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Rural Georgia Braces for Kemp’s Budget

Rural Georgia supported Gov. Brian Kemp overwhelmingly in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Now they are asking serious questions about how his proposed budget will negatively impact the area.  Lawmakers have made it a priority to pour millions of dollars into efforts to help rural Georgia.  Some are now wondering what the results of their work will be after much of what they championed was slated by Kemp and agency heads to be trimmed back.

Changing the long pattern of struggling small-town Georgia economies has been a top priority among members of the General Assembly.  House Speaker David Ralston’s strong support has encouraged lawmakers to put taxpayer money behind their ideas.  One example is creating a Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation in Tifton.  Under Kemp’s proposal the center would take a $100,000 budget cut next year.

Several questions continue to resonate concerning how proposed budget cuts are going to affect rural Georgia:

• How will they affect meat inspections and marketing of farm products at a time when Hurricane Michael and trade wars have hurt the state’s top industry, agriculture?
• How will they affect programs to get more doctors to small-town Georgia?
• How will they affect health departments in remote counties with no doctors?
• How will they affect programs to boost the economy of rural Georgia?

“Rural Georgia is going to feel the pain of this,” said state Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.  “Rural Georgia is going to get killed.”

Small-town lawmakers who dominate the budget committees in the General Assembly expressed particular concern about Kemp’s proposed reduction to several health care initiatives including a loan forgiveness program for rural health care professionals and funding for public health departments.

Beverly, the House minority caucus chairman, said the series of cuts to rural programs shows small-town Georgians have been misled.  “It is our job to let folks know that, here is a governor who said one thing, who you voted for, but who is not helping you,” Beverly said. “He’s hurting you.”

According to Kemp’s office, the governor is, “committed to keeping rural Georgia strong by using innovative ways to spur economic growth, improve educational opportunities and ensure bright futures for Georgia families.”  They stress, “The governor’s budget fully funds Quality Basic Education for Georgia students, includes a $2,000 educator pay raise for a combined $5,000, invests in critically important infrastructure initiatives and provides much-needed resources to improve health care access and quality across the Peach State.”

The governor’s budget plan would eliminate funding for a rural water association and a rural health innovation program and cut money for:  loan repayment awards for health care professionals working in rural Georgia; medical malpractice insurance assistance for doctors working in rural Georgia; a rural surgery initiative; doctor training programs that helped prepare more physicians to work in rural Georgia; and for several other medical programs.

Proposed cuts to the Georgia Department of Agriculture raised concerns about filling vacancies in the positions of food safety inspector and agriculture marketing positions which would lead to fewer meat inspections.  “Should our citizens be concerned about food safety?” asked Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “When you talk about food inspections and meat inspections are going to be fewer and farther between, what is our obligation to the public if we are going to do this?”

Farmers sounded the alarm concerning the agricultural experiment stations and the Cooperative Extension Service which are part of the University System of Georgia budget and would experience reductions of about $7.6 million next year under the governor’s budget plan. University System Chancellor Steve Wrigley promised to work with lawmakers to avoid or lessen the cuts to the two programs.

During a recent press conference outlining their 2020 legislative agenda, Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) members also expressed alarm about the governor’s budget.  Caucus Chair Rep. Karen Bennett (D-Stone Mountain) addressed the GLBC’s concerns regarding Governor Brian Kemp’s budgetary recommendation for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 budgets.  She discussed potential divestments in the state’s criminal justice system, especially in services that support rehabilitation, training, alternative sentencing and legal representation.  Bennett discussed how the proposed budget cuts could also impact the following areas:  the state’s social mobility gap; workforce training; economic development; children/adolescent health, education and social services; health services; and statewide infrastructure.

“We must join colleagues across both parties to address these concerns and work to find solutions to balance our budget without jeopardizing these critical services,” said Bennett.

Sources and for more information, visit http://www.legis.ga.gov, https://www.ajc.com.

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Georgia Tax Revenues Increase as Lawmakers Struggle with Budget Cuts

The Georgia Department of Revenue has announced that tax collections rose 4.5 percent in January compared to the same month in 2019. Overall tax collections for the budget year, which began July 1, are now up $133 million.  The state is still short of the $800 million in new revenue that Gov. Brian Kemp and state lawmakers projected for this year when they passed the budget last spring.

