Friends and Neighbors-
I knew when a friend asked if she had dropped off my email list that I needed to make time to write. I allowed the gearing up for session - and session itself - to consume me, especially with competing, substantive and, yes, divisive issues on the table this year.
I have working on the state budget (my assigned primary responsibility), tax reform (as a member of the Ways and Means subcommittee reviewing the proposals) and a couple of bills I am personally championing.
My primary efforts this session will be:
- meaningful education reform;
- eliminating a $140 million shortfall in the state Education budget;
- tax reform that includes a tax cut;
- passing HB 1015, which I authored, to transfer remaining county tax dollars paid by previously unincorporated citizens to their respective new cities (including annexed residents). It would shift frozen dollars from Fulton County to Milton, Johns Creek, Roswell and Alpharetta;
- supporting HB 975, which Rep. Mark Burkhalter authored, to prevent a county from backdating billboard permits after an area is incorporated or annexed (and directly affect Milton, Johns Creek, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta).
Additional significant issues are on the table this session - reducing traffic congestion (several alternatives, including one by Rep. Chuck Martin), shoring up trauma care statewide, including Grady Hospital (including proposals by Rep. Harry Geisinger and Sen. David Shafer), and water planning (a bill passed last week) and many others.
After months working with the University of Georgia and Georgia State University on a $400,000 study on re-creating Milton County, more remains to be done. The entire north Fulton legislative delegation and Rep. Mark Burkhalter in particular are eager to take a constitutional amendment forward. It's not a matter of if, but rather when.
If we have sufficient data and believe we have the 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate this year, you can be sure HR 12, which I authored last year, will move forward. The constitutional amendment would enable the re-creation of previously-merged counties. If not this year, we'll finish the exhaustive study and then move forward. Fulton County is too big, too dysfunctional and too expensive for its citizens. With 10 percent of Georgia's population, it needs to be cut down to size to qualify as real local government.
I'll say a few words about HB 881, which I have been working on for nearly a year. It passed the House last week with a resounding 120-48 bi-partisan vote, a rarity for substantive education reform. In a show of support, 89 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of Democrats joined together to give the bill a constitutional majority.
In my sixth year in the legislature and serving on the Education Committee, I have learned, and been frustrated by, how difficult it is to make measurable progress for Georgia's students. But improving public education will change more lives and spur more economic development than most any other aspect of state public policy. Much has been accomplished in the past 5 years to increase the graduation rate by 10 percentage points, but more remains to be done.
HB 881 is by no means a panacea for a 73 percent graduation rate and 48th national ranking on standardized tests and the SAT. But it is a sturdy effort to put more decision-making into parents hands, particularly when the public school to which their child is assigned does not meet his or her needs. It would result in more public charter schools, which are public schools of choice. You can't get more accountable than schools that shut down if parents don't send their children, or the schools don't meet high objective achievement standards.
Public charter schools offer alternatives to super-sized schools where some students get lost, homogenous one-size-fits-all schools for students that require specialized settings to excel and failing schools that serve almost no one well. Other states and industrialized countries are ahead of Georgia in this regard.
Nothing less than bold and significant change will transform public education. And I am committed to giving more local control to parents, in addition to other education initiatives, including merit pay for teachers and increased decision-making at the school-level.
As always, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to bring about real change for a better Georgia. It is a privilege I take seriously and hold with reverence.
State Representative - District 46
(Serving northwest Fulton, including Roswell, Milton, Alpharetta and Mountain Park)