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Lawmakers cook up Eggs and Issues

POSTED: December 6, 2012 8:39 p.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

Rep. Ann Purcell, right, greets Magistrate Court Judge Scott Hinson after Hinson presented her with a plaque honoring her 18 years as a state legislator.

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Though he said he’s often called a voice of doom, state Sen. Jack Hill believes the state’s economy is on the upswing.

Speaking at the Effingham Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast Thursday at the Effingham College and Career Academy, Hill said there is “more energy and excitement and there is more investment in our state in any year that I can remember.”

Hill, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, praised Gov. Nathan Deal’s efforts to foster economic development in the state, including his push for an additional $50 million to fund Savannah harbor expansion project. If that money is approved and included in the state’s efforts, Georgia will put more than $230 million toward the projected $652 million needed to deepen Savannah’s channel.

“We certainly have done our part,” Hill said. “We’re looking at the federal government to do its part.”

Gov. Deal also has bolstered the state’s deal-making funds, pumping $67 million into that line item, Hill added. The total directed toward economic development is $100 million, with the remainder going to OneGeorgia.

“So that’s money we’ll have in hand ready for closure funds from the state for job-creating opportunities,” Hill said. “So there is no excuse for our state to compete with anybody.”

State Rep. Ann Purcell, who announced her retirement from the Legislature earlier this year, pointed out that a strong educational system is key to bringing in new industries.

“Without an educated workforce, you’re not going to have economic development,” she said. “Industry is not going to come to any area of our state without a good workforce, so education is key.”

Lawmakers also liked the idea of an additional sales tax specifically for education that could reduce the property tax needed for education by 2-3 mills. But they also held out little hope it would go forward.

“I would like to see it,” said Rep.-elect Bill Hitchens, who will take Purcell’s seat in the upcoming General Assembly, “but I don’t envision it at this time. I think you have a hard fight to convince a lot of people.”

State Rep. Jon Burns said the state needs to broaden its tax base and he’s in favor of using sales tax money to do that. He said there may be legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session that will allow school systems to use E-SPLOST money currently reserved for capital projects on maintenance and operations.

“The current sales tax going to education has been limited and has caused a problem with our school administration on how they use those dollars,” he said. “I think that will be an important tool for the school board and superintendent in educating children.”

Hitchens said his experience with the transportation special purpose local option sales tax, which was defeated in the Coastal region and passed in only three regions, showed how much anti-tax fervor there is. Having spent most of his time in Atlanta, he wasn’t aware of how bad the congestion, especially on Highway 21,was until he saw it first-hand while campaigning.

“I thought it would pass without issue, but as I started talking to people, I began to get a different perspective,” he said. “I think you have a hard fight to convince a lot of people. My experience with T-SPLOST is that we have a sector that will oppose any new taxation. There’s a lot of people who are upset with government and there is a lack of trust.”

Though he is not in favor of raising taxes, Hitchens said he would not sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge not to raise taxes. “You never know if we will be in a war or something dramatic is going to happen and we’re forced to do some things you can’t foresee.”

Burns said he wasn’t aware of a “plan B” to fund transportation projects in the wake of T-SPLOST’s defeat in July. He added that Georgia was a donor state for the federal gas tax, meaning it sends more money to the federal government in gas tax receipts than it receives back in transportation funding.

“We would like to get as much of that back as we can,” he said. “We continue to be affected by what goes on in Washington. We still do not have a federal (transportation) bill. We have a stopgap measure. That uncertainty is causing a real problem.”

After 18 years in the General Assembly, Purcell offered her thanks to the crowd at Thursday morning’s Effingham Chamber of Commerce annual Eggs and Issues breakfast. But the longtime lawmaker may be right back at work in Atlanta, if her colleagues are successful.

Though she won’t be one of 180 members in the state House of Representatives after Jan. 14, 2013, she vowed to continue to work on behalf of the county.

“My love for you and this community does not stop when you are not an elected official,” she said. “They continue because of the love of community. I will always be voice for us. It’s been an honor to serve you.”


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