Democrat gubernatorial candidate Roy Barnes made the rounds in Augusta on Thursday, meeting first with retired educators and Richmond County lawmakers, pledging to make education the state's top priority.
"If a state does not have educated students, educated workers to bring higher skills, no amount of cutting the corporate income tax or whatever is going to create jobs," he said.
During the hourlong meeting at the IBEW Hall, Barnes said if he's elected the Augusta area will have a member on the Georgia Board of Regents. He also said any decision about medical education will be made by the president and staff at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
"The determination of medical education is going to be determined here and not somewhere else," he said.
Barnes pledged to get rid of teacher furloughs, and lengthen the school year and the school day for students who need it.
He said to do those things, the state needs $1.2 billion in extra money, which he would raise by:
- Changing to a point-of-sale sales tax collection system that would bring in about $650 million to $700 million more tax dollars;
- Rolling back $50 million in tax credits for private schools;
- Suspending or rolling back $150 million to $250 million in tax breaks for health insurance companies, and;
- Suspending some of the $10.6 billion inspecial-interest sales-tax exemptions, such as those on airlines, diesel fuel and coal.
"Every time you give a special tax break, you increase the days children don't go to school," he said. "I would start in looking at those exemptions that had been passed in the past five to eight years. At least if you're not going to repeal them, suspend them."
Barnes also promised to preserve pre-K education and said 3-year-old pre-K is needed. He also assured the retired educators present that their retirement income is guaranteed and would be paid by taxpayers if the fund were depleted.
Barnes said as governor he'd been involved in many economic development deals with companies coming to Georgia, and the first thing they want to talk about is education, and the last is taxes.
Barnes' second meeting was with students at Paine College, and at noon he met with local elected officials at Bethel AME Church, after which he spoke to a group of Democrats at the Pinnacle Club, urging them to support him with their votes and with their money.