By Valerie Baldowski
Local Rotarians were told by a prominent state leader that the county has a good quality of life, a strong school system, and the potential for industrial growth.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a candidate in Georgia's 2010 lieutenant governor's race, was the guest speaker at Monday's Henry County Rotary Club weekly meeting. The meeting was held at PJ's Cafe, 30 Macon St., on the McDonough Square.
Cagle, the Republican incumbent, will face Democrat Carol Porter and Libertarian Rhonda Martini in the November general elections.
Cagle's visit provided an opportunity for the club members to stay abreast of the latest developments in government, said Henry County Rotary Club President Kerry Arnold. "This is an election year, so we wanted to hear about some of the things the [State] Senate is going to be tackling, some of the issues they're going to be discussing in the legislature, coming up," Arnold said.
Keeping up with legislation and important issues affecting the local community is critical, he said. "We're all community leaders in this club, and the more informed we are, the better voters we are, and the better citizens we are," added Arnold.
One of Henry County's strong points is its school system, Cagle said.
"We are extremely proud of the success that Henry County's had, as it relates to education," he said. "It demonstrates very good local leadership, and a community that supports K-12 education. It is the very building-block in which we build a very strong economy, [and] a self-sustaining community. I'm very proud of Henry County for the work ... [it has] done."
He said he strongly supports the charter school movement. "What it does is give block-grant funding for local systems, and ultimately, it frees them of the bureaucracy, and all of the rules and regulations that come down from the state," Cagle said. "They're able, through a contractual agreement, to meet the outcomes they are looking for. We think for the future, it's going to be great for communities to really be free to design an educational curriculum around the need of each individual child."
In the future, he said, Henry County will play a role in determining in what direction Georgia will move in its eventual economic recovery. "We've lost over $13 trillion of personal wealth in our country. That's been a huge economic downturn. That actually equals the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP)," Cagle said. "It demonstrates that we've got to get back to some of the fundamentals."
Locally, he continued, those fundamentals include locally manufacturing goods, and attracting new jobs to the area. "Henry County's positioned very well," he said. "It's a great place to live in terms of quality of life. But along with that, it's very committed to a strong work force. With the available industrial land that is here, you're going to see great prosperity, because we can recruit the types of companies that need to come here in Henry County. It doesn't need to just be a bedroom community, it needs to be economically vibrant for the future."
During the meeting, Cagle told his audience the tight state budget is forcing state leaders to prioritize between essential and non-essential government services. "From my perspective, government needs to be small," he said. "It needs to be efficient, and it doesn't need to be all things to all people." Private enterprise should be relied on to do much of what government now controls, he said.
After his remarks, Cagle answered questions on the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (H.O.P.E.) scholarships, and the national health-care plan.
He voiced support for the scholarships, but viewed the health-care plan as problematic. "It [the HOPE scholarship] is one of those success stories that is providing real opportunities for so many people that would not normally have been able to afford to go to college," he said.
However, the revenue the state lottery is bringing in for H0PE scholarships is not keeping pace with the cost to the state to offer them, he said. By 2012, changes will need to be made to the program, he said.
On health care, he said regulatory reform is needed, but that Georgia cannot afford to follow the federal health-care program as it is being presented. "It is the most massive expansion of an entitlement program that any of us have seen in our entire lifetime," he said. "We cannot afford it. There is absolutely no way."
The state will fight the mandate to adopt the plan through the legal system, he added.s