That’s because if a Republican beats Stoner, Senate Republicans will hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate and thus be able to issue constitutional amendments without assistance from Democrats.
Ellenburg made his remark at a Cobb County Republican Women’s Club’s candidate forum at the county government’s chamber on Tuesday evening.
Joining him at the front of the room were his Republican opponents, Hunter Hill of Smyrna and Josh Belinfante of Sandy Springs.
The audience of about 80 listened quietly and politely as the candidates made opening statements and were asked two questions, the first by Joe Dendy, chairman of the Cobb Republican Party.
Dendy said Georgia is expected to grow by 5 percent over the next year, yet projected funding for county governments and county school boards is dropping because their funding comes from property tax collections, which continue to fall.
“What should the state do to assist the county government and county school boards from a funding standpoint?” Dendy asked.
Ellenburg, a Marietta High School graduate who is in the wholesale furniture business, said the answer lies in small government.
Georgia is wedged between Tennessee and Florida, two states that don’t collect income tax, he said.
“Georgia has a 6 percent, so I just think we’re in an unequal playing field with government … so we’ve got to figure out a way to cut and be equal on the playing field,” Ellenburg said. “The ad valorem tax is another tax that is a major issue where we’re not competitive. This should be offset, and that’s how we should limit our government and create growth.”
Under a state tax reform bill passed this year, the ad valorem tax will be phased out next year in favor of a “title tax,” a one-fee paid on vehicle purchases.
Next to answer was Belinfante, who grew up in Smyrna and served as Gov. Sonny Perdue’s chief counsel.
Belinfante said the General Assembly should remove the burdens that the state places on local school districts, which drive up their operating costs.
“If we can remove the cost of operating the school from the state side and the mandates we impose, that’s a step in the right direction,” Belinfante said.
The second step is to increase property values by getting people to buy homes again, he said.
“We have got to make Georgia a competitive place to live,” Belinfante said. “For me, that means sun-setting state regulations … It means reforming our tax code to make sure we’re incentivizing small business and making sure they have a playing field that works for them. And it means resolving issues in the metro area like traffic. If we do those things, people will move back, school taxes will be back up.”
Third to answer was Hill, a retired Army Ranger who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hill said if the state does indeed continue to grow as Dendy said, he would advocate for using more of the general fund to spend on transportation infrastructure.
“That makes the TSPLOST more irrelevant as whether it passes or not,” Hill said.
As for helping local communities, spurring economic growth is key, he said.
“The No. 1 thing is to reduce the size of government and allow entrepreneurs and businesses to grow and want to see organic growth out of Georgia, and the best way to do that in my opinion is to eliminate the income tax in Georgia.”
Hill said many of the donors to his campaign also have homes in Florida.
“And the reason they do that is because they’re trying to protect their capital,” he said. “I want to keep those successful people in this district and in this state so they can invest in their community, and that’s what eliminating the income tax will do.”
The only other question the three candidates were asked was from Cobb State Court Clerk Diane Webb, who said that it seemed to her that many who were elected to office no longer believe the rules applied to them.
“Have you taken the time to know what we the people expect of you, and will you make sure that you comply with all the rules that are set out for this office?” Webb said.
Belinfante said while he didn’t believe in signing pledges, he had imposed a $100 lobbyist gift cap on himself.
Ellenburg said he had agreed to sign the pledge inked by Common Cause Georgia, Georgia Tea Party Patriots and Georgia Conservatives in Action, which states that lawmakers will not accept lobbyist gifts worth more than $100.
“Frankly, I have a job, and I run a business and I don’t want anybody buying my lunch and giving me presents,” Ellenburg said. “It’s pretty simple.”
Hill said ethics rules should be reformed to put more of an onus on lawmakers.
“Currently lobbyists can give to legislators an unlimited amount of gifts that only they report,” Hill said. “I am for proposing that legislators also have to report any sort of gifts they’re given, who gave it to them and what is the value of that gift is. … Whether the gift ban is $100 — which I’ll support — or if it’s $50 or $25, it’s irrelevant. … you can hold us accountable. You’ve elected us.”
Given that the General Assembly recently redrew District 6, expanding the boundaries into Buckhead, the winner of the Republican primary on July 31 may be the winner of the seat, Kennesaw State University political science professor Dr. Kerwin Swint said.
“The Republican should have the inside track,” Swint said. “That’s why they drew the district that way.”
But don’t count Stoner out yet. Melissa Pike, chair of the Cobb County Democratic Committee, said Stoner’s re-election is “job one” this year.