Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Some bills Georgia's legislators should pass before they leave town


 

With one day to go, Georgia’s legislators have already passed or killed many of this year’s most prominent bills. Here are a few others that deserve their approval:

  • Tax reform: A pair of measures by Sen. Judson Hill , R-Marietta, would nudge Georgia toward the kind of tax code Republicans have long extolled. The first would give the state a flat income-tax rate of 5.4 percent, below one of our chief competitors (North Carolina), while eliminating numerous deductions most households don’t claim. If that’s too much to ask, Hill also has a constitutional amendment to push the top rate only as low as 5.8 percent, and only after general revenues and the rainy-day fund crossed certain thresholds.
  • Rural health-care tax credit: A bill by Rep. Geoff Duncan , R-Cumming, would authorize up to $100 million in tax credits for donors to Georgia’s struggling rural health-care providers. The credits would only offset 80 percent of such a gift, so $100 million in credits would yield at least $125 million in new funding for these providers. That could provide just the help they need: Duncan said Tuesday at least one hospital in southeast Georgia stands to have all its debt paid off if the bill passes.
  • MARTA funding: A grand plan to fund an $8 billion rail expansion fell by the wayside, but in its place may have risen something more sound . The compromise bill authored by Rep. Jan Jones , R-Milton, allows Atlanta to move ahead with its transit plans while Fulton, DeKalb and their other cities decide what they really want. This smaller measure would still be the biggest boost for MARTA since its creation.
  • Alcohol regulatory reform: One controversy legislators faced this year was resolved when the Revenue Department agreed to rewrite rules for craft breweries and distilleries that were plainly contrary to a bill passed last year. Despite that good result — which still has to be finalized — these entrepreneurs still face burdensome regulations; at best, we’re tied for 49th with Mississippi. A study committee before next year’s session could identify measures to free up these small businesses. A bid by Rep. Michael Caldwell , R-Woodstock, to create such a committee was co-signed by a majority of the body but nonetheless is buried in the process. A final-day agreement to let it pass isn’t impossible and ought to happen.
  • Welfare reform: Georgia lags the nation in making smart welfare reforms. A bill by Sen. Hunter Hill , R-Atlanta, would go a long way toward improving that. It would tighten some lifetime limits on benefits, but other changes might be counterintuitive for some fiscal conservatives. One is creating a “cash diversion” program so, for example, a single mother whose car breaks down can afford to repair it rather than missing work and losing her job -- putting her family in line for a range of welfare benefits that would quickly cost the state more. Another would ease the financial disincentive for low-income couples to marry, which saves the state money in the short run but costs more over time.

Pass all these, and what’s been derided as a do-nothing session will gain a large measure of redemption.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.