Local state representatives took questions Thursday at the annual pre-legislative breakfast on topics they expect to see during the upcoming legislative session.
Former Rep. Ben Harbin served as the keynote speaker for the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored breakfast at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
Delegates who spoke at the breakfast included Sen. Jesse Stone, of Waynesboro, representing District 23; Rep. Barry Fleming, of Harlem, District 121; Sen. Lee Anderson, of Grovetown, District 24; Rep. Jodi Lott, of Evans, District 122; Rep. Tom McCall, of Elberton, District 33; and Rep. Mark Newton, of Augusta, District 123.
Each year, the delegates espouse the goals and expectations they have for the legislative session in Atlanta, where they will begin work at the beginning of the year.
This year’s breakfast, however, saw a change in the format of the event. Delegates were asked questions about specific topics facing them in Atlanta.
Topics included the importance of expanding broadband access throughout the state, health care and job creation.
Stone took spoke first and was asked about potential gaps in federal funding for state agencies expected this fiscal year.
“PeachCare (for Kids), which provides Medicaid health services for the poor youths, children in our state, has not been authorized for funding yet,” Stone said. “That’s almost half a billion dollars with state agency entities. We expect it will be passed; we are not too concerned about that.”
Both Anderson and McCall were questioned about how to bring more growth to agriculture in Georgia.
“Less than 2 percent of the population in the country provides food,” Anderson said. “Not only food, but the shirt on your back and the shoes on your feet. The thing about it is, they’re just like me: They are getting older and older. There are not many young people getting into it.”
Anderson tapped into his history as a former dairy farmer to explain how farming was like any other business that always needs to identify a need in the area.
Asked about any efforts underway to slow population declines in rural areas of the state, McCall addressed the need for the expansion of broadband in rural parts of the county. He said the other two factors behind the declining population are job creation and health care.
“There just aren’t jobs available for childbearing-age people. So we educate them, we raise them in rural Georgia, but they move to where the jobs are. That’s why we in rural Georgia are losing population,” McCall said. “It affects your education system, it affects your tax bases in your counties. We have got to get jobs back to rural Georgia.”
Fleming was asked to expound on talks of tax allocation districts.
“A TAD is basically a redevelopment tool for a local government,” Fleming said.
Fleming said voters ultimately will be the ones to decide on the utilization of a TAD.
Lott discussed her recent efforts to pass a bill calling for a breakdown of sales tax allocations to ensure businesses are contributing to the correct county.
Lott said, “We limited the bill to just see who is filing in our county. What we believe was happening and what we later had evidence of is that there were businesses on county lines, not just in our area but around the state, that somebody on the line was filing to the wrong county.”
Newton spent his time discussing health care and his focus as a member of the Health and Human Services committee to come up with more efficient ways to allocate the federally funded Medicaid program.
“A lot of us on the frontlines of health care have seen the challenge of running a Medicaid program that does not seem to be the best use of your tax dollars,” Newton said. “Financially, it’s a tremendous part of our state budget, so what we do with welfare makes a big difference.”