ATLANTA -- State Capitol veteran David Lucas is battling Miriam Paris, the immediate past president of Macon City Council, and Bobby Gale, an Irwinton minister, in a state Senate special election Tuesday.
To the voters of east Macon, Twiggs County and parts of Wilkinson and Houston counties, Lucas touts his economic development coups. Paris says the state needs a modernized tax code.
Economics, taxes and the budget are only part of what will show up in the coming legislative year. The very first item is reapportionment, the once-a-decade redrawing of electoral districts that’s triggered by new census numbers. The powers in the Legislature have a chance to draw in -- or erase -- certain seats.
Then there’s another oft-repeated exercise: dueling on Macon-Bibb government consolidation, which requires both legislative and voter approval.
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Here’s a closer look at the candidates. Gale, a Republican newcomer, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
For nearly 37 years, Lucas has represented Macon in the Georgia House of Representatives. Now the self-employed insurance agent and entertainment promoter has given up his seat to try to move across the Capitol hallway to the Senate District 26 seat.
Lucas, 61, says he has a history of helping Middle Georgia avail itself of economic development opportunities. He listed negotiating with Geico, helping channel funds to Mercer’s medical school and to the state Division of Family and Children Services, and getting a community center in a retired armory instead of it becoming a day reporting center for offenders.
And now, he pointed out, the midstate could market its water to industries, especially in rural areas. Middle Georgia sits on huge lakes of underground water, in contrast to metro Atlanta.
As for state taxes, Lucas opposed a tax code rewrite that stalled in the closing days of the legislative session this spring. The GOP-written bill, based on recommendations of a blue-ribbon panel of business leaders and economists, would have raised taxes on consumption and cut taxes on income. One idea was a 1-cent state sales tax on groceries.
“David Lucas will not vote for that,” he declared.
He argued that Georgia must spend what it has differently: “Education is taking the back burner. … Early childhood education, they still cut it $54 million, and $25 million went to Delta.”
The $54 million refers to cuts to HOPE lottery money for pre-K education. On stagnant lottery revenue versus rising education costs, the Legislature voted to trim both pre-K and college and university student funding. On the other hand, Delta Air Lines and others were the beneficiaries of a renewed jet fuel tax break amounting to $25 million.
Lucas argued that his years under the Gold Dome are an asset, especially during reapportionment. Twiggs’ and Wilkinson’s populations are declining, according to 2010 census figures. Lucas suggested that the midstate might come out with one or three senators instead of two.
So, “have I been there too long, or do I have enough experience to understand and navigate under the Gold Dome?” he asked. “Most of the senators I (already) know. They were in the House with me.”
Anybody who’s been in the Legislature very long knows that bills on a Macon-Bibb County government merger appear from time to time. First the Republican-dominated Legislature, then voters across Bibb County, must approve any marriage.
“Any consolidation bill still has a problem because it’s got to pass the voters, … (but) Macon is a Democratic stronghold, period,” he said.
Macon voters will demand an appointed police chief to run merged public safety services and partisan elections to the merged governing body, according to Lucas, and he’s sticking with them.
Earlier this year, negotiations among members of the Macon-Bibb County legislative delegation about a merger broke down over those points and others.
In the Legislature, “Republicans are in charge, they can do what they want,” Lucas said. But he challenged them to “put it on the ballot and let the voters decide.”
First elected to Macon City Council in 2006, the real estate agent later won an at-large seat and was chosen council president by her colleagues. Now she’s seeking the Senate seat, saying that Georgia needs “fiscally responsible tax reform.”
About Georgia’s budget, she said, “We’re just about broke, and we need to face that reality.” Paris also said that Georgia needs to modernize its tax code to take into account that the economy is increasingly based on services. But as for the proposed sales taxes on groceries and services, she demurred on details to say that she wants to see exactly what the GOP publishes for a tax bill.
“It needs to make sure those who can least afford to pay are protected,” she insisted, bringing up the same airline tax break as Lucas. If Delta gets relief while the public gets more taxes, that’s “very inequitable.”
She also noted that education tends to take a hit whenever government budgets get cut.
“We’re really shooting ourselves in the foot,” she said.
Paris, 51, said that during her tenure, even though City Council “faced difficult economic times … we were able, along with the administration, to produce a balanced budget and cut spending. … I’ll take the same approach with me to Atlanta.”
Every dollar of government spending must be closely examined, she said.
“We need to cut government waste,” she said.
Paris also said she’s good at working across the aisle with Republicans. But in Atlanta, she’ll find herself in the minority party.
Paris is also “very much in favor” of Macon-Bibb County consolidation, she said, and so are her constituents.
For one, she thinks consolidation would eliminate duplicate services and save money in the long term.
Besides that, a smaller city-county governing body would make Bibb County more attractive to business, she said.
“When you look at surrounding counties, some have five or seven or three elected officials,” she said. But in Bibb County and Macon, by contrast, there are “21 elected officials to lobby.”
Draft proposals for consolidation put seven or nine people on the county governing board. Paris wants those elections to be nonpartisan.
“Partisan elections cost more money,” she said. That’s due to partisan primaries paid for by the public.
She also wants a top cop to answer to a Macon-Bibb County council instead of the voters directly, so that the council can examine credentials and make “the best decision.”
Paris said she will stand for legislation that helps public schools, public safety and good jobs for the region.
The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene Aug. 15 for reapportionment. They may also take up general business.
To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.