Week 3 Legislative Update for 2020

Week Ending January 31, 2020

During the third week, we were in session for all five days of the week; the fourth week, we adjourned unexpectedly early on Wednesday, February 5th, which I will report on in detail in next week’s newsletter.   The reason given for unexpected early adjournment on February 5th was so that House and Senate Appropriation Committees can finish work on tweaking the current year’s 2020 budget, and to work on the Governor’s proposed 2021 budget. The Georgia State Constitution requires that the State of Georgia produce a “balance budget” {Georgia State Constitution, Section IX, paragraph IV(b)} which is a very good thing!  In fact, the only constitutional requirement imposed on the annual 40-day convening of the General Assembly is to produce the “balance budget”. Proposing, debating and enacting legislation in support of legislative priorities and a balanced budget falls to Georgia’s House of Representatives and Senate.

2021 Budget Battle Brewing

There is a budget battle brewing between Governor Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston over who sets Georgia’s policy, legislative initiatives and priorities, and the subsequent state budget.

In August 2019, Governor Kemp announced he was implementing 4% state agency budget cuts for the remainder of FY 2020, the budget year that began July 1, 2019, and 6% for FY  2021, which starts July 1, 2020. Despite Georgia’s overall healthy economy, the Governor requested budget reductions because state tax revenues are down, and forecasts of a softening overall US and Georgia economy.

In general, I support and commend the Governor’s conservative approach to the state budgeting process; all of Georgia citizens hope the soft economic forecasts will not come true.  But it is always better to forecast and budget low, and then beat the budget by better than expected performance.

The Governor, as the state-wide elected leader of the Executive Branch of Georgia’s government, is responsible for setting the state’s policies and priorities, and for proposing a balanced budget that achieves these legislative objectives. In fact, Georgia’s governor has budgetary power over all state departments.

The budget battle that is brewing is over who controls the state budget, and who sets the state priorities.

I encourage you to read the official House of Representatives website’s description of the role and duties of the Speaker of the House.

Nowhere in the official, or unofficial, description of the Speaker of the House duties and responsibilities does it say that the House Speaker sets the state’s policies and legislative priorities.  Those duties and responsibilities fall clearly to the Office of the Georgia Governor.

Fortunately for Georgia, Governor Kemp and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, both elected by the citizens of the entire state, are working in harmony to set and achieve the state’s legislative priorities and to propose a balanced budget that achieves those priorities.

After the Governor proposes each year’s new budget, the General Assembly then goes to work to massage, tweak and fund objectives in the Governor’s proposed budget by considering, and either passing or voting down, legislation in support of these objectives. Vitally important in this process, and currently missing in the House of Representatives, is the consideration of the legislative initiatives of a majority of the member of the House.

Major Budget Conflicts

There are two major budget items that the Governor and the Speaker are in conflict over – 1) the Governor’s promised $2,000 in additional teacher pay raise and 2) legislation passed in 2018 to cut the state’s personal income tax rate.

I support both initiatives.

The $2,000 teacher pay raise proposed for the upcoming fiscal year will cost the state about $350 million and is included in the Governor’s $28 billion budget proposal.

In the 2018 session of the Legislature, we passed a bill cutting the top income tax rate from 6 percent (6%) to 5.75 percent (5-¾%); this change went into effect for tax year January 2019. The tax rate reduction law we passed, and Governor Deal signed, allows Legislators to further reduce the top income tax rate to 5.5 percent (5-½%) for 2020, with the goal of eventually lowering the rate to 5%.

However – and very importantly – Governor Kemp’s $28 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2021 does not account for the $350 million reduction to state income, from the proposed state income tax rate reduction and the resulting savings to taxpayers.

I believe leaving more of taxpayer’s money in taxpayer’s pockets is better for the economy and certainly better for taxpayers.

Raising State Revenues

In a previous newsletter, I discussed the 2020 session passage and enactment of the Online Sales Tax Collection and Reporting law (House Bill 276) that will force companies that sell products or services online or through apps, known as online “marketplace facilitators”, to collect sales taxes. (I voted YES). This law helps to level the playing field between our very important, local brick and mortar retailers and on-line retailers by requiring all retailers doing business in Georgia to collect and remit sales tax to the state.  It is estimated that Georgia will reap hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from the change, and could easily bridge the gap in lost state revenue that the additional reduction in the state income tax will cause.

I will continue to keep you posted on further developments in the state’s budget battle and its ultimate resolution.

House Rural Development Council Continues its Support of Rural Georgia

The health and vitality of rural Georgia is an important element in the overall economic health of the state.  Recently, the House Rural Development Council submitted several legislative recommendations that would continue to support communities and businesses in rural Georgia. The council’s recommendations include supporting our agriculture industry, which is one of our state’s largest industries, as well as expanding funding for rural broadband deployment and addressing mapping issues that currently overestimate the amount of broadband coverage across the state.

The RDC also proposed solutions for providing adequate health care by creating tax incentives for rural physicians and developing a state-funded residency program to bring health care workers to rural areas. Rural access to “tele-medicine” (the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology) is a cost-effective method of delivering rural health care is very dependent upon rural Georgia having access to affordable high-speed internet.  Without affordable health care access, rural Georgia communities will not survive.

Israel and the State of Georgia

On January 27, 2020, we observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. This powerful day commemorates the catastrophic genocide that resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews and 11 million others. To honor the lives that were lost during the Holocaust, the General Assembly passed legislation during the 2019 session to create a Holocaust memorial in the State Capitol.

Members of the General Assembly, along with newly designated Israel Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon, joined to unveil the new memorial. This tribute in the State Capitol will serve as an important reminder that we should never forget the events of the Holocaust, and it will help educate Georgia citizens that such atrocities are never committed again.

Please Contact Me

The House and Senate will reconvene on Monday, February 11 for Legislative Day 12. I serve you and your family here on Capitol Hill. Now that session is underway, I will be working diligently on behalf of our entire district while I am at the Capitol. I hope you will take the opportunity to review updates like this to stay informed on legislative matters that affect our district and state. Our official House of Representatives website has a number of tools to help you stay up-to-date on what’s going on at the Capitol.  You can watch a live stream of the House proceedings; view live and archived committee meetings and review legislation we are considering.

I welcome you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and opinions as we move throughout the 2020 legislative session.  I can be reached via email at [email protected], or [email protected], on Facebook at facebook.com/votejeffjones and on my personal page facebook.com/jeffjones11, and by phone at my Atlanta office (404) 656-0178.

As always, thank you for allowing me to serve as your State Representative, which I consider to be a honor and privilege.

With kind regards,

Jeff Jones

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