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Bulloch, Maddox, and Taylor expect more school cuts

When Georgia lawmakers convene next week under the Gold Dome in Atlanta for the 2011 legislative session, sharp knives, scissors, axes or red ink pens may be their accessories of choice. Grady County’s representatives in the Georgia General Assembly say they will have a daunting task of hacking down the state’s budget due to an expected revenue shortfall of possibly $2 billion.
“We’re going to have to make some real tough decisions and tough cuts,” predicts Sen. John Bulloch (R-Ochlocknee).
Representative Gene Maddox (R-Cairo) echoes Bulloch’s concern, saying, “the budget, that’s going to be critical this year.”
Both men say all government spending will be scrutinized and education, which makes up a large portion of the state’s budget, will probably take a cut again.
Freshman Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) is already in Atlanta this week for orientation. Taylor, who represents an eastern portion of Grady County, contends she is concerned about cuts to public education, saying, “that’s the last area I want to go to. We need to keep our education strong and Georgia, frankly, needs to work on that.” Still, she admits it may have to take a hit.
Bulloch says a special tax study committee charged with reviewing Georgia’s tax code will issue its recommendations, and those will have a bearing on the budget. He indicated that the tax council may suggest implementing a consumer based taxing system and reducing income taxes “to make us compatible with states around us. To get industry here, we’ve got to be compatible.”
A budget challenged HOPE scholarship program is also a concern facing lawmakers. One option bandied about to keep the program afloat is to reinstitute a family income cap for eligible college students. “I will have to think about the income cap. It’s not fair for someone that’s got a job that makes $50,000, another makes $25,000 or $100,000, that’s putting a penalty on someone that’s been successful. I think we shouldn’t put caps on there without giving it some high consideration,” says Maddox.
Bulloch predicts such a cap would send some good students to out-of-state institutions, “I think we need to encourage the brightest of the bright to stay here, and a lot of those are kids from families with high incomes.”
In addition to the college scholarships, HOPE pays for Georgia’s pre-k program, something very concerning to Taylor. She says, “I think early education is the important thing . . .the younger you can start teaching kids I think the better off you are. I think pre-k has been very beneficial.”
Neither Taylor nor Bulloch have plans to introduce their own legislation this session, although Bulloch says he usually winds up introducing several bills before the gavel falls for the last time each year.
Maddox has four bills he is introducing, two of which he worked on last year. Former HB62 would repay a portion of student loans for veterinarians who agree to practice in specific rural counties in Georgia where large animal or food animal vets are needed. Former HB58 would give volunteer firemen in Georgia a potential $1,000 income tax credit if they have been on the job 36 consecutive months, attended 50 percent of the fire department meetings, and responded to at least 50 percent of the fire calls.
New bills Maddox is promoting include one that would decrease the amount of time set aside for advanced voting from 45 working days to 10 working days. “This would save counties several thousand dollars,” Maddox says. The fourth bill enhances the penalties for owners of dangerous dogs; it would make the owner automatically responsible from the first attack. “Now, if my dog bites you or something you own, I’m not responsible for the first attack unless you take me to court,” Maddox explains.
The lawmakers say they should find out this week their committee assignments.
Bulloch, who was named in this month’s “Georgia Trend” magazine as one of Georgia’s 100 most influential people in 2011, says he has positive relationships with the new leadership in the Georgia Senate. “They’re all people that we’ve gotten along with the whole time,” he says. The Republican caucus in the Senate voted last fall to strip Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of his right to make committee assignments and name committee chairs. Political followers have indicated that move took political power away from Cagle, a politician Bulloch has long supported, and transferred it to a committee of six Senators, who now make up the Senate leadership.
On his naming as one of Georgia’s 100 most influential Bulloch says, “I’m humbled that they would even consider me.”
The legislative session gets underway Monday with the swearing in of Gov.-elect Nathan Deal.

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