The 2011 Georgia legislative session is expected to be one of the toughest in recent years, but Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, is eager to tackle the budget deficit and other challenges.
Carter, who represents District 159, and Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, attended a reception Wednesday evening at Bryant Commons in Hinesville where they spoke with supporters about issues facing the state and their goals and objectives for the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 10.
The reception, hosted by Liberty Regional Medical Center, came together quickly, according to LRMC Chief Long Term Care Officer Elise Stafford, who helped organize the event.
Liberty County Clerk of Courts Barry Wilkes and LRMC CEO Scott Kroell are involved in the Friends of Buddy Carter support organization and they wanted to provide an opportunity for Carter to come talk to supporters and address the hot-button issues for the legislative session, Stafford said.
Carter touched briefly on a few of his priorities for the coming year, which include addressing Georgia’s trauma-care needs, finding ways to fund the HOPE scholarship and improving transportation in the state.
“Disappointingly, the trauma-care bill did not pass. I can’t figure it out. I was appalled that it didn’t pass, but it didn’t pass,” Carter said. “As responsible people, we’ve got to address that. And one thing I’m going to be working on in the legislature this year is the trauma situation.”
The senator also would like to find additional funding sources for the HOPE scholarship, which is facing an immediate challenge in terms of providing benefits to all eligible students.
“We’ve reached the point where we don’t have enough money to accommodate all the students who are deserving of the HOPE scholarship,” Carter said. “But it is a great program and we want to make sure it stays in place, so we’re going to be working very hard and very diligently on that.”
He also plans to look into improving transportation in the state. “Without transportation, we’re not going to see the growth we want to see,” he said.
Williams, who accompanied Carter on his visit to Liberty County, also took a moment to detail his agenda, but reminded the reception guests that the General Assembly is most interested in serving Georgia’s residents to the best of its ability.
“We’re not really partisan in the Senate. We try to get along — Democrats and Republicans — and do what’s right for the people,” Williams said. “If someone has a good bill, it doesn’t matter if they are a D or an R, we’re going to pass that bill.”
The Senate president pro tem acknowledged Georgia’s budget crisis will present lawmakers with tough decisions when it comes time to slash spending, but said they’re looking at additional ways to generate funds.
“We’re not just about making cuts. We’re going to have to make cuts, but we’re also interested in finding better ways to do things,” Williams said. “Because of our financial situation, we’re looking at a couple things for revenue.”
One such option, he said, is implementing a food tax and repealing the income tax.
“We think we’d get a broader base and a more steady income if we tax food and take it off income. It’s a fairer tax; it’s something everybody will pay,” he said.
Williams also said lawmakers may still consider raising the tax on cigarettes. “All the states around us are higher than we are, and that is a tax that, frankly, people are more comfortable with,” he said. “It’s true that the higher the tax on cigarettes, the less likely people are to smoke, and we want that.”
Even with the long line of chores that await them in Atlanta, Carter and Williams said they’re happy to get started.
“I’m optimistic,” Carter said. “We’ve got a big hole to fill and lots more to do, but we’re going to do it.”