David Pennington says that if elected, he will be Georgia’s first limited-government, conservative Republican governor.
As mayor of Dalton, Pennington, 61, has cut taxes significantly and wants to do the same as governor. He will challenge Gov. Nathan Deal in the May 20 Republican primary. Of course, Deal’s predecessor, Gov. Sonny Perdue, served eight years in that office as a Republican, but Pennington noted that both Deal and Perdue were Democrats earlier in their careers, and he assailed Deal’s record as a conservative.
“I’ve got a five-way test for Republicans: Do you believe in limited government, less spending, less taxes, less regulations and open and transparent government or do you not, and our current governor and leadership there is (zero) for five,” Pennington said Tuesday during a visit to Statesboro.
Known for its carpet manufacturing, Dalton, with a population of about 33,000, is a northwest Georgia city slightly larger than Statesboro. Pennington has been mayor for more than six years, but will resign the first week of March to qualify as a candidate of governor. Another Republican, State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge, also is campaigning to challenge Deal in the primary.
In Dalton, the city council and Pennington have cut property taxes six times in six years. The total reduction amounts to 28 percent, he said.
Meanwhile, the current state leadership, Pennington alleges, has increased the size and scope of state government and dramatically increased spending. After a $17.4 billion budget approved in 2010, before Deal took office, he has proposed an almost $21 billion budget for fiscal year 2015, Pennington observed.
“At this rate, if he stays eight years, he’ll increase the Georgia budget by 50 percent during that time,” he said.
Among other things, Deal’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 restores some state funding to school systems that imposed unpaid furlough days on teachers after previous cuts. Pennington’s projection of a 50 percent rise assumes similar increases would continue through the next four-year term.
Pennington blames Deal and the legislative leadership for tax increases, including the switch from annual property taxes on motor vehicles to an up-front sales tax. The previous property tax was paid with a tag purchase in the owner’s birthday month, and much of the revenue went to counties.
“The birthday tax, which they take credit for eliminating, that was not a state revenue source,” Pennington said. “Mostly, that was a local revenue source, and by doing that and shifting those revenues over to state government, which they’re spending, sooner or later, what’s going to happen with the local governments … they’ll be increasing property taxes to make up for it.”
The state, Pennington said, should never have made this change without consulting and working with local officials.
But a cut in the tax was needed, he said. Pennington wants to cut other taxes.
“We need to cut the income tax immediately from 6 percent to 4 percent, and not by shifting it to a sales tax,” he said. “We need to cut state government by that amount.”
Over time, Pennington added, he thinks the income tax should be cut further, possibly by shifting it to a sales or consumption tax.