Houston legislators talk about ’09 Assembly session

WARNER ROBINS — State Sen. Cecil Staton said Thursday that the poor economy and declining state revenues made the recently ended legislative session more difficult than usual, but he credited legislators with responding well to the economic crisis.

“In contrast to what Washington does, we passed two balanced budgets — one for the remainder of 2009 and the one for 2010,” said Staton, R-Macon. “Georgia’s constitution requires us to pass balanced budgets. We don’t have a printing press in the basement of the Capitol to print more money, and we can’t run up huge deficits. So we cut better than $3 billion to make our budget work. We did not raise taxes, and we did not add pork. A victory in the 2009 session was reducing a cut. But cuts were made across the board.”

Staton and four other members of the Georgia General Assembly who represent Houston County discussed the legislative session at Thursday’s Eggs & Issues breakfast hosted by the Warner Robins Area Chamber of Commerce.

Staton and Reps. Larry O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, Willie Talton, R-Warner Robins, Tony Sellier, R-Fort Valley, and Buddy Harden, R-Cordele, said the pain of the budget cuts were spread as evenly as possible. They also said they worked to limit the number of education cuts.

Legislators worked to assist small businesses in dealing with the tough economy with several measures to reduce taxes and simplify inventory procedures and other paperwork, and by reducing government fees to make it more affordable to start a business, Staton said.

“Our economy is best when small businesses can succeed. They are where most job growth is located,” he said. “So we tried to pass pro growth and pro job measures.”

O’Neal, Talton and Harden said they helped push through legislation that makes military families immediately eligible for HOPE Scholarship programs when they move to Georgia, rather than having to live here for at least three years, as in the past.

Sellier said he’s glad a measure passed to allow high school juniors and seniors to skip their final year or two of high school to go to technical schools or colleges and be eligible for state scholarship money and loans.

“Hopefully that will cut down on dropouts by allowing students bored with high school to go on and get career training or begin their college educations,” he said.

Talton, a former law enforcement officer, said he supported the “super speeder” law that passed this session.

That law allows money from higher fines for speeders to be funneled toward trauma care.

“The ones who run over 80 miles per hour are the ones more likely to use the trauma centers,” he said. “So if you want to do it, you get to pay for it.”

Looking ahead, O’Neal said tax revenues likely will continue to decline this year, so more cuts may be necessary. He and the others said they hope to avoid major layoffs of state employees, but more furloughs may be necessary.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.