Many thanks to Travis Allen for bringing this article to our attention.
Courtesy Atlanta Journal Constitution
The Alpharetta Republican discusses a vote on Milton County, the state budget,, education and other issues.
Q: What about the proposal for Milton County?
A: If we were successful this year in getting a vote ... it would be a statewide referendum in November of 2010. Then come back in 2011, that session, and have a very short and simple piece of legislation that would ask the voters in North Fulton if they, too, would like to ratify the re-creation of Milton County. Then if that were successful, we would come back one year later in 2012 or ’13 or even ’14. I mean it will take a couple years to put together and disentangle the parts of Fulton and Milton that would need disentangling but also and, just as importantly, where the ties would remain. That would also give the city of Atlanta time to consider if they would like to consolidate Fulton and Atlanta at that time.
Q: What’s the strongest argument against Milton?
A: There was a concern [with creating new cities] that it would draw funds or support away from Fulton County, and that has not been the case.
Q: Do you see any room for privatization?
A: Certainly. ... We actually have privatization in a number of areas of state government already with private contracts. I mean much of the DOT work is done by private contracts. ... I don’t see why any reason why you wouldn’t do that with driver services some day.
Q: How would you tackle the budget?
A: The No. 1 priority to me is to figure out a way, however painful, to balance the budget, providing I think the first responsibility is a safety net to those who can’t provide for themselves, a real safety net, and public education. ... I would not be opposed, and I don’t mean this year or in years in general, in having some services pay for themselves. ... It’s kind of like the gasoline tax, it ought to pay for the users.
Q: How about a tobacco tax?
A: I don’t have a problem with cigarette taxes. ... My preference would be if you raise the cigarette tax you roll back another tax and make it net neutral. ... We just can’t always be looking for another area [to tax]. We’ll run out of the sin taxes, and then we’ll have to move onto something else.
Q: What strategic spending cuts are you all looking at?
A: There are 50 agencies in Georgia; 40 of the 50 agencies comprise 15 percent of the state’s budget. The other 10 are 85 percent of the state’s budget. Now 47 percent of that is public education, 10 percent is corrections, 10 percent is higher education, 6 percent is debt. When you add it up you could close down 40 agencies and that would almost approximate the downturn for this year. It means we have to think really big how we are going to change what we do.
Q: What about education?
A: I think it is opening up to more parental choice. I think it’s changing how we pay teachers. A public education teacher today that has been there 20 years and therefore is about at the top of their pay scale, if they have a master’s and a doctorate in unrelated areas, we pay them about $20,000 more a year. I can’t think of any other area in government or in the private sector where we just automatically get that. ... We made a change in that direction last year where for the first time we started paying math and science teachers almost $5,000 more a year because those are critical need shortage areas.
Q: Being the first female speaker pro tem, how has that been for you?
A: The best part of winning it is the next time it won’t be a big deal. The third time, no one will even notice — and that’s what you hope for all girls, whether it’s racial or gender, that people are selected based on what they bring to the table.
Q: How do you deal with the sex-charged atmosphere here?
A: I do think it has been overplayed. ... There was some element of that, but not to the degree, to the People magazine and National Enquirer level.
Q: Karen Handel has been tough about the lobbyist culture. What needs to happen?
A: I guess she saw more of it than I did, which is interesting since I’m in the middle of it. Or at least she thought she did. Again, I think it was overplayed by some, particularly those running for office.
Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) is the highest-ranking women in the state House.