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General Assembly session gets under way
Area delegates get ready to tackle issues
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ssion Monday, and experts predict the 40 legislative days will be shaped by hot issues such as the state’s budget, the Affordable Care Act and firearms rights and restrictions.

“Whenever you have a real shortage of money and the decisions have to be made, who gets cut? Everybody’s fighting for their constituency, their particular area — when there’s a limited amount of money, there’s a lot of competition for it,” Rep. Al Williams (D-Midway) said.
A release from Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) previewed the session in a guest editorial on the Georgia House of Republicans communications site.
Spencer said slower growth than projected is to blame for budget woes. Though fiscal-year 2012 ended in the black, the 2013 budget was based on a revenue growth of about 5.2 percent.
Tax has grown only by 3.7 percent, however, and Gov. Nathan deal has called for a 3 percent reduction plan from all agencies for FY-2014, which begins July 1, the release said.
“Everybody’s having to give up something,” Williams said.
Key to the local area, however, is a $4.75 million funding request from the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia for construction of an Armstrong Atlantic State University campus in Hinesville.
Williams and Sen. Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-Pooler) both vow to preserve the project as best they can.
“The delegation — myself and Sen. [Tommie] Williams [R-Lyons] and Rep. Al Williams— all of us will be working diligently to keep it in the budget,” Carter said.
Williams cautioned that it’s a matter of fighting for the line-item through several rounds and ensuring it’s not vetoed. If the funding is approved and added to the governor’s budget, Armstrong officials say there could be a ground-breaking this summer.
As for revenue, Williams said that Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Garden City) has previously proposed a $1 sales tax on cigarettes, and he would support the measure if it is reintroduced. He called it a “logical way” to raise revenue.  
Another running discussion is about allowing pari-mutuel betting. The Newnan Times-Herald reports that recently the Senate Study Committee on Horse Racing met and discussed legalizing horse racing, a process that requires two-thirds majority in both chambers to allow an amendment to be placed on a ballot.
“I think the people should decide; I’m not a big proponent of gambling, but I am a proponent of people having the right to chose,” Williams said. “The taxes on the plan would generate hundreds of millions of dollars on this economy, and we need to earmark it for education.”

Read more in the Jan. 16 edition of the News.

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