Senator Dean Burke speaks to Rotary Club on Tuesday

Published 3:56 pm Tuesday, November 19, 2019

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State Senator Dean Burke came to Rotary this week and gave a synopsis on issues being addressed by the legislature.

The first item he mentioned was how the State of Georgia last year held a special session in November and appropriated $200 to $300 million dollars to provide loans and tax credits especially for farmers, following Hurricane Michael.  He said this was unprecