Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Eggs & Issues Highlights

Governor Sonny Perdue, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson spoke at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual "Eggs & Issues" Breakfast this morning at the Georgia World Congress Center. Before a crowd of over 1,000 business, government and legislative leaders agendas were unveiled as were some battle lines over Transportation funding formulas.

Governor Perdue spoke to the assembled crowd first and touched on education, economic environment, transportation and tort reform. He began by saying that policy should drive the budget, not the budget drive policy. Facing back-to-back years of declining revenue for only the second time in 50 years, Perdue said that the core mission of government continues to be "providing services for people which they can't provide for themselves and doing those things in a way that is transparent, fair and efficient". In the education arena, Perdue is proposing 3 new initiatives that he'll urge the General Assembly to adopt:
1) High School Principal incentive pay program to provide $10,000 bonuses to a principal that consistently improves student achievement.
2) Create a merit pay program to identify and reward teachers who increase student achievement.
3) Pay first year fully certified math and science teachers as fifth year teachers and bring all of our current math and science teachers up to that pay level.
In the arena of business-friendly legislative proposals, Governor Perdue will propose two new initiatives to limit liability and further reform Georgia's tort law:
1) Companies with a significant presence in Georgia will not be subject to product liability claims within this State if the FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) approved the medical device, drug or labeling along with it.
2) To deter "frivolous" lawsuits, a tort reform bill designed to provide relief to individuals or companies wrongly sued. If a claim is dismissed at the earliest possible stage, the litigant bringing the claim will be responsible for the prevailing party's attorneys' fees. If the attorney fails to advise his or her client of this provision, the attorney could pay the award. The bill will also ensure that the discovery process will not begin until the legal merits of a complaint have been tested.
The Governor also spoke about needing to deliver more value for dollars invested in transportation and closed with remarks about Georgia's ongoing drought situation. He said that last year's passage of a Statewide Water Plan is a step in the right direction and he says he will announce appointments to Regional Water Councils soon.

Lt. Governor Cagle did not outline any specific legislative initiatives for 2009 but chose instead to, as he stated, "paint a picture of Georgia's reality while casting a vision of the possible". He did go on to state that his priority for the session is to bring State spending under control, "Let there be no mistake, my number one priority for this session is to balance this budget - not by seeking the aid of creative revenue enhancements - but by making the tough decisions to fund essential government services and cutting those that are not. " Cagle went on to predict that 2009 will hold as many challenges as 2008 and urged his colleagues in the General Assembly to stay focused, saying that they have only 40 days to set the tone for Georgia for an entire year.

Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson began his remarks with a bit of an homage to the late Thomas B. Murphy who served as the Speaker of the House for 40 years. He said that as a member of the House he always came to the breakfast and wondered why the Speaker always spoke last (after the Governor and Lt. Governor) and for such a comparatively short period of time. He said that he has learned what Murphy obviously knew: just because you think it, you don't have to say it. Richardson went on to speak about four specific areas of legislative interest:
1) Education: the Speaker indicated that he would support Representative Fran Millar's legislation to put Technical and Adult education classes in every high school in Georgia in order to better prepare those students who will not attend college for the workforce.
2) Trauma: Speaker Richardson said that it is time to fund Georgia's Statewide Trauma Care Network. He stated that he would consider a 25-cent per phone line, $10 charge on auto tags or a $10 charge on auto policies to fund that network.
3) Property Taxes: Speaker Richardson that he is supporting Representative Edward Lindsey's legislation that would freeze property tax values and cap assessments at either 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
4) Transportation: Speaker Richardson spoke about several initiatives to help relieve traffic congestion- moving truck routes out of metro Atlanta, expanding light rail and expanding major traffic arteries like Georgia 400- but says that he will back Representative Vance Smith's statewide transportation funding plan rather than regional plans. That is a fairly clear indication that the Speaker will not back the Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, that has been backed by members of the Senate and Lt. Governor Cagle.

Tune in to Lawmakers on GPB at 7 PM for highlights from these Eggs & Issues speeches and all the latest from under the gold dome.