Ben Harbin doesn't want to change the fortunes of Georgia Republicans. He just wishes political power would have come in a better budget year.
"The next time we take a majority, we really need to plan it for when there's more money in the budget," the state representative from Evans joked.
Belt tightening and wallet watching seem to be the mantra of the 2003 legislative session, which begins Monday.
"The budget is certainly a priority," said State Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling. "Everything hinges on the budget."
And after the November elections - as the state started shifting from Democrat to Republican rule - the budget picture began to look bleaker as the true numbers were released.
"We know we've been lied to, we just don't know how bad," Brush quipped during a mid-December, Chamber of Commerce-sponsored breakfast.
Monday will be filled with Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue's inauguration, the election of General Assembly leadership and the seating of committees.
Then it'll be time to get to work.
For Brush, that means focusing on putting the state's Department of Education in charge of education in Georgia. He also wants to tinker with education reform rules to allow successful systems flexibility.
"We should not be forcing them into these cookie-cutter mandates and away from what's being successful," he said.
Harbin said he is excited about the new feeling in Atlanta - more people smiling, more people talking about working together for a better Georgia.
"We can't predict the future, but what we can do is go into this future with an optimism," he said.
At the top of the power structure is Perdue.
"Sonny Perdue is a good man," Harbin said. "When Sonny switched parties, he was the most powerful person in the senate (as a Democrat). He switched out of conviction."
Harbin has pledged to work on two sales tax issues - one allowing the county to use penny-tax dollars to work on stormwater projects; the other would allow private fire departments, such as the Martinez Fire Department, to be exempt from paying sales tax. Harbin said relieving the sales tax burden puts private departments on the same level as government-run departments.
"(Private departments) are still in the business of protecting us, providing safety," he said. "Their mission has not changed."
Newly-elected Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, already has heard the horror stories about how things were when a Democrat was in the governor's office.
"We had to walk to school," he said, "both ways, uphill in the snow."
Now he's ready.
"Now, I'm part of the problem if something goes wrong," he said.
During the next few months Fleming hopes to focus on helping Harlem and Grovetown apply for grants and government programs based on their own demographics - not Columbia County's.
"I'm sure a change that size might take a little effort, but it's got to start sometime," he said.
Regardless of what happens during the session, Brush is sure of two things.
"It'll be historic and it'll be different," he said.
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