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Georgia has learned to live within its means

Posted: April 28, 2015 - 11:14pm

The 2015 session of the Georgia General Assembly came to an end in Atlanta in early April. Once again our state, unlike the federal government in Washington D.C., passed a balanced budget. Georgia has learned to live within its means and for years only spent what we had instead of building up tons of debt like the federal government and some of our sister states. That’s one reason Georgia was named the best state in the nation to do business. We cut much more than many interest groups want us to, but when your pocketbook is well managed, it sends a signal that your state is conservative enough to be predictable and it creates a good environment for job creation and more responsible living.

Of the many issues dealt with this past session, one of the most far-reaching was placed on the ballot by the legislature for voters to approve in the November elections of 2016. Governor Deal’s proposal to address chronically failing schools by forming an “opportunity school district” will be on the ballot for voters to approve as a constitutional amendment. If approved, it will allow schools who have failing student grades for three years in a row to be taken out of the hands of their current management and retooled by a specially appointed school superintendent. This model is seeing success in our neighboring state of Tennessee and in Louisiana.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, was passed only by the state Senate this session. Next year I hope it will pass the House and be sent to Gov. Deal for signature into law. Our country was founded upon the idea of religious freedom, and RFRA restores the highest protection under our law to your freedom to worship without fearing unreasonable government interference.

On the issue of taxes, one tax I did not support passed, and one tax reform I do support will hopefully be approved next session. I did not vote for the gas tax increase. Our CSRA region passed the one-cent sales tax for road improvements called T-SPLOST. Most of the rest of our state regions did not pass their T-SPLOST in 2012. Since our area did, we should have been exempted from the gas tax increase. I will attempt to pass legislation next year that assures our region is treated fairly and receives more, not less, in state funding for road improvements since we are being double taxed now by the new law.

I was pleased that the Speaker of the House, David Ralston, spoke out in support of a plan we will debate next year which moves Georgia more towards a “Fair Tax” system. The Georgia “More Take Home Pay Act” would lower the Georgia income tax by shifting instead to a state sales tax. Our society benefits whenever government gives more freedom to its citizens by shifting from an income tax which punishes achievement to a sales tax which provides more individual control over when and how taxes are paid. A Fair Tax system requires those groups in our society that constantly demand more government services to better realize that someone has to pay for those increases. If taxation is not spread out upon all income levels, those who pay very little taxes will always want to vote themselves a raise from the treasury, and that is a recipe for disaster on so many levels.

It is my honor to serve the citizens of Columbia and McDuffie counties, and I ask God every day for the wisdom to represent you well.

Barry Fleming, of Harlem, represents District 121, Columbia and McDuffie counties, in the Georgia House of Representatives.

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