According to budget experts, if Georgia’s revenues had grown this rapidly in every month as in January, the state would be on track for a surplus.  Instead Kemp ordered many agencies to make cuts in this year’s budget to save about $200 million.  He has proposed deeper cuts for the 2021 budget beginning July 1, seeking to reduce spending by about $300 million over what was originally planned this year.

Some lawmakers have expressed concerns about delays to a plan to open a transition center in Gwinnett County for teens being released from the Department of Juvenile Justice, saying that’s when youths are “vulnerable” and need the most support.  Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) asked whether cutting open positions would increase overtime spending and hurt morale among already low-paid juvenile corrections officers.  Lawmakers pored through cuts in vacant state trooper spending, with Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough saying attrition would likely reduce trooper ranks in 2021.  Following is the revenue report for January 2020.

The State of Georgia’s net tax collections for January totaled nearly $2.36 billion, for an increase of $100.8 million, or 4.5 percent, compared to January 2019, when net tax collections totaled $2.25 billion.  Year-to-date net tax collections totaled approximately $14.21 billion, for an increase of $133 million, or 0.9 percent, compared to the previous fiscal year, when net tax revenues totaled $14.07 billion.

Individual Income Tax collections increased by a total of $56 million, or 4.3 percent, compared to last year when Income Tax collections totaled $1.3 billion.  The following notable components within Individual Income Tax combine for the net increase:

• Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were up $18.5 million, or 34.1 percent
• Individual Withholding payments for the month increased by $43.8 million, or 4.2 percent
• Individual Income Tax Return payments were up $12.3 million, or 91.7 percent, over FY 2019
• All other Individual Tax categories, including Estimated Tax payments, were up a combined $18.4 million

Gross Sales and Use Tax collections totaled $1.24 billion, an increase of $56.5 million, or 4.8 percent, over January 2019.  Net Sales and Use Tax increased by $27.7 million, or 4.6 percent, compared to last year, when net sales tax totaled $599 million.  The adjusted Sales Tax distribution to local governments totaled about $607.8 million, for an increase of $26.3 million, or 4.5 percent, over the previous year.  Sales Tax Refunds increased by nearly $2.5 million, or 43.2 percent, compared to FY 2019.

Corporate Income Tax collections totaled $50.1 million, which was an increase of $11 million, or 28.2 percent, over last year, when Corporate Tax collections totaled approximately $39.1 million.  The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the net increase:

• Corporate Income Tax refunds issued (net of voids) were up $15.1 million, or 114.1 percent
• Corporate Income Tax Return payments for the month increased by $23.6 million, or 174.6 percent
• All other Corporate Tax types, including Corporate Estimated payments, were up a combined $2.5 million  

Motor Fuel Taxes:  Motor Fuel Tax collections increased by $9.2 million, or 6.3 percent, compared to FY 2019.  Motor Vehicle Tag & Title Fees increased by $6.5 million, or 19.1 percent, during the month, whereas Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) collections declined by $13.4 million, or -20.1 percent, from last year’s total of $66.9 million.

Sources and for more information, visit http://www.legis.ga.gov, Associated Press, https://dor.georgia.gov/.

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My Vision of the Future for Albany / Dougherty County

By Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard, Ward 1

By Correcia J. Edmondson

Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard, Ward 1

City Commissioner John Howard
City Commissioner John Howard

The 2020 year is just around the corner. We as elected officials have some challenges ahead of us in the coming year(s). Local government must partnership with local stakeholders and address systemic problems in our city. For examples, generational poverty, crime, high school dropouts, unskilled workers, mental illness, and develop a plan of action for the millennial generation.

All elected and appointed officials and stakeholders must sit down and develop a comprehensive economic development strategy and bring together public and private doctors in the creation of an economic roadmap to diversity and strengthen our city economy. Also, a comprehensive plan(s) and community-based planning process that draws on the general public, stakeholders, experts and others to plan for future development of our city and surrounding areas.

Correcia J. Edmondson

First, congratulations to the Southwest Georgian newspaper for serving the various media needs of Albany, GA, and surrounding communities for so many years. 

Asked to describe how I envision the future of Albany, Dougherty County, I first share what I have observed. There has been a

Correcia J.Edmondson
Correcia J.Edmondson

conscious effort to ensure gainful employment opportunities within the municipality itself, federal and state government facilities located here, and various private industry companies including locally owned businesses. Further, educational and training opportunities via Dougherty County Public School System and various private schools, Albany State University, Albany Technical College, Troy University, and Turner Job Corps Center have been made available to help citizens and neighboring community citizens acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities to secure gainful employment. This helps chart labor force and economic growth for our area.  

