Democrats hope questions will spur policy debates

ATLANTA — The four questions Democratic leaders put on the primary ballot this month are designed to stimulate discussions in the general election and into next year’s legislative session.

Voters choosing a Demo­cratic ballot will get to sound off on charter schools, lobbyists’ gifts to legislators, energy conservation and tax breaks for manufacturers.

Mike Berlon, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, met with House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams of Atlanta and her Senate counterpart, Steve Henson of Tucker, and came up with the questions. They were careful to use neutral wording, Berlon said, to avoid slanting it toward a particular outcome.

“It’s really hard for me to make any predictions about them because we want honest answers,” Berlon said. “We spend a lot of time designing questions to make sure you get an honest answer.”

The first query concerned charter schools. Although a differently worded constitutional amendment will be on all general-election ballots in November, the Democratic leaders wanted to gauge support for their argument that the amendment usurps power from locally elected school boards.

A group supporting the constitutional amendment and wider use of charter schools is waiting until after the primary to begin campaigning.

“Our focus is making sure voters don’t confuse the straw poll on the Democratic ballot with the actual binding vote that will occur in November,” said Mark Peevy, campaign manager for Families for Better Public Schools.

Next is a question about restricting gifts from lobbyists to legislators. A similar question is on the Republican ballot, and Berlon predicted overwhelming support for limits from both parties.

“I don’t think that’s a Democratic or Republican issue,” he said. “I would think that most Georgians are against it.”

The third asks if Georgia should create additional tax incentives for low-income people to insulate their home or take other energy-conservation measures.

Finally is a question on whether the state should reduce the sales tax on Georgia-made products.

Berlon, who is an attorney, concedes that there may be a constitutional problem with selective sales-tax breaks. That’s not an issue on a nonbinding question, which will simply serve to spark discussion. If there’s major support for the idea, lawmakers can work out specific legislation in January that will avoid legal challenges, he said.

The point is to start the ball rolling, Abrams said.

“We strongly encourage voters to ask their legislative candidates where they stand on these issues that matter to Georgia’s families,” she said.

DEMOCRATIC BALLOT QUESTIONS

Here are the questions voters will see when they request a Democratic ballot for this month’s primary:

1. Should the Georgia Constitution be amended to allow the state to override locally-elected school boards’ decisions when it comes to the creation of charter schools in your county or city?

2. Do you support ending the current practice permitting unlimited gifts from lobbyists to state legislators?

3. Should Georgia adopt an income tax credit for home energy costs to support the economic security of our families?

4. Should Georgia reduce sales taxes on Made in Georgia products so as to support the growth of small businesses in our state?


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