“Budget will be ... bigger than everything,” said state Rep. John Yates, R-Griffin. “If don’t have money, you can’t do much of anything.”
He said the budget will crowd out every other issue and affect every other issue, particularly trauma care. He said Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, had proposed increasing traffic fines to help fund the hospitals, as well as increasing the tobacco tax, something Yates said he opposes.
Yates also said he will take a look at election law. He said the current law disqualifies mail-in absentee ballots with certain mistakes on them, but not ballots turned in at the office. He said he spoke to the assistant secretary of state, who supports making changes.
Education will also be an issue. He said a state senator proposed a bill allowing parents of special-needs children to put their children in private school on the state’s dime, something the educators are opposed to. Yates also believes water will be an issue - he believes a federal court will ultimately decide how the water is divided up with Florida and Alabama.
Yates also believes that the bill allowing for regional transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOSTs), which failed in the last session by three votes in the state Senate, will make another appearance. He also said a bill to allow a statewide transportation tax may also appear.
State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, also believes balancing the state budget will be the biggest issue.
“The economic crisis we’re in is going to make it very difficult, but we have to do it,” he said.
He said each department has proposed cuts to Gov. Sonny Perdue. When the governor puts his budget before the Georgia General Assembly, the legislators will be able to take a look at it.
“I think there needs to be a general belt-tightening across the whole spectrum, in order to be fair,” he said.
He said $2 billion, 10 percent of the budget, needs to be cut.
He also said the transportation SPLOST will return, either in its original form or altered somehow.
“To me, that appears to be the only way we can get new money for transportation projects,” he said.
Education will also be a big issue. He said education funds have been cut over the years and he expects further cuts, due to the economy. The goal, he said, is to make the cuts equitable.
State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, said the two biggest issues are the budget and transportation.
“We’re going to have to make tough decisions and learn to live within our means this year,” he said.
He said the departments have submitted their budgets to the governor and when the budget comes before the Legislature, the legislators will be able to review it and make changes.
He said transportation is in need of new funding and the transportation SPLOST from last year or something similar will be on the table.
State Sen. Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, could not be reached for comment.