In the midst of the holiday season, I would like to extend to your and your family my warmest greetings and wishes for a wonderful celebration. My hope is for the happiness and good cheer of the season to remain with you throughout the new year.
With the beginning of the 2013 session of the General Assembly less than four weeks away, I wanted in the article below to bring you up to date on some of the most important issues expected to be on the agenda.
I am proud to be able to represent the people who live in the 41stDistrict and hope to hear from you during the session on issues of importance, so please do not hesitate to call my office at 404-656-0085 with your thoughts. You can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on my cell phone if it is urgent at 678-907-2723.
Best Wishes and Happy Holidays,
State Senator, District 41
2013 Session set to begin January 14th
On the Second Monday in January each year the General Assembly convenes in order to set a budget and pass legislation that hopefully addresses issues of importance to Georgians. The Legislative session lasts for 40 legislative days and in recent years usually lasts till the end of March but has gone on as long as the end of April because of breaks taken to work on issues “off the clock”.
As always one of the most important things the Legislature does is allocate our tax revenue in the State budget. The fiscal year 2013 budget was built with the projection that revenues would grow 5% this year and the real growth has only been 3.7% at this time. This has forced the Governor to call for a 3% cut to state agency spending during the year and may call for additional cuts depending on how revenues come in for December and January, which are traditionally 2 of the state biggest months. This coupled with increased Medicaid expenditures and increase in student enrollment will mean that it will be tough work to restore any significant dollars to the deep funding cuts that have been made to education over the last several years.
It also means that one Legislative issue that faces us will be even more closely scrutinized and that is the “bed tax” for the last three years hospitals in Georgia have been charged a fee depending on their revenue and that fee has been used to bring down federal dollars to help with Medicaid costs. The fee has generated about $200 million dollars a year and that also brings the state about an additional $400 million in federal matching funds.
Hospitals that have a large number of Medicaid patients have benefited from the fee and those hospitals that do not have paid the bill. The law providing for this fee is set to expire this year and the question will be whether to extend it, find other revenue to fill the hole such as a tax on tobacco, or allow the law to expire and find hospitals taking deep cuts.
Lawmakers will also consider a proposal for a new retractable-roof stadium in downtown Atlanta for Falcons’ football games and other major sporting events now held in the Georgia Dome, which would be replaced. The cost of the proposed stadium is estimated at more than $1 billion, most of which would be paid by the Falcons organization. A proposed $300 million would be from state funds generated by a hotel-motel tax that is already in effect. To use that funding, the Legislature would have to authorize an increase in the debt limit for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority from $200 million to $300 million.
This session will be impacted by the tight budget and that should reduce the number of bills that pass simply because many ideas often take money to pay for them and there is not much money to go around. One issue that seems to be getting bipartisan support is to finally do something on ethics reform. Georgia is one of the few states that allow unlimited gifts to Georgia legislators by Lobbyists. For the last several sessions I have introduced legislation to cap Lobbyists spending and this year I am optimistic that we will get something accomplished. Along with the gift cap there will also be efforts to make the agency that enforces ethics more independent from the legislature and executive branch. Please watch for the issue of ethics this session and let your voices be heard supporting strong ethics legislation.
A few other topics to look for:
- Providing some additional bond money to support deepening the Savannah Port.
- Restoring Pre-K programs to 180 days from 170.
- Juvenile Justice reform.
- Issues related to the Federal Affordable Health Care Act.
- Discussions about our out of date tax code and state revenue.
Young people (12 and older) from Senate District 41 who would like to serve as Senate pages during the 2013 session should contact my office at 404-656-0085 for more information.