Sen. Steve Henson delivers Democratic response to Gov. Deal’s ‘State of the State’

Good evening. My name is Steve Henson, Leader of the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus.

On behalf of my colleagues, we commend Governor Nathan Deal for his ideas to help better manage the state of Georgia. There will be many opportunities for us to work with him on legislative endeavors.

In our efforts, Democrats will stand for common sense solutions that create a strong and prosperous Georgia that works for all of our citizens. We will stand up for the working families of our state who are struggling to pay their mortgage, buy health insurance and put food on the table.

Democrats believe our greatest asset is the people of Georgia. Our citizens deserve our attention and investment. Every decision we make during Georgia’s legislative session must be focused on creating jobs, creating communities that work, building strong families, creating an educated workforce and guaranteeing an honest government that works for everyone. We will not be distracted by legislation that veers from this course.

Policies that strengthen responsible and fiscally sound investments are necessary, and those policies must be fair and compassionate, understanding that we live in one of the worst economic environments many of us have ever known. That is why Democrats will propose legislation this session to study all special interest tax cuts to ensure they are creating jobs and are in the best interest of all Georgians.

Balancing the state’s budget is not only a good idea, it is our constitutional mandate. To that end, Democrats will be the voice of the people of Georgia and not special interest. Our process has been too tilted in favor of short-term financial gain for some instead of long-term employment and economic growth for all. Our state budget has been too tilted toward pushing up the wealthiest over increasing the incomes of the middle class and giving the poor a chance to work their way into it.

We cannot balance our state budget while giving special interest tax breaks to some and shifting the burden to the middle class. Any taxation plan must be done fairly, balancing the needs of families and small businesses.

Remember, special interest tax cuts, over the last decade, did not prevent the crash of Georgia’s job market and our continued job losses.

Rather than clinging to the stale options of the past, state legislators should work across party lines toward innovative, forward-looking solutions.

There is no greater investment our state can make than in educating our children. Fully funding Georgia’s Pre-K programs, reducing class sizes and training people for the jobs of today and tomorrow is an investment in the very people who will one day lead our state.

We applaud the Governor for adding 10 days a year back into the Pre-K schedule. But we need to remind Georgians that this is accomplished by eliminating 2,000 slots for Pre-K next year.

We must build a state economy that is not based on outsourcing, tax loop holes and risky financial deals, but one that’s built to last – one built on investments like education, transportation, higher education and research and development.

And we ask the Governor to provide more leadership in funding these key elements of long-term success.

We must do better at educating and training Georgians for jobs – and not just any jobs – jobs that pay well.

In November of 2011, Georgia was the only state in the nation to lose jobs. This is a direct result of our failure to build the foundations for long-term economic success.

While other states have started down the road to recovery, Georgia’s job picture has worsened. In fact, Georgia ranked dead last in job growth for the past two years.

Georgia’s Senate Democrats will approach legislation with these four things in mind:

  • Creating a sustainable economy in which business thrives.
  • Creating a transparent and honest government that works for everyone.
  • Building strong families.
  • Educating people for success.

During the next few weeks Democrats will introduce legislation aimed at moving beyond rhetoric and the failed ideas of the last decade. We have heard loud and clear from Georgians they want government fixed so that it works.

Democrats pledge to respectfully and collaboratively work with Republicans with a dialogue that is civil and productive.

We need to make the best choices and changes in both government and our private economic practices. These  tasks require the best ideas of Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals. We hope for nothing less in order to create a strong and prosperous Georgia.

Than you for the opportunity to address you this evening.

Governor presents budget proposals to General Assembly

Gov. Nathan Deal outlined his legislative agenda, including a proposed $19.2 billion state budget for fiscal year 2013, on Jan. 10 during his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate.

The governor said he would recommend three tax breaks for businesses in an effort to spur job creation in light of the fact that Georgia’s unemployment rate has exceeded the national average for 52 consecutive months. The governor supports a plan to eliminate the sales tax on energy used by manufacturers. He also proposed launching a “Go Build Georgia” program to encourage young workers to take jobs in constructions and skilled trade industries.

On education, the governor is proposing $20 million in the state budget toward a college scholarship loan program for needy students and $8.7 million to assist charter schools that have not been approved by their local school boards. He also said he would restore the full level of state funding to local school systems and  pledged a total of $257.9 million to accommodate enrollment growth in K-12, the University System and technical colleges. The budget plan would also restore 10 days to the Pre-K calendar.

Gov. Deal also recommends spending $35.2 million for additional prison beds, $5.7 million for substance abuse treatment centers and $10 million for the creation of new drug courts to implement recommendations of Georgia’s Civil Justice Reform Council.

The governor’s healthcare budget plans include $5 million to help the Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta become the state’s second designated cancer center, alongside Winship Cancer Center at Emory Hospital, as well as funding for 400 residency slots in hospitals across the state.

On transportation, the governor said, “We need a bigger, smarter transportation network to move people and products in the most efficient way possible. That means roads on which traffic and freight move freely, ports that handle bigger ships and airports that process people and packages more efficiently… Investment in transportation infrastructure is an investment in our future … The regional referendums on this year’s ballots give voters the opportunity to fund a slate of projects with a sales tax when they deem the proposed investment provides value.”

Click here to review Gov. Deal’s midyear budget proposal for the remainder of fiscal year 2012 and the annual budget for fiscal year 2013.



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