The event featured short presentations by Sens. Bill Jackson and Jesse Stone and Reps. Tom McCall and Rep. Ben Harbin and a keynote address by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Each focused on looking forward after what Kemp called “the longest election in history,” paying particular attention to limiting expenditures dictated by the federal health care overhaul and the recently passed state transportation special local option sales tax.
Stone said both the House and Senate are now responsible for finding ways to ensure the financial burden placed on state government by the measures does not adversely affect Georgians overall or Columbia Countians specifically.
He said limiting the cost of preventive medicine might help control health costs and acknowledged the transportation tax issue might be more complicated.
“We’re left in a situation where we don’t really know how to address the concerns of certain regions, places like metro Atlanta, while preserving the advances made with the passing of T-SPLOST,” Kemp said.
Elections are over, so that means putting politics aside and addressing the state’s needs, Harbin said. He said that on a federal level he is particularly concerned with the “fiscal cliff” and how the Affordable Care Act might affect his constituency.
“Look, that act is about compassion,” he said. “I get that. I appreciate that. But we have to be responsible in what we do, and I don’t think expanding Medicaid, at this time, is correct.”
The responsibility of the state delegation is simple, McCall said. It’s about being financially prudent.
“We only have to do two things,” he said. “We have to balance the budget, and we have to do it in 40 days. Everything else is fluff.”
Echoing the lawmakers’ sentiments, Kemp acknowledged the importance of making hard sacrifices and finding ways to do more with less. Using his own office as an example, he said that although the workload has increased, his budget has been cut by 30 percent and his staff by 40 percent.
Citing the controversial decision by his office to close the Georgia State Archives to the public, Kemp said every decision comes with a price tag.
“There are two ways you can get things done in the government,” he said. “You can ask for money or you can streamline your office, which is what we chose to do.”
In his closing statements, Jackson – referred to as the unofficial chaplain of the Senate floor by Stone – summed up the group’s focus moving forward.
“It’s time to circle the wagons,” he said. “This is not the time to get discouraged.
It’s time to hope, to dream and to pray.”