State Sen. Barry Loudermilk of Cassville, who will represent some of the Highway 92 area in north Cobb in the upcoming legislative session, said he recently talked with a Georgia Department of Transportation board member who expressed interest in a proposal to have the state control all the fuel taxes it issues and spends.
“There are no federal taxes that go for it, that’s what we need to be looking at,” Loudermilk said to applause, while dropping in quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. “I’ll take it a step further: we need to start in the direction to where we don’t have a Medicaid system, but we turn it back to the way it was before Medicaid, where there were nonprofit hospitals that provided indigent care to the people, that were run by churches and religious organizations. As soon as Medicaid came into being, they went away. They saw a way of becoming a profitable institution by government funding.”
Loudermilk’s comments came at the same meeting where state Rep.-elect Charles Gregory of Kennesaw said Georgia should look at making its own currency in future years, which could allow the state to get away from a reliance on federal grants.
Rep. John Carson of northeast Cobb said a major focus of his first full term in office will be reform of the SPLOST sales tax referendums, allowing for SPLOSTs of less than 1 percent.
“We ask the taxpayers for more than what we need,” he said. “Let’s scale that down, let’s ask for a quarter of a percent or a half of a percent.”
Sen. Judson Hill of east Cobb said that with the failure of the TSPLOST referendum in July, he is looking at some new transportation plans.
“We do need a Plan B that has a funding source that doesn’t tax people,” he said.
Hill said he believes the budget will take up the majority of the General Assembly’s time during the session, which convenes Jan. 14. He hopes the backlog won’t lead to a special session this summer.
“With all the things you referenced in Washington, the fiscal cliff type issues, it’s been very difficult for Gov. (Nathan) Deal to determine the revenue estimate, which is the basis for us to write the budget,” he said. “About half of our budget comes from the federal government.”
Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth said the state will need to look at an alternative to current electronic voting machines that would produce a “physically verifiable” record of a vote. But it could take several years to show the need for it.
“It’s got to be a mainstream issue among the citizens,” he said. “We can’t allow it to be framed as an extremist issue, that seen as a conspiracy theory. We have to be very measured as conservatives to not say, ‘Hey, over here in this state they had the elections thrown because they didn’t have a physically verifiable system.’ As soon as someone says something kooky and tries to present it as factual, then the whole movement loses credibility.”
Rep. Sharon Cooper of east Cobb, chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said that with the recent wave of mass shootings across the country, more needs to be done to deal with mental health services that the federal government has defunded.
“Families and physicians that used to put people in hospitals when they thought that they were mentally ill and they could keep them there, back in the ’60s or ’70s, the United States Supreme Court basically ruled that you could not be kept against your will unless you were right at that minute where a doctor could say you were going to kill yourself or kill somebody else,” Cooper said. “That ties the hands of psychiatrists and doctors to keep people who are mentally ill, who are really severely incapacitated but not at that minute going to kill themselves or somebody else, from getting treatment. I don’t know what the solution is, but we’re working on a statewide system now.”
The Republican delegation’s other newcomer, Sen.-elect Hunter Hill of Vinings, avoided the kind of headline-grabbing ideas promoted by Gregory, instead staying quiet for most of the event. But the man who defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Doug Stoner did get the loudest applause after being introduced by Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy.
“Our committees have not been assigned, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing where the leadership has decided to place me,” Hunter Hill said.
Though she lost to Gregory in the July 31 Republican Primary, and therefore won’t be voting under the Gold Dome this year, Rep. Judy Manning of Marietta sat in with the panel.
“It’s been my pleasure to serve you, and I’ve really, really enjoyed the ride,” she said. “I don’t know where it’s going from here, but it’s going somewhere.”
Rob Sifen of Vinings, president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition, said he was pleased with the discussion.
“A lot of really good points were made on a variety of topics,” he said. “Transportation needs to be addressed, reforming the SPLOST system needs to be addressed.”
Along with the legislators, a number of other dignitaries were in attendance Saturday, including Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens; Cobb Chairman Tim Lee and commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell; District Attorney Vic Reynolds; school board members Scott Sweeney, Tim Stultz and Brad Wheeler; Superior Court Judge Reuben Green, Solicitor General Barry Wilson and Georgia Tea Party Chairman J.D. Van Brink. Ott was seated at a table with anti-illegal immigration activist D.A. King, Michael Opitz of the Madison Forum and former chairman candidate Larry Savage.