Part pep rally and part preview of things to come, the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Pre-Legislative Breakfast Tuesday found the county’s state delegation focused on the fiscal.
The event featured short presentations by Sen. Bill Jackson, Sen. Jesse Stone, Rep. Tom McCall and Rep. Ben Harbin as well as 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 Health Care Affordability Act and the recently passed Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST).
Sen. Stone said that it is now the responsibility of members of both the house and senate to find ways to ensure the financial burden placed on the state government by both measures does not adversely affect citizens of the state generally or Columbia County specifically.
He cited limiting the cost of preventative medicine as a way health costs might be controlled and admitted that the T-SPLOST 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,” he said.
Entering into a post-election cycle, Rep. Harbin said, means putting politics aside and addressing the needs of the state. He said on a federal level he was particular concerned with the issue of the fiscal cliff and regionally, how the Health Care Affordability 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, Rep. McCall. 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 if fluff.”
Echoing the sentiments of the elected officials, Secretary of State Kemp said it’s important to be able to make hard sacrifices and find ways to do more with less. Using his own office as an example, he said that while workload has increased, his budget has been cut by 30 percent and his staff by 40 percent.
“I’m not complaining to the legislature,” he said. “I’m just saying this to point out, this is where we are.”
Citing the controversial decision by his office to close the Georgia State Archives to the public, Kemp said every decision, in the end, 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 own closing statements, Sen. Bill Jackson, referred to as the unofficial chaplain of the Senate floor by Sen. 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.”