State Senate candidates talk issues
Vote on Nov. 3
by Denise Etheridge
Sunday, Oct. 30
Candidates for State Senate District 1, Buddy Carter and Dr. Billy Hair, will finally face off in a special election Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Carter recently resigned his seat as a state representative for District 159 to run for the Georgia Senate. He served as the mayor of Pooler for five terms and was chairman of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center. He owns several pharmacies across metro Savannah.
Hair is a former Chatham County Commission chairman and formerly served as president for Savannah Technical College. He is a Vietnam War veteran. Hair also owns three businesses in South Georgia, including Productivity Air.
Q. How much control would you give local school boards?
A. The short answer to this is – as much as possible. As a former mayor of nine years I truly believe in local control, especially when it comes to the education of our children. No one knows better what our children’s educational needs are than local folks.
Q. Would you oppose budget cuts to schools?
A. None of us want to cut school budgets and we do our best not to do this. During the recent budget cuts, education was cut only two percent and Medicaid only three percent while all other departments were cut five percent. Education accounts for 56 percent of our state’s yearly budget. Our teachers are the highest paid in the Southeast and among the highest paid in the nation. This is an indication of the emphasis we place on education in our state.
Q. Discuss the SPLOST you would establish to fund transportation infrastructure.
A. Currently the proposal receiving the most consideration is for a statewide one percent sales tax to be split between regional and statewide projects. This would be in the form of a referendum for voters to decide if they want the extra one percent to be imposed for transportation projects. I would support this only if the voters decide they want it and only if the regional program is included.
Q. What types of transportation projects would you like to see?
A. We need to move past the mindset of building only roads and bridges and look at light rail and mass transit in our metro areas. All of these should be considered.
Q. Discuss funding a state-wide trauma network. Where would trauma centers be located in the state?
A. Please, please see my Web site about trauma (one of the five T’s in my platform) at www.friendsofbuddycarter.com. Currently we have four Level 1 trauma centers and 14 total trauma centers. I have co-sponsored legislation that would add a $10 fee to car tags that would be dedicated to trauma funding. We need more trauma centers everywhere in the state especially in Southwest Georgia.
Q. Should the state fund mental health services?
A. Absolutely. For the past three years I have served on the Appropriations Committee and was Secretary of the Human Resources Subcommittee that dealt with mental health services. I have fought to maintain and increase funding for mental health services and will continue to do so. I also fought along with other local legislators in the successful effort to keep Georgia Regional Hospital open in Savannah.
Dr. Billy Hair:
Q. How much control would you give to local school boards?
A. The state department of education should be responsible for establishing a basic curriculum, teacher certification, and accountability for state dollars sent to local school systems. All other decisions should be made by local school boards. They are closer to their citizens and know best what is good for their school system. The local citizens will be able to hold local school boards accountable for their results.
Q. How would you make it easier to establish charter schools?
A. At the present time there are two types of charters; those chartered by local school boards and those chartered by the state. I believe that all charters should come from local school boards of education unless the local system refuses to give charters. Then and only then should the state charter schools and take money away from local school districts to support the charter school. One way to encourage school systems to give charters would be to give incentives for performance of students. This would either make them have more charter schools or eliminate the need for charter schools by improving all schools in their districts.
Q. How would you improve the state’s transportation infrastructure?
A. First, I would support the elimination of the position of planning director created by the legislature last year. This would end a flawed system. The reason this system was created was to give the governor and legislature the power to determine transportation needs. This greatly politicizes the transportation process. The reason the old system of the department of transportation was created the way it was (served) to put a firewall between legitimate transportation needs and politics; now that firewall has been removed. This new system also means that communities with smaller legislative delegations and those with less seniority will not get their rightful share of transportation dollars based on their need. The old system was much better because it left transportation planning to the professionals in the department of transportation and not turn it over to politicians who will make political decisions and not transportation ones.
I also believe we need to have regional transportation planning. No longer can a single community think only about their needs but how their decisions might affect their neighbors.
I also am very skeptical about another transportation sales tax. I believe we have reached the limit on sales taxes in the state of Georgia and if we are not careful will jeopardize the ones we already have.
Q. You support transportation dollars going to cities and counties for infrastructure improvement. Why?
A. The state had for many years a program called LARP (Local Assistance Road Program) that was highly successful. It has been virtually eliminated. We need to reestablish this program and ensure its adequate funding. Local city and county officials know far better than the state what local roads need to be improved. We need to return a larger portion of the gasoline tax to local governments because that is where the tax is generated.
Q. Discuss funding a state-wide trauma network. Where would trauma centers be located?
A. We need to fund the existing trauma centers fully and establish new centers in Southwest Georgia and North Georgia. The funding stream should be consistent and permanent. We need to fund these centers with a funding stream as close to possible to the people who cause the need for the care the most. The super speeder fine is a start since a larger percentage of the need comes from automobile accidents. But we need to look at other sources of funding that are directly related to the need for these services and not fund this service from income taxes or general revenue.
Q. Why should the state fund mental health services?
A. Mental health is a critical and often ignored part of our health care system in Georgia. We are currently serving a huge number of patients through our jail and corrections system. We also need to look at establishing a more efficient system of serving these patients with normal medical needs. We have a triage system that separates a patient’s needs with the type of care given. We don’t treat heart patients the same as we do broken arms. However in the mental health area we have basically a one-size-fits-all system. We send depressed patients to the same hospital as we do with those who have much more serious mental problems. The milder cases that only need medication are quickly released, wind up on the streets, commit minor offenses and are put in jail and the cycle starts all over again. We need to establish separate mental health clinics to dispense medications for mild cases and use the much more costly mental hospital system for the severest cases. If the state does not pick up the cost of these facilities then it becomes another unfunded mandate from the state.