000 of our youth from early tobacco death,” Hufstetler said.
However, cuts won’t impact education funding, State Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, said.
He expects to see the Quality Basic Education program fully funded for the third year in a row and touted the $69.4 million for school safety approved earlier this year, about $30,000 per school across the state, for projects deemed most appropriate by local school boards.
“Certainly a safe environment in our schools is paramount,” Lumsden said.
The Armuchee Republican chairs the Reapportionment committee in the House and said that participation in the Census will be critical going forward and he expects districts to change dramatically.
He estimated each state House seat will grow by about 5,000 residents, another 17,000 will be added to each state Senate seat and close to 100,000 more in each Congressional district.
Rep. Mitchell Scoggins, R-Cartersville, spoke about efforts to cut down the length of trains and the possibility of adding fines to the railroads for blocking major roads for lengthy periods of time.
Scoggins also anticipates items such as a potential state takeover of the Hartsfield-Jackson International airport and various gambling proposals to come up in the 2020 session.