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Senator Tommie Williams' "The People's Business"
Monday, 26 October 2009

October 26--  Senator Tommie Williams compares federal and state spending in his column
"The People's Business."

 "While I often quote our founding fathers for their wisdom in creating a Constitution of almost divine qualities, there is one glaring issue that they overlooked.  They should have required a balanced budget or at the very least limited debt except in time of war.

George Washington said it eloquently in his Farewell Address; “As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit.”  He admonishes us to “avoid the accumulations of debt not only by shunning occasions of expense but by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the debts unavoidable wars may have occasioned.” He clearly believes that national debt should only be expended in times of war.  While we are currently in a time of war, unfortunately none of our expenditures are going toward this effort.

Many states have constitutional balanced budget amendments which do NOT allow for spending more than the revenue collected. Georgia is one of those states. When times are lean, we cut spending. We are currently in lean times with revenue continuing to fall.  Our budget has been cut from $21 billion in 2007 to $15 billion in 2010. During that period we gained 300,000 new Georgians.  We balanced our budget, just like Georgia families must balance their budgets. That is not an easy task, but the only other option is to raise taxes and for true Republicans this is not an option. People are paying enough already. Overtaxing occurs primarily at the federal level, but it is also found in some cities and counties through property taxes.

Georgia’s current debt is $121.00 per capita compared to the national debt of $40,000 per capita and growing. The state debt consists mostly in the form of school and road bonds.  We have the lowest debt per capita of any other state in the nation. We also rank 50th among the states in revenue collected.  No other state is less expensive to live in than Georgia based on the state taxes collected.

During these difficult days, the General Assembly has had to make severe cuts in order to balance the budget, including cuts to local Governments. Local governments make up 51% of all taxes in Georgia, mostly in the form of property taxes. In short, local governments tax more than the state.

Our state budget consists primarily of revenue from income tax and sales tax. Of the $15 billion in revenue collected this year, 56% will go to Education.  K-12 teachers alone make up 30% of the entire state budget. Even though we are 50th in the nation in spending, we rank in the top 20 in K-12 investment. Our teachers are the highest paid teachers in the southeast and rank 17th in the country in teacher salaries. Significant progress has been made increasing Georgia’s graduation rates. Since 2003, the state's graduation rate has risen more than 15 points from 63.3% to 78.9%.  Our math and science scores have continued improvements. We are making progress without overtaxing our citizens. The fact is more money does not necessarily make for better education.

While we have been obligated to make difficult decisions, which have received some complaints, a balanced budget amendment forces us to determine what Government’s real mission should be. It helps us prioritize what is working and eliminate what is not.  As the Senate Pro Temp, I believe we are running a lean ship and coursing in the right direction.

As I listen to the latest spending madness coming out of Washington; bailouts, stimulus packages, Cash for Clunkers, Health Care Reform and trillions in new debt, I can’t help but wish that the US Congress had to balance their budget like the state of Georgia or like every family in this country. Then the answer to every hair-brained spending idea would be simple. “WE CAN’T AFFORD IT.”

 
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