Our city needs the contribution of the faith-based community as a body of consultants to offer wise counsel and a sense of stability for our community. It is important to maintain such relationships.

Finally, I envision diversity in our community and equally diverse government leadership to adequately represent all who make up Albany, Dougherty County. Let us embrace, not sabotage, economic growth opportunities; let us support competent leadership; and let us build and maintain good community relationships to remain “The Good-life City” in the future.

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We are Erica Thomas

Georgia State Representative Erica Thomas and her nine-year-old daughter were in the express checkout line in Publix grocery store on Veterans Memorial Highway in Cobb County just outside Georgia’s capital city. Little did she know that a short shopping trip would become a terrifying experience ending in the center of state and national media attention.

The dispute started on a Friday evening when Rep. Thomas, a vice chairwoman of the House Democratic caucus, posted a Facebook video accusing Eric Sparkes of berating her for flouting the 10-or-fewer items rule at the Mableton Publix.

While in the express line, Rep. Thomas was angrily confronted by Sparkes, another shopper, who challenged her right to be there.  It seems he took offense to Rep. Thomas having 15 items instead of 10.  The cashier and the store manager did not ask her to leave the line. However, Sparkes took it upon himself to “police” the situation. According to Rep. Thomas, Sparkes called her “ignorant, a lazy SOB, and told her to go back to where she came from.”  All this in front of her child.  Understandably, Rep. Thomas was “scared for her life” as she said in the tearful Facebook video following the incident.

Rep. Thomas accused Sparkes of using the “go back” phrase, which echoes a tweet by President Donald Trump that sparked a national uproar. Her account quickly went viral and triggered a wave of support and backlash in Georgia and the nation.

Sparkes denies the “go back” statement but admits he called her the other derogatory names.  Rep. Thomas has since somewhat backtracked on that statement. However, it does not excuse or give Sparkes permission to disrespect a pregnant woman with hateful, inflammatory and defamatory names.

A Publix surveillance video of the incident released last Wednesday showed a confrontation that lasted approximately 45 seconds.  It did not include audio, so it provided no conclusive evidence of what was said, but it showed Sparkes initiating the encounter by walking up to Thomas as she was checking out in the express lane and pointing to the sign.  Cobb authorities don’t intend to file criminal charges in the case after what the Police Department said was a “thorough” investigation into the confrontation.

Apart from the media-manufactured confusion of who did or did not say “go back,” we must not lose sight of the larger issue.  Rep. Thomas, like so many other people of color, no longer feel safe in our own country.  Because of the toxic tweets and rhetoric spewing from President Trump, America is a hostile and dangerous environment where the new definition of not being “politically correct” is anger and disrespect. Racially charged tirades and violence are becoming more prevalent and explosive.  Verbal attacks are common and more frequent.  We cannot allow this behavior to become our new normal.

Trump, the champion of white supremacists, continuously demonstrates his disdain for people of color. From caging people in horrendous conditions at America’s southern border, separating babies from their mothers and losing them, to calling majority black countries s-holes, and American cities a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”  With each racist tweet, Trump further demonstrates he is unstable, unfit and incompetent to serve as president.  He is a craven divider who only sees people who look like him as the “real” Americans.

Because of the horrific example of Trump challenging the citizenship of Americans of color, including President Barack Obama and four United States Congresswomen, people like Sparkes are feeling more empowered to treat us as “other” with no consequences.  Make no mistake, “white privilege” in America is real. It has little to do with economic means and everything to do with color.

Sparkes’ attitude is in line with the same type of thinking that leads some white people to weaponize the police against people of color by calling law enforcement to harass us for simply living our lives – knowing that these unnecessary interactions with police can quickly escalate, often leading to arrest . . . or death.

This verbal attack was not only against Rep. Thomas.  It was not only an attack on people of color. It was an attack against Americans and America.  This country belongs to all of us. We have to be more intentional about standing up to bullies who try to use patriotism as a battering ram. We all have the responsibility to rise up against bigotry and racism.

“Representative Thomas wants the world to know that she’s standing up for the rights of women who have been victimized,” said Thomas’ attorney, Gerald Griggs.  Rep. Thomas is nine months pregnant.  Her husband is serving our country in Afghanistan.

We are standing with Rep. Erica Thomas.  She is not alone.

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