Senator Cecil Staton of the 18th District held his first town hall meeting in Thomaston last Tuesday night. Upson County became part of the 18th Senatorial District last year following redistricting.
Staton came to town to brief citizens on what went on during the most recent Georgia General Assembly and to answer any questions they might have. Fifteen people turned out for the meeting, including County Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston, Sheriff Dan Kilgore, and Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority (TUIDA) Director Kyle Fletcher.
Staton said the General Assembly spent a great deal of time passing a balanced budget. He said what is happening in Washington with the sequestration cuts is impacting every state, including Georgia.
“The impact on Georgia alone is $28.6 million for primary and secondary education, $17.5 million for teachers and aides who serve children with disabilities, $233 million for Army operations in the state, $1.3 million for nutrition for seniors, and more. It looks like the impact of federal dollars coming back to the state is about five percent for non-defense programs, and eight percent for defense programs.
“The bottom line is we were planning a budget and all of those things left question marks for appropriations in the General Assembly, so we had to work through that and figure out what we were going to do. We did pass the amended budget as well as the 2014 budget that begins July 1, with no tax increases, and we did balance the budget as the constitution mandates that we do,” said Staton. “It did necessitate some cuts in the budget. But it is important that we make those tough decisions, and we do what we have to do, because the bottom line is we want Georgia to be in the best fiscal shape it can possibly be when the economic recovery finally comes.”
Staton also talked about education in Georgia, stating that the state has excellent higher education. He said 11 percent of the budget is spent on higher education, and more than 50 percent is spent on public school teachers, and that they did not cut K-12 funding this year. Staton added that Georgia is competing globally in education and that a new emphasis is being placed on career academies that will offer more career and skill options for students who would not be going to college.
Staton said there is a lot of interest in moving forward with tax reform. He said he would like to do away with the state income tax and replace it with a tax on consumption, but predicted that will not happen until the economy stabilizes and the state has a better idea of the tax dollars coming in. He did add that the General Assembly passed a law where seniors can now make up to $165,000 as a couple and not have to pay the state income tax.
During the question and answer period, TUIDA Director Kyle Fletcher requested that Sen. Staton be a cheerleader for Thomaston and the community when it comes to attracting business and industry.
Station replied that he is impressed with the community and the people, and that Upson County has the resources available when the economy rebounds.
One resident suggested that term limits are needed to limit career politicians who stay in office too long.
Staton agreed with that suggestion for politicians in Washington, but noted that the Republican Party has been in power in Georgia for the past nine years and said he felt they have done a good job.