Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer of Duluth addressed a lunchtime meeting of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce today, choosing to speak on the state budget and the how the legislature should be spending the taxpayer’s money. He noted that the state has reduced spending from a high of $21 billion in 2007 to a recession low of $15.9 billion, and said that despite these reductions in real spending, state government is now better and more efficient.
Senator Shafer placed much of the blame for the ever-increasing state budget prior to the recession on what he called continuation budgeting, noting that what legislators receive from the governor is a list of proposed new programs, along with a single line item that represents all appropriations from the previous year. Shafer called for zero-based budgeting at the state level so that out of date programs could be eliminated. He said that Governor Deal’s elimination of several thousand state positions in a previous budget didn’t really remove any workers. Instead it just took away money that was being spent elsewhere because the positions were no longer needed, but were being funded through the continuation budgeting process.
The senator also used a personal story to illustrate what he thought the role of state government should be. He described how his grandfather had passed away prematurely, leaving his grandmother to take care of the seven children. Without the benefit of any Great Society programs such as food stamps, AFDC and public housing, she continued to work, and the children took on responsibilities to keep the family going and ultimately be successful. He wondered if that same level of success could have been achieved had the family become dependent on government handouts.
He concluded by saying the role of state government should be in providing infrastructure and education.
During a short Q&A following his speech, he was asked about tax reform at the state level. Saying he didn’t expect any significant reform “until after Governor Deal was re-elected,” he said that a future legislature would look at the possibility of lowering the income tax rate, perhaps offsetting part of the revenue with an increase on consumption taxes. He noted that if the sales tax exemption on food were removed, income tax rates could be reduced by about one percent.