Editor's note: This article was revised before being posted to reflect the following correction, which will appear in Wednesday's print edition. State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said accountants found that state employees spend about $3 million a year on rental cars. An article on page 5A of Sunday’s edition incorrectly stated that General Assembly members spent that amount on rental cars. The Coastal Courier regrets the error.
State Rep. Al Williams was in a mischievous mood Tuesday when he spoke to the Hinesville Rotary Club at La Quinta Inn and Suites in Flemington.
The Midway Democrat good-naturedly poked Republicans, ministers and even the club president during his remarks. He gave a hint of what was to come during his opening.
“Someone was asking me what I was going to say. I said, ‘I’m going to try to make at least one person at each table mad,’” said Williams, drawing laughs. “And I know because of my lack of opinions, it’s going to be difficult for me to pull up something that’ll make anybody angry.”
Then he proceeded to touch on a number of topics, including transportation funding, casino gambling possibly coming to Georgia and the recently announced personnel cuts at Fort Stewart.
Williams praised the transportation bill, House Bill 170, which after much negotiation and several twists and turns, the Legislature approved during this year’s session, and Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law. The law will raise more than $940 million for construction projects by imposing a state excise tax of 26 cents per gallon on gas
(29 cents per gallon on diesel), eliminating the state sales tax on gas and adding a
$5 per-night per-room charge on hotel stays, among other things.
Williams noted that Hinesville Rotary Club President Hasit Patel, manager of La Quinta Inn and Suites, and others in the hotel industry were not enthusiastic about the additional $5 charge per night, per room on hotel stays.
“He didn’t speak to me for two weeks,” Williams quipped as Patel chuckled.
Williams did say he hopes the Legislature will amend the law next year to split the hotel surcharge with one on rental cars. He said he had originally proposed that rental cars receive a surcharge, but state accountants found that state employees spend about $3 million a year on rental cars.
He then aimed at Republicans, calling several of the changes brought about by the transportation bill “taxes.”
“And I like to use the word ‘taxes’ around my Republican friends because they cringe when I use the word. I said, ‘You all can do anything you want, but you can’t change the English language. These are taxes!’ These are tax increases,” Williams said incredulously as several in the audience laughed. “We like to talk about fees, embellishments, but we had to do some tax increases because we needed some new revenue. And there is no way in the world you can tell me that you raise my excise tax by the amount we raised this excise tax, and then drop the word ‘tax.’”
“I did this particularly because I knew I had two of my favorite pastors who were going to be here today,” Williams quipped in starting this topic, drawing more laughs.
He said the door to casino gambling entering Georgia appears to be opening, even if only slightly at this point. Deal and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, both indicated that while they oppose casinos in Georgia, they would follow the wishes of the voters should they approve a constitutional amendment to allow casinos.
Williams himself said he would not campaign for or against casinos, but he does favor putting the question before the voters. The strongest argument for them, he said, is the revenue they would bring to the state — much of which, like Georgia Lottery funds, would go to education.
“I’ve always said this. It’s like liquor stores,” he said. “If you don’t believe in liquor, the only thing you have to do is not go inside because there ain’t no insistence that you go in and spend a penny.”
He added that when he attends conferences that are held in or near casino resorts in places like Biloxi or Tunica — both in Mississippi — that in talking to
10 people there, “three to four of them, at a minimum, will be from Georgia. And they go every weekend.”
Williams said he appreciates the community’s support of Fort Stewart, but he added that he is not happy about the recently announced reduction of 950 soldiers by the end of fiscal-year 2017. That cut is part of an overall reduction of 4,350 in Georgia (the rest will come from Fort Benning) and 40,000 across the Army.
“Don’t thank me with a 950 reduction. Don’t,” he said. “This community does everything it can — schools, the welcome mat — does everything to help the military and will continue to do it because it’s the right thing to do. And this community loves the military. But I believe in calling an ace an ace.”