Republican gubernatorial candidate Guy Millner wants to take a bite out of state government to pay for the "most sweeping tax cut in Georgia history" if elected next year.
Mr. Millner officially announced his candidacy Tuesday, standing on the stoop of Garry and Dee Alton's Augusta home and flanked by supporters clutching blue and white campaign signs in the drizzling rain.
He is seeking office for the third time in four years after narrowly losing a 1996 bid for the U.S. Senate.
"Georgians will tell you over and over again that they need tax relief," the multimillionaire Atlanta businessman said. "They're right up to here in terms of taxes. They'll tell you that property taxes and ad valorem taxes on cars are two of the most punitive and worst taxes."
By proposing to eliminate the tax on cars and to slash property taxes by 20 percent up to $500 per home, Mr. Millner hopes to sway tax-weary Democrats and strengthen his lead over GOP rival Mike Bowers.
He will bring his plan to eight Georgia cities and to Chattanooga, Tenn., on a three-day tour.
But one leading state senator called the proposal to trim nearly $1 billion from the state's $12 billion budget unrealistic, saying schools and local governments with already tight budgets would carry most of the cost.
"It sounds like Mr. Millner's statements are long on rhetoric and short on actual facts," said state Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Georgia is already one of the most fiscally conservative states in the nation."
By weeding out waste and inefficiency in state government, Mr. Millner says he could also afford to hire 7,500 new teachers by the end of 2003. That would reduce the number of children in each elementary school class by 20 percent, he said.
Adding new teachers would cost $655 million between 2000 and 2003. Building new classrooms would cost an additional $375 million, Mr. Millner said.
The gubernatorial hopeful also promised to get tough on crime.
"We have 21,000 parolees on the streets and in our neighborhoods," he said. "Statistically, we know that 7,000 of those will commit another crime and be back in prison within two years. I'm going to propose that we eliminate the (state Board of Pardons and Paroles) so that the criminal gets a firm message: When you do that crime, you're going to serve every bit of your time."
But it was the prospect of a tax cut that most excited Mr. Alton, who opened his west Augusta ranch home to the campaign Tuesday.
"Last year, Dee and I paid $330 in car taxes and $1,200 in property taxes. That's entirely too much," Mr. Alton said. "Under Guy's plan, my family would pay $570 less in taxes. That's a lot of money that I could put to better use."
- Eliminate Georgia's ad valorem tax on cars. Estimated cost to the state: $490 million a year.
- Give Georgia homeowners a property tax credit equal to 20 percent of their property tax bill, up to $500. The credit will be used to offset what the homeowners owe in Georgia income taxes. Estimated cost to the state: $360 million a year.
- Push legislation to eliminate the state Board of Pardons and Parole and to force criminals to serve 100 percent of their sentences. Estimated cost of additional prison beds: $1.2 billion over three years.
- Push legislation to impose tougher mandatory minimum sentences for rape, sexual abuse of children and domestic or spousal abuse. Millner provided no estimate of the cost of longer jail time for these offenses.
- Push legislation to require all juvenile offenders to obtain a GED while incarcerated, to impose a minimum sentence of three years in jail for juveniles caught with guns and to open juvenile crime records to law enforcement. Millner provided no cost estimate.
-Increase the starting teacher salary by 15 percent. Estimated cost to the state: $91 million over four years.
- Reduce class size in grades K-5 by 20 percent by hiring an additional 7,500 teachers by the end of fiscal year 2003. Estimated cost to the state of additional teacher pay and classroom space: $331 a year.
- Expand state program to reward top-performing teachers with $2,500 bonuses. Estimated cost of providing 52,000 bonuses: $472 million over four years.
- Push legislation to raise the minimum grade-point-average for those entering education degree programs in Georgia from 2.5 to 3.0.
- Work with the Professional Practices Commission to implement higher teacher standards and periodic testing of teachers to ensure they're meeting the standards.
- Require that teachers be certified in the subjects they teach.
- Hire outside auditors to find and eliminate financial waste in each state agency. Estimated one-time savings to state: $815 million.