Monday, January 14th, 2008
Just minutes after the opening gavel came down, the Georgia House of Representatives wasted no time, kicking off their 2008 legislative session by overriding 12 of Governor Sonny Perdue's vetoes from 2007.
To put that in perspective, there was only one legislative veto override in all of 2007.
According to Georgia law, the Senate must immediately take action on those bills.
But Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle moved all 12 motions into the Senate Rules Committee, effectively postponing any definitive overrides by the entire legislature.
Even though there was a stalemate of sorts between the two houses, representatives say they are happy with the business handled today.
We brought issues dealing with sales tax, issues dealing with teacher benefits, health issues, school supplies for students from the lottery...we had a lot of public policy issues and we felt like we rose above politics and addressed public policy issues," said Representative Calvin Smyre of Columbus.
Looking past today into the next year, hundreds of bills will go in front of the state legislature...but the three biggest issues continue to be managing water resources, changing the way the state taxes its residents and, as always, funding for education.
Back in December, Columbus lawmakers voiced their concerns over the state's new water management plan, and how the water service districts were divided.
But a week before the opening session, the state water board changed the final draft, separating the state by watersheds.
The action ensures counties sharing the same resources would work together...but many Columbus leaders say many issues still remain, such as making sure Metro Atlanta doesn't monopolize water supplies as well as making sure there is local representation from Columbus on the final decision making panel.
"I don't want to put a check mark on it yet. I'm leaning toward supporting it, but I want to make darn sure that downstream is protected," said Smyre.
The second issue deals with House Speaker Glen Richardson's "Great Plan," that would completely eliminate property taxes and instead use a general sales tax to fund state programs.
Columbus leaders say the sales tax is too volatile and property taxes are a more stable source of state income.
"A lot of people who pay property taxes...and I do pay property taxes...love this! But I know that I like a road to ride on as well, so we have to figure out how to balance," said Representative Debbie Buckner.
Last but not least, legislators say education funding needs to be looked at.
With BRAC coming to Columbus, area leaders are expecting the population to increase by at least 30,000 people over the next five years, many of them children.
"The first priority should be to have no child in a temporary classroom and we need to have books and the appropriate equipment for every child," said State Senator Seth Harp.
Legislators hope to tackle the water issue first and have it resolved in the next couple of weeks.