"I want to give an overview of some of the key issues we're dealing with that you're probably not hearing a lot from the media," said Loudermilk as he explained the purpose of the meeting. "We wanted to have town hall meetings for a two-way information share, and now is the time that we can respond to concerns people have as we're going through the legislative session."
The main points discussed included tax reform, zero-based budgeting, high tech jobs and the HOPE scholarship.
"We're looking at things people of Georgia said are the top priorities like job creation, illegal immigration, transportation and more than just Sunday sales of alcohol," said Loudermilk.
In regards to the tax reform initiative, codes are being restructured. The idea is to create a fair tax model that is a transition from taxes on productivity into a consumption based structure. In this sense, taxes would be placed on the necessities that are currently exempt such as groceries and household utilities. Another part of the new structure includes a transition from the 4-cent sales tax per gallon on motor fuel to a percentage rate to ease the current issue of tax remaining the same and costing more overall as fuel prices increase. Income tax and the insurance premium tax would be eliminated as well.
"Even if you're in this country illegally [under the consumption based model] you're paying taxes fairly [on the necessities]," he said.
Tax free holidays will be eliminated and there is a possibility of raising the cigarette tax by 68 cents, but there is a concern that this will only serve to raise the black market sales of imported goods that are not approved by the FDA.
Zero-based budgeting, simply stated, requires the state departments to return to a $0 budget every gubernatorial election. Currently, the budget model operates on a baseline on what that department spent the year before and they are not required to disclose information on the previous budget.
"In 1996 the Department of Natural Resources had $1.5 million added to their budget to build new cabins at various state parks," explained Loudermilk. "That was a one time expenditure that they shouldn't need the next year but it was added to the baseline budget, and since they don't have to disclose where that money goes, we have no idea what they are spending it for and there's got to be a lot of cabins being funded that we're not building."
With concerns turning toward job creation, stimulating existing businesses to grow and establishing Georgia as a desirable location for high tech jobs is a main issue being addressed.
"High tech jobs, versus industrial, are desired as they don't use many resources, they don't impact the environment, they don't need a lot of infrastructure and the average salary is $30,000 more than industrial jobs," Loudermilk said. "We're looking for a job creation plan that will help establish Georgia as a high tech leader."
Revenues for the HOPE scholarship have decreased over the years and new ideas are proposed to help determine who will receive the funding as lottery sales continue to decline. Options include raising the GPA standard from 3.0 to 3.2 and it has been suggested to raise that even higher to 3.5. The problem with this idea is grade alterations as teachers would possibly change the grades to allow students to keep their scholarship.
Another idea is to place an income cap on eligibility, but the issue on this suggestion is a family with one child and an income of the determined number does not always have the same lifestyle and flow of income as a family with eight children.
"At this point, I don't think anyone is looking at an income cap," said Loudermilk.
Elimination of the second chance for students who leave and return to school is an option as well as considering a minimum requirement for SAT/ACT scores. However, the Board of Regents adequately explained that the SAT/ACT is not a fair evaluation of a student's performance in a collegiate atmosphere.
Another key idea is to reduce the amount of credits that HOPE will cover, as the current maximum stands at 120 hours. Although there are several options, one of the elements likely to be eliminated will be allowing HOPE to cover remedial classes.
"I think this was very informative," said Jana Murphy, a Cartersville citizen who attended the meeting. "I haven't paid much attention to some of these issues and it's good to know what's going on."