ATLANTA -- Both of the Republicans who want to represent north Macon-Bibb and southeast Monroe counties in the state Legislature are looking at taxes with an eye to big changes.
The differences on their to-do lists include Common Core teaching standards and medical marijuana.
Macon electrical engineer Brad Moriarty, new to electioneering, is challenging restaurant owner and incumbent state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon.
The winner in the May 20 primary will get the House District 141 seat under the Gold Dome in Atlanta because there is no Democrat in the race.
“I’m really for much smaller government,” Moriarty said. “I’d love to see no property tax and no income tax.”
If those were cut, Moriarty said it could be made up in part from increased tax revenue from the economic growth it could spur, plus the savings from dismantling bureaucracies -- like the ones that collect taxes.
“Every time we create new policies, it’s another government agency that has to be created to regulate that policy,” Moriarty said. “I think there’s too many laws on the books that regulate how private enterprise works.”
A fight over the value of his home with the county tax assessor helped prompt Moriarty to run.
“Now you’re starting to see Monroe ... having these beautiful, brand-new neighborhoods because taxes are cheaper,” he said.
The state Legislature sets broad guidelines about how the state, and to some extent counties, fund their operations.
Moriarty is also critical of the new utility franchise fee now extended past the borders of old Macon into what was formerly unincorporated Bibb County. It’s a new fee that Georgia Power pays for use of county grounds to lay utilities -- and which gets passed on to consumers.
Macon-Bibb leaders in the county set that fee, but Macon-Bibb’s team of lawmakers in Atlanta have some powers to check what the county commission can and cannot do.
Moriarty called the franchise fee manipulation and said it can mean a lot to small and large businesses.
He also said Georgia needs to drop Common Core, a detailed list of what students across the state -- and most of the country -- should know in English and math at the end of each grade.
“It’s too standardized,” he said, and causes frustration for both teachers and students. “They have no choice. ... Everybody has to learn the same way,” he said.
“We came about to be such a great society because of thinking out of the box,” Moriarty said, “not because of some mediocre standardization.”
Different approach on taxes?
Peake, a former CPA turned owner of several restaurants, sits on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and at the grown-ups’ table of influential legislators. He said his life experience, including mistakes, as a father, grandfather and business owner have given him “humility and perspective” about life -- and legislating.
But the lawmaker is diverting from his usual fiscal focus for a very different first priority if re-elected.
If Peake has his way, Georgia decriminalization of a pediatric epilepsy medicine derived from marijuana will be House Bill 1 in January.
“Let’s get this done quickly so we can bring families back home,” he said.
The liquid rich in cannabidiol, or CBD, does not cause a high, and it is therapeutic for some children who have severe seizure disorders. Peake filed a popular bill this year that would have dealt with the medical issue, but it failed due to unrelated political wrangling.
It was inspired by a Monroe County 4-year-old whose mother has since taken her to Colorado for CBD oil treatment.
But back to taxes, “I think we need to start looking at how do we reduce state income tax. There’s going to be pain associated with that,” said Peake, meaning sales taxes on services and maybe even groceries.
It’s worth the pain, he said, because “I think that’s a tremendous incentive to attract businesses to our state.”
Peake was a main force behind the bill that put Macon-Bibb consolidation to a successful public referendum, which he called “the mother of all” things he’s done during his time in Atlanta.
While less seismic than consolidation, there’s another big idea he has for Macon-Bibb: cutting the number of school board members from eight to either seven or five.
For one, the even number leaves the board prone to a tie vote. For another, said Peake, the lesson from Macon-Bibb consolidation is that “when you downsize, you sometimes get better more qualified elected officials.”
The legislative job comes with a salary of $17,342 per year, plus per diem. The full Legislature meets for 40 days a year, plus a variable number of committee days in Atlanta. In the off season, it’s up to each lawmaker how much time he or she wants to spend at home on research, speeches, constituent issues and other legislative business.