A New Year for Georgia
As I look back on the past year, I am encouraged by the great strides that our state has taken toward economic prosperity and growth. I am humbled by the opportunity you have given me to serve you throughout the past seven sessions. This past year was full of progress and we made many hard decisions in order to overcome the obstacles we faced while working toward a robust economy.
In January of 2011, we welcomed a new governor, Governor Nathan Deal, to office. Governor Deal is only the second governor of Georgia from the Republican Party since the Reconstruction era. While welcoming our new governor, we also began the 2011 legislative session. The session offered many challenges due to our state’s waning budget and the diversity of needs faced by each and every Georgian. Immigration reform, tax reform, strengthening our state’s education system, and balancing our budget were just a few of the vital issues we faced.
We succeeded at the task of balancing our state’s budget by finding areas of wasteful spending and evaluating efficient ways to run our government. We passed an $18.2 billion budget for the 2012 Fiscal Year, successfully balancing the spending plan amid a $1.5 billion shortfall. On top of this shortfall, the legislature confronted an additional deficit of almost $300 million due to revised projections in the State Health Benefit Plan as well as interest payments to the federal government for loans in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. These issues will arise again this session as the legislature debates a long term solution to employee health care and reducing the principal of Unemployment Insurance loans.
We also managed to restore faith in the HOPE Scholarship by crafting a sustainable solution for the broken program. Without these actions, the program would have been bankrupted by enrollment growth and lagging lottery funds. Reforming the program now keeps Georgia on the forefront of education innovation and ensures our children and grandchildren will benefit from this generous program.
Unfortunately, legislative leaders decided to delay the passage of tax reform legislation to allow for further examination of its effects. After months of study last year, a council of business and economic leaders delivered recommendations to the legislature on how to overhaul Georgia’s tax system. Based on the council’s suggestions, we drafted a bill aimed at flattening the tax code, primarily by cutting income taxes by 23 percent. Although I had hoped to make more permanent steps toward reforming Georgia’s tax code last year, I remain dedicated to revisiting the issue this year and ensuring the implementation of sound public policy.
Finally, in the last days of the session members of the House and Senate reached an agreement and passed one of the most significant steps toward immigration reform. Illegal immigration has crippled our state’s resources for far too long. I am thankful that we were able to pass the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 and look forward to seeing its success in curbing illegal immigration in Georgia.
Since we adjourned in April of 2011, we held the Special Session on redistricting that is required to occur at least once every ten years. Last Friday, the Department of Justice signed off on our maps for the U.S. House, state Senate and House. The outcome of these redistricting maps means that in the coming year I will welcome some new constituents and sadly say goodbye to others. Whether you are reading as a new constituent or an old friend, I remain dedicated to making Georgia a better place to live for all Georgians- not just those from the 31st district.
The New Year brings great hope for our state and our nation. We must continue to demand government efficiency and conservative values from our nation’s leaders. In November, perhaps we will even see a new president take office. With the election season upon us, I urge you to stay informed and engaged in the political process. Let your voices be heard at the polls. Countless numbers of our ancestors fought and died for the freedoms we have today – the right to vote is just one of them.
Looking forward to 2012, we must reflect on lessons learned in 2011. Our economy is strengthening albeit slowly. Businesses and companies are moving to Georgia, bringing jobs and building communities. Unemployment numbers are falling and families are beginning to feel the security that was lost when our nation fell under hard times a few years ago.
The progress made in 2011 showed us how resilient we can be as a state when we band together. No we are not out of the woods yet, but each year brings hope for new opportunity and growth in Georgia and throughout our nation. We will continue to face many challenges as a community, a state and a nation; the best way to survive these hard times is to remain true to the values that make Georgians unique. I look forward to seeing how our state grows and the character that our citizens will show as we continue to grow in 2012. I look forward to the promise of the coming legislative session. My fellow legislators and I are eager to get to work addressing the future of our state in 2012 and for decades to come.
I want to express my appreciation to the voters of Senate District 31 for allowing me to represent you. I remain steadfast in my promise to never disappoint you or betray that sacred trust you lent me by voting for me. I value your trust and will always try to serve in a way that will bring honor to this office, this district, this state and this country.
This is my resolution this year and ever year after that I am blessed to serve as your Senator. I challenge you to commit to resolutions that will better your family, your community, our state, and our nation.
Please continue reaching out to me to share ideas on how we can reduce the size of government, strengthen our traditional family structure, reduce the tax burden on our citizens and promote personal responsibility. These remain my priorities, but I look to you to share your thoughts and suggestions of how I can better serve and represent you and your values. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you in 2011 and I look forward to the dawning of a new year filled with hope and promise. I pray for strength and wisdom for the leaders in our state government and in each and every community throughout our great state. I wish you and your family a blessed New Year.