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Senate leader proud of session

The people's business

POSTED: April 10, 2009 1:20 p.m.
The 2009 Legislative Session has come to an end and was one of the toughest yet. State revenues declined, unemployment rose and the danger of increased foreclosures loomed as the Legislature worked toward stimulating the economy and balancing the state budget.
Every decision made was done so with focus on getting Georgians back to work, growing business, improving transportation statewide, reducing government bureaucracy and improving education. The Georgia Legislature balanced the state’s budget while restoring the Homeowners Tax Relief Grants, maintaining public safety standards and providing health care assistance for children and the elderly.
Raising taxes to cover our budget shortfall was not an option. Rather we chose to reduce the FY09 and FY10 budgets by nearly $4 billion combined.
The General Assembly passed a true stimulus package for Georgia by approving the Jobs, Opportunity, and Business Success Act of 2009 (JOBS Act). With this package, we are lowering taxes and reducing regulation in order to expand existing business and attract new jobs to the state.
The act provides a new business filing fee holiday, a $500 credit for businesses that hire individuals currently on our unemployment roles and a $2,400 income tax credit for each eligible employee hired, cuts the capital gains tax by half and eliminates the sales tax deposit. The legislation also eliminates unnecessary taxes such as the inventory tax on businesses, which will free up cash flow in order to make room for new employees and increase production.
With the passage of the Transportation Governance Bill (SB 200), we succeeded in enacting meaningful reforms at the Department of Transportation. The fact is the current transportation structure has not worked for decades.
Millions of tax dollars have gone to waste, the cost of projects has increased exponentially, and some vital projects have been on the docket for more than a decade because the department continues to promise more than it can deliver. Under the new governance structure, a planning director will be appointed by the governor to develop and carry out DOT’s statewide strategy in concert with the DOT board.
The legislature will now have a say in which projects get funded, how the budget is approved, and in making sure counties and cities get increased funding for local projects. With a streamlined transportation governance plan in place, we can move Georgia forward to get much needed projects done.
I am disappointed that we were not able to reach an agreement with the House on a funding solution for transportation, but I don’t think we should let this setback keep us from continuing to find new sources of funding. The Senate continues to believe, as do most people throughout the state, that local communities — not folks in Atlanta — should have the most say in which projects are funded.
Our TSPLOST proposal would allow voters to decide on the front end whether to tax themselves for transportation and which specific projects they want completed with their tax dollars.
I look forward to working with our counterparts on the House side over the summer to continue this dialogue.  
The Senate took the lead on getting a bill passed to prevent fraud and abuse in the Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs. Now the Department of Community Health can verify income eligibility with the Department of Revenue for all applicants. While income and citizenship are currently prerequisites for coverage, these agencies previously could not share information. This action helps safeguard Georgia’s health care programs for those who need them most.  
We also reorganized the state’s health and human services agencies to achieve increased efficiency and elevate mental health issues facing the state. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities was established to assume the functions previously handled by the Department of Human Resources Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Addictive Diseases. The Department of Community Health will maintain its current functions of overseeing the state’s Medicaid program and State Health Benefit Plan with the addition of two divisions from DHR. The Division of Public Health of the Office of Regulatory Services will be transferred to DCH.  
We made strides to improve education through the passage of several key bills designed to afford parents and students more choice in education rather than sticking with a one-size fits all approach. The Move on When Ready Act (HB 149) passed to allow 11th- and 12th-graders the option of attending an eligible college or technical school to complete graduation requirements while receiving college credit.
Additionally, Public School Choice (HB 251) passed, allowing a student in a local school system the ability to transfer to another public elementary or secondary school. The school must be located within the system in which they reside or the system that the local board has assigned to them. The bill ensures that the school has classroom space available after its assigned students have been enrolled and requires parents to assume the responsibility and cost of transferring the student.
The General Assembly also acted in favor of property owners with the passage of SB 240. This legislation enables property owners to go directly into arbitration over property assessments rather than going through the lengthy government process. It removes bureaucratic government layers, providing property owners more flexible options for resolving assessment disputes and achieving fair arbitration. Additionally, we pushed to cap property tax assessments at 0 percent for the next two years.
I am proud to represent Georgia’s 19th Senate District and am honored that my colleagues provided me the opportunity to serve as president pro tempore. As we move forward in economic recovery, I will continue to be an advocate for responsible government, free market principles, improved education and solutions for transportation across this state.

Williams serves as president pro tempore. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached at (404) 656-0089 or by e-mail at tommie.williams@Senate.ga.gov.
 

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