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Transportation, taxes get focus at legislative breakfast
Grits and Government
Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, speaks during the Grits and Government Legislative Breakfast on Wednesday at the Richmond Hill City Center. - photo by Brent Zell

2016 Bryan County State Legislative Agenda

Water Resources

• Identify and support funding options to help communities like Bryan County that need reliable water sources for future growth amidst mandates to reduce water usage.



• Continued support for the new interchange in south Bryan County at Belfast Keller Road and Interstate 95.

• Continued support at the state level for transportation improvements and funding.


Job Creating Public-Private Partnerships

• Support legislative initiatives that enhance growth and efficiency of Georgia’s ports.

• Support legislation to strengthen Georgia’s competitiveness for military facilities and specifically work to protect troop levels at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.

• Defend against legislative measures that would negatively impact Bryan County’s business climate, appear discriminatory in nature or would harm the ability to create, attract, retain and expand jobs.



• Discontinue austerity cuts to public education and support full funding of the state’s funding formula for K-12 education so state funding for education can be distributed based on the actual costs for providing services and resources such as transportation, media, textbooks, technology and other equipment.

• Do not expand programs that directly or indirectly use public funds to pay private-school tuition for students when Georgia’s public schools are not fully funded.


Public Safety

• Assist in purchasing large-ticket items such as warning systems (sirens, fire trucks, etc.) for small-city governments with limited budgets.


Health Care

• Support changes at the federal level to the Affordable Care Act because of the negative impact it is having on local governments and small-business owners.


Tax Policy

• Develop a state tax policy to address the continued erosion of the state revenue base through exemptions from the sales and use tax, income tax and other state taxes.

• Enhance Georgia’s competitiveness to attract and retain military veterans through the adoption of a state income-tax exemption for retirement pay for veterans residing in Georgia.

Transportation and taxes were big topics at the second annual Grits and Government Legislative Breakfast on Wednesday at the Richmond Hill City Center.

The event set forth Bryan County’s legislative agenda for the day’s featured area state-government representatives, who reviewed this year’s accomplishments and what to look for in 2016. Featured speakers were state Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah; Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah; and Ann Purcell, the 1st Congressional District board member for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

About 120 people attended.

The county’s agenda was agreed upon by the county commissioners and school board, as well as the city councils of Pembroke and Richmond Hill, said Brad Brookshire, the vice chairman of the Development Authority of Bryan County.

Petrea said the Legislature accomplished a lot of good things this year, including the transportation bill. He described the bill as enormous and difficult, but it was needed for a state that sees more and more people driving its roads but had the same fuel-tax infrastructure in place since 1971.

“I think you’re going to see, in the next year, an explosion of projects backed up because we didn’t have the money to accomplish these projects,” Petrea said.

The representative also talked about a bill he has already filed — House Bill 174, which would eliminate military-veteran income from all Georgia income tax. His announcement of the proposal drew applause from the audience.

“It is the right thing to do for military families, but also the right thing to do for our industry and our businesses,” Petrea said.

The bill would have a commensurate increase in the tobacco tax to make the tax cut revenue-neutral, he said.

Petrea said Georgia is at a disadvantage in terms of taxes, with neighbors Florida and Tennessee not having state income taxes and Alabama already having a similar military-veteran retirement income exemption in place. He hopes the bill passes to encourage veterans to live in Georgia.

Stephens talked about battling with “people in Atlanta who ain’t from around here” who wanted to dictate how to save marshes on the coast, and how the coastal legislative delegation came together to protect property rights.

Stephens called the transportation bill one of the most important he’s been a part of in his 18 years in the Legislature. It didn’t start out as a benefit for this area, he said, given that initially the county stood to lose about $4 million with the elimination of local tax revenue from fuel sales. Stephens said there were tough but good compromises with the final bill so the county could “stay whole.”

Stephens said that in 2016, the Legislature is going to look at dropping the state income-tax rate from its current 6 percent to 4.5 percent. Another issue to watch, he said, is a movement among the states toward creating a convention of states to create a balanced-budget amendment. This mechanism is in Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

Stephens said 27 states, including Georgia, have passed legislation toward creating a convention of states, and if that number gets to 34, the convention can be called. The movement is in response to the federal government’s being more than $17 trillion in debt.

Purcell said the long-in-gestation Belfast Keller Road/Interstate 95 interchange project is going to be back on track by the beginning of 2016,

“So I hope that within my lifetime and many of your lifetimes that we’re going to see that interchange and we’re going to be driving on it.”
She said projects will begin picking up now that money is coming in from the transportation bill, which is expected to bring in more than $1 billion a year. Also, the federal bill that was recently passed is long-range, which she said is a good thing so that long-term plans can be made.

Purcell also said Georgia needs a transportation-funding model, such as what Florida has, in which the state won’t be so dependent on federal funds.

She closed by saying that traffic fatalities have increased in Georgia for the first time in nine years and could go higher than 1,300 for the year. Most accidents are single-car and caused by distractions like texting, and that it’s important to get into the school districts and educate students.

“Buckle up, (eliminate) distraction and do not drive impaired. How simple can that be? Be safe,” she said.

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