By Valerie Baldowski
The budget crunch facing local school districts can be traced back to the way the state handles its annual budget, a state legislator told a roomful of Henry County Republicans this week.
State Rep. Austin Scott (R-Tifton), one of 19 announced candidates aiming to be Georgia's next governor, was the guest speaker for the Georgia Young Republicans of Henry County meeting, held at Rico's Mexican Restaurant in Stockbridge.
Scott voiced dissatisfaction with the state's tax structure regulating businesses, which he said discourages the kind of growth among businesses that could help the economy.
"I've got a simple solution to what we're facing right now," he said. "I intend to abolish the corporate income tax in the state of Georgia."
The corporate income tax makes up three percent of the state's total revenue, but eliminating it could generate increased interest by businesses looking to relocate to Georgia, said Scott. "We'll be the only state in the Southeastern United States without a corporate income tax," he said. "We want to be the one [state] that is at the top of the pack, and the others have to compete ... to get those jobs.
"I truly believe that the state that gets it right, with regard to economic development, is going to prosper in this area, in the Southeastern U.S.," he said. "The ones that don't, quite honestly, are going to fall behind."
Scott, 40, has served in the State House since age 26. He is chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Rules, and the Ways and Means committees. After graduating from the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business with a degree in Risk Management, Scott opened an independent insurance brokerage in Tifton, which he continues to operate today.
Many of his remarks focused on education, taxes, and balancing the state budget.
While on the campaign trail, Scott said, a number of voters have asked him how he would fix the public school system. "We've got a lot of challenges in public education right now," he said. "We've got a funding issue."
He said Gov. Sonny Perdue initially introduced his state budget on Jan. 15, but on March 11, the governor revised the state's revenue estimates, adjusting it downward by $440 million.
To balance the 2010 budget, Scott said, Perdue transferred $342 million from the 2011 budget to the 2010 budget. The result, he said, is that next year's state budget will have a shortfall.
Scott said local school systems cannot set their budgets until the state finishes its budget process. "We operate on a July 1 fiscal year, so, if we don't get our budget set until the end of April, your school systems in your counties and cities can't start setting their budgets until the end of April," he said.
When local school systems do not know how much their budgets will be cut, Scott said, they create a financial "cushion" by raising property taxes.
Among those in attendance, were Flippen Elementary School Principal Joe Landerman. Landerman said afterward, that his own views of education line up with Scott's opinions.
"I think he [Scott] has a lot of credibility, because he has kids in the public school system," said Landerman. "He doesn't believe in vouchers, and I agree with him.
"He's done his homework on many things, [and] he's pretty knowledgeable about a lot of the stuff," Landerman added. "You may not agree with him, but he'll tell you what his opinion is. I respect that."
McDonough resident, Mary Duffey, said she will research where each candidate stands on the issues before casting her ballot later this year. The mother of a 16-year-old junior attending Luella High School, she said she believes Scott would be beneficial to the Henry County school system.
"I pretty much agree [with him], but I'm going to do some investigating before I go to the polls," Duffey said. "I am really going to listen to the issues, to know where my vote needs to be."