Live Blog: Loudermilk's Town Hall Meeting
State Sen. Barry Loudermilk hosted a town hall meeting at the Senior Center on Beavers Drive. Hot topics were tax reform, education and the 411 Connector.
7:30 p.m. The meeting concluded with another question on tax reform. Loudermilk and another legislator have introduced a measure that would place automatic caps based on population and inflation to limit the growth of government.
7:26 p.m. They're looking at shortening early voting.
Loudermilk is not a fan of nonpartisan elections. It's important voters know the affiliation, which identifies candidates with public policy, he said.
7:24 p.m. Back to 411 Connector: Loudermilk said the federal government says Route G does not meet traffic modeling requirements. DV-E was the most northern route the federal government approved.
7:22 p.m. They're looking at school vouchers. Loudermilk said State School Superintendent John Barge would support vouchers "if we level the playing field" on issues such as compulsory attendance laws and disciplinary requirements.
7:20 p.m. Back to education: Technology instead of textbooks. It would save a lot of money. Officials are looking at iPads and other "cloud-based" technology.
7:15 p.m. Earliest start of construction on 411 Connector would be 5 years from now.
7:12 p.m. Another model they're looking at is extending Highway 20 and curving it around to where WYXC is located.
Loudermilk: Route DV-E has already been funded. GDOT has not acquired any right-of-way. The first property they'll try to purchase is the Rollins'. That will go to court and Rollins will lose the lawsuit — probably will have a resolution within a year.
7:09 p.m. Loudermilk supports the 411 Connector, Route DV-E. Why if we're in a budget crunch, a man asked. Loudermilk said most of the funding comes from the federal government.
Route G is not an option because the federal government will not fund it. Officials never did in depth engineering of Route G so we don't know how much it would cost. They did not do the engineering because the federal government eliminated it as an option.
7:07 p.m. 57 percent of the state budget goes to K-12 education. Last year education was cut 3 percent.
Deal has said the state can balance the budget without furloughs. There will be some cuts, but not as deep as last year.
Loudermilk said he sees the state moving toward giving funding to schools and the schools have more latitude to spend it.
7:01 p.m. Is there a shot we're going to get an overhaul of the tax structure? Loudermilk: I don't feel as though we'll go with the commission's report. We'll take the best of what they recommended and go from there. The driving factor is the economy, and Loudermilk says he thinks a lot of change will happen.
6:57 p.m. Immigration: Proposal is to require the use of e-verify to ensure legal status of employees. Loudermilk said the agricultural community "up in arms" about it. H2A visas would allow companies to have work programs for illegal aliens, but they have to send them back out of the country. It could help the agricultural community.
6:55 p.m. Sunset is coming back and could be introduced in House and Senate next week. It controls the growth of government — any non-constitutional office or department sunsets after a certain period unless reauthorized by the legislature.
6:54 p.m. Loudermilk is still talking about lobbying, lobbyists and related requirements.
6:50 p.m. Man in audience said lobbyist should not be as involved. Loudermilk said that's why ethics laws are in place, but a few bad players have given lobbyist a bad name.
6:48 p.m. Department of Community Affairs has been cut 75 percent in the last 2 years. Loudermilk said the legislature in on the verge of eliminating departments.
6:47 p.m. If the state gets to a point that it can't make any further cuts, then the legislature would look at a tax increase, but Loudermilk would not support it.
6:45 p.m. The legislature is cutting close to $1 billion this year after cutting $4 billion in the last 2 years. Loudermilk: If taxes were raised where would the tax revenue come from? The economy is in the shape it's in because the people who pay taxes are feeling the impact.
6:42 p.m. Attendee asked Loudermilk is there going to be a point at which the state digs in and increases taxes to fund services or begin eliminating services.
Loudermilk said government has overgrown its original purpose and intent — to protect rights of people, constitutional roles. We've transitioned to "what we can do" providing services.
The economy is pushing a re-prioritizing of government — transportation, public safety, etc.
6:40 p.m. Still talking about HOPE, which earns $687 million in revenue per year.
6:36 p.m. Question and answer session coming up. Loudermilk said cutting remedial classes covered by HOPE and using a flat tuition amount will probably be in the solution, which is being decided now in Gov. Nathan Deal's office.
6:34 p.m. Possible solutions for HOPE: Raise GPA from 3.0 to 3.2; reinstate an income cap; eliminate "second chances" for one-time drop outs; require minimum SAT/ACT scores; reinstate Pell Grant offset; cut remedial classes covered by HOPE; use flat tuition amount; and reduce the number of credits HOPE would cover.
6:34 p.m. HOPE reserves were once $1 billion. By fiscal year 2012, reserves will have dropped to $300 million.
6:32 p.m. HOPE is running out of money, lottery sales not keeping pace with the number of students. HOPE has served more than 1.2 million students.
6:31 p.m. HOPE Scholarship was one of the best and worst things to happen to colleges in Georgia. Tuition rates started to rise when it was implemented and the drop out rose.
6:29 p.m. High tech jobs initiative: SR 68 sets up a commission to plan to establish Georgia as the top science and technology leader. It's a job creation effort.
6:27 p.m. Zero-based model would start a portion of department at zero in budgeting. The budgets of 1/4 of the departments each year would go to zero. In other words, every 4 years, departments would start over at zero and disclose what they're spending money on.
6:25 p.m. Current budget model requires departments to only disclose increases or decreases from the prior year.
6:24 p.m. Zero-based budgeting was vetoed in 2010, override passed in Senate but the House did not take it up. Instead, the House said 1/4 of the budget will be reviewed from zero each year.
6:22 p.m. What Loudermilk does not like about the report, continued: expand sales tax on clothing, photography, housekeepers, gyms, dating services, car repair, tires and other things. Also the commission would like to tax casual sales on automobiles, boats and airplanes. Loudermilk does not like that idea either.
6:20 p.m. What Loudermilk does not like about the report, continued: Sunset sales tax exemptions on government authorities, health care and nonprofits by 2014; no more sales tax holidays; and raise the cigarette tax to 68 cents per pack.
6:15 p.m. The report recommended to reduce personal income tax by 4 percent by 2014; eliminate insurance premium tax; establish tax court for appeals; retain exemptions for sales tax; revise motor fuel tax to a percent from cents per gallon; review tax structure every gubernatorial election; and further study local property taxes.
Other things on the report Loudermilk is "not excited about" were some taxes would go up now, but go down in the future; eliminating itemization for income taxes; and eliminating the sales tax exemption of groceries.
6:13 p.m. HB 1405 is a base to begin restructuring tax code, which probably will not happen this year. Loudermilk likes the commission's report — to move to a fair tax model.
6:10 p.m. "We realize our tax model is antiquated," Loudermilk said. The idea is to move toward more of a consumption-based tax. The current model is narrow and deep. The idea is to spread it out so that more than just a small portion of the population is paying the majority of the taxes.
6:08 p.m. There are going to be changes with the HOPE Scholarship, Loudermilk said.
6:06 p.m. Loudermilk said the media is projecting Sunday sales as something the legislature is spending a lot of time on, but that's not the case.
6:05 After an invocation and Pledge of Allegiance, Loudermilk gave an overview of key issues, including tax reform, zero-based budget, high tech jobs initiative and the HOPE Scholarship.
6 p.m. Attendees are trickling in. Looks like the meeting is about to start with less than 25 in attendance.