They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Depending on whos doing the beholding, then, the recent session of the Georgia Legislature could be considered: a) the naturally ugly result of a politically divided government; or, b) the first step toward a healthy sharing of power between Republicans and Dem-ocrats.
I know it will surprise a number of friends who overheard me cussing the long, drawn-out session in Atlanta, but my view is closer to b than a. My reason for this perspective is based on the fact that despite the partisan wrangling that made the headlines every day, we were actually able to get some good things accomplished this year.
First of all, and in the long term most important, we voted down a proposal that would have allowed for the sale of water permits. While supporters of the measure claimed to be promoting a free-market solution to the states water woes, this legislation would have benefited just a handful of special interests, and would have converted a priceless natural resource into a commodity to be traded to the highest bidder. The resulting system of water distribution would have been chaotic at best, and would have produced significant inequity in access to water across our state.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue; it is an issue of appropriate stewardship of a resource that belongs to all Georgians. There may be another attempt to revive this scheme in future sessions, but I intend to be vigilant with regard to a sound water management policy.
We also turned back an attempt by the Democratic leadership to provide drivers licenses to illegal aliens residing in Georgia. Let me be clear on this: I have no complaint with those legal and properly documented aliens who are living and working here; they have already complied with our laws. But I am absolutely opposed to rewarding those who are trying to beat the system. We need to remember that terrorists who gave us the horrors of 9-11 were able to slip into our society due in part to drivers licenses that were all too easy to obtain. I have no idea what prompted this bad bill, but I will certainly work to ensure that it doesnt become law.
Other work involved key consumer protection issues. I sponsored, and the Legislature passed, a bill that makes it a felony for unauthorized companies to issue insurance policies in Georgia, taking advantage of unsuspecting customers by not backing up their products. We also passed a requirement that anyone who files a complaint with a state licensing board must receive a response from that agency within 30 days of the filing. This item was suggested by a constituent, and it is always a pleasure to be able to get something enacted that is generated at the grass-roots level.
Finally, let me say a few words about the state budget. It should be noted that at the beginning of this year, our state was in its worst revenue crisis in 50 years. Our new governor, Sonny Perdue, inherited a budget that was filled to the brim with all sorts of non-essential pork, in addition to being out of balance thanks to the sudden drop in revenue.
Given the very short time frame we had in which to craft a reasonable alternative, I believe the budget plan we originally proposed was sound. Unfortunately, at the last minute, additional spending items were added for the benefit of select members of the legislative leadership, and as a result I could not support the budget in its final form. In this fiscal situation, we should have had the restraint to avoid these excesses and to recognize the difference between things that we need to have, and things that are nice to have.
We must continue to scour the budget for the coming year to find additional cuts. The alternatives are to either hike taxes significantly, or to wipe out the states rainy-day fund. I believe a fiscally sound budget for next year can be designed without resorting to either of these bad choices. There will be some pain for those who are used to getting a state handout every year, but this is the time for us to be serious about our priorities. I am confident we will be able to achieve success, but it will require a new attitude about the way we spend our money.
I appreciate the opportunity to represent the citizens of the 80th District in the Georgia Legislature, but I can tell you it is good to be home! As always, I welcome your input.
(State Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, is chairman of Columbia Countys Legislative Delegation.)
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