Kidd, Howell set for House seat rematch

mlee@macon.comSeptember 29, 2012 

  • Candidates for State House District 145

    Quentin Howell
    Age: 36
    Party: Democratic
    Occupation: Business owner
    Political experience: Never held elected office

    Rusty Kidd (Incumbent)
    Age: 66
    Party: Independent
    Occupation: State representative
    Political experience: Elected to Georgia House in 2009

ATLANTA -- Incumbent state Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, and Democratic challenger Quentin Howell, who faced each other two years ago for a seat in the state House of Representatives, will face off again at the polls this November.

The two both want to represent Baldwin County and part of south Putnam County for House District 145 in a legislative session that will tackle questions about work and state spending.

Both men say their platforms are about jobs. August state statistics put Middle Georgia’s unemployment rate at 9.4 percent, half a percentage point higher than metro Atlanta’s.

Howell owns a medical supply distribution company and says “you have billion-dollar companies getting million-dollar tax exemptions, while small companies have to get a loan to pay their taxes. There’s no incentive for small-business owners to do more hires, to do more developing.” What he called “megabusinesses” have moved overseas, he said, so it makes sense to focus on small business.

Kidd does not look to large corporations either. Small towns have lost big companies that used to employ thousands of people, he said.

“The alternative is companies with 100, 200, 250 jobs here and there,” Kidd said.

He wants to keep Georgia Power plant Harley Branch open, but he said that requires altering environmental regulation in Washington, D.C. Kidd takes credit for helping to get the new GEO private-run prison located in Milledgeville and said he’s working on getting part of the Central State Hospital campus turned into a hospital for state prisoners. He said a central hospital would save the state money and create jobs.

Howell also thinks Georgia state offices can find a cheaper home at the state-owned Central State campus than they can in other parts of the state.

After several years of shrinking, Georgia may find itself with a larger pile of money to spend in the next fiscal year than the present $18.5 billion budget. That’s because tax revenue is starting to tick upward.

Yet a new budget demand of perhaps $500 million annually for Medicaid expansion would be made if Georgia joins the federal Affordable Care Act. That would mean the governor and the state Legislature cannot be too free-spending.

Howell supports cutting state spending, though not items on his to-do list.

“My priorities as a legislator,” Howell said, “would be our public school system, would be our tax system and forming infrastructure. ... If it doesn’t meet those criteria, then there’s a question mark. Should we be supporting it?”

Some state programs that might be good but are not vitally necessary will have to go, Kidd said. On a case-by-case basis, “we have to figure out whether it’s a good-weather program or a bad-weather program.”

In Georgia, the governor takes the lead on budgeting, drafting each year’s spending in a bill that the Legislature edits and tweaks.

Last year, the Legislature trimmed HOPE grants and scholarships, ensuring that every eligible student still got a piece of the pie. But for most, the slice is a little smaller and no longer includes book and fee allowances.

But that wasn’t the right way, said Howell: “We should make it means-based.” HOPE originally did not give money to students from wealthier families, but the Legislature has removed that cap.

Kidd, who voted for the 2011 trim, said, “the lottery is broke,” because demand for scholarships is outpacing lottery sales.

“As many kids should be able to access the program as possible,” he argued. Yet, he said, means-testing may have its place: “I really don’t have a problem with certain aspects of it ... I don’t think (billionaire Home Depot co-founder) Arthur Blank’s children should apply to HOPE.”

Both District 145 candidates have questions hovering over their taxes. Kidd, who lives in Baldwin County and claims a homestead property tax exemption there, also has a homestead exemption on a Putnam County property, according to both counties’ records. “If there are multiple homestead exemptions, it isn’t because I filed them,” Kidd said.

State tax records show a $5,000 lien against Howell’s income tax from 2010. He said that bill was paid immediately, two years go, but that public records don’t reflect it.

The vote is Nov. 6.

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