Gov. Nathan Deal was given two big issues when he took office by his predecessor, Dalton Mayor and gubernatorial hopeful David Pennington told the Cobb Regional Republican Women.
One was comprehensive tax reform led by an income tax cut. The other was the controversial T-SPLOST, the largest tax increase in Georgia history.
Deal chose to join forces with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and promote the T-SPLOST, which metro Atlanta voters rejected.
“We need comprehensive tax reform led by an income tax cut,” Pennington told the group of about 60 gathered at the Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q restaurant last week. “We were the second least competitive state in the Southeast until a month ago when North Carolina passed their tax reform. They’ve officially made us the most uncompetitive state in the Southeast. And how’s that working out for Georgia?” Pennington asked, saying Georgia has lost 14 percent of its jobs paying more than $50,000 a year and added 15 percent to its Medicaid rolls during the recovery.
“Our unemployment rate in the last three months has gone from 8.3 percent to 8.8 percent while Alabama’s went from 6.7 down to 6.4, so I would say the tax strategy we have right now doesn’t seem to be working real well,” he said.
Eliminate state middle management
While it’s great to talk about the 180,000 jobs that were created since Deal took office, most of them have been minimum wage and part-time jobs, Pennington said. Whether it’s operating one of the worst prison systems in the country, allowing potholes on I-75 that would be expected in Detroit, or underfunding education, Pennington said the state government is in need of an overhaul.
“I think there’s a lot that can be cut obviously because our state basically is and a lot of other states have become middle management,” Pennington said. “And we know what we did in business a long time ago in middle management because the Internet, computer, things like that, we eliminated it.”
Pennington, who describes himself as a principled conservative, accused Deal of increasing the power of the governor’s office and increasing spending by $2.5 billion in three years.
The state government continues to expand much faster than the economy does, Pennington said, citing the Georgia Title Ad Valorem Tax, legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2012 that created a new system for taxing motor vehicles.
“It was sprung on our legislators at 10:30 at night, and they were told they had to vote on it by the next day, and they said, ‘Trust us, this is revenue neutral,’” Pennington said. “Well, this tax has been anything but revenue neutral. In the first four months of this year that it’s taken effect, it’s grown the state revenues by about $31 million a month, which is a total of a $370 million tax increase on an annual basis.”
Georgia — not California or New York — is now the most expensive state in America to own and operate a vehicle.
Time to let the sun shine on the General Assembly
The deficit of trust citizens have in their elected officials, Pennington said, should be addressed by making the state government subject to the same open meetings laws that it puts city councils, county commissions and school boards under.
“They’ve exempted themselves from that, and it’s amazing how much better government gets when you let the sunshine in,” Pennington said.
The leaders in the General Assembly engage in bullying when they don’t get their way, Pennington said, referring to the few lawmakers who voted against the hospital bed tax earlier this year.
“None of their bills got to the floor after that,” Pennington said. “One of them made a mistake and his bill got to the floor and did not pass. That’s the type of what we call ‘leadership’ in this state. Bullies and people who go out and punish people for trying to represent their constituents and stand up to what they feel is right. That is not democracy and that needs to stop, and if you wonder why Georgia has performed as poorly as they have over the last 10 or 12 years it’s politics such as that.”
Pennington has a personal connection to Cobb County in the form of his wife, Pam, who is from east Cobb. Their children were also born at Kennestone Hospital.
After his talk, Neva Lent of Marietta, president of the Cobb Regional Republican Women, explained why she was a Pennington supporter.
“I am a fan and the reason why I’m a fan is because we share the same philosophy that the government is a business and it needs to be run like a business, and he obviously runs the city of Dalton like a business, and as a result of that he’s reduced his expenses, they live below their means and now they’re prospering,” Lent said.
Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson told the MDJ that Deal’s leadership has led to a fairer and lower tax burden for Georgia’s families and job creators.
“He reduced the marriage tax penalty, ended the birthday tax and removed the tax on energy used in manufacturing,” Robinson said. “Even PolitiFact admitted we lowered taxes. Gov. Deal has governed conservatively as well as practically. The City Council in Dalton writes the budget, so maybe that’s why the mayor has such little understanding of how budgets work.”
UPDATE: Michael Mulé, spokesman for Mayor David Pennington’s campaign for governor, provided the following statement in response to comments made by Gov. Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson: “As is often the case, Brian Robinson is factually incorrect. The truth is, as chairman of the Finance Committee, Mayor Pennington writes a budget and presents his budget with every department head. After that, Mayor Pennington and the Finance Committee present it to the full City Council for their approval,” Mulé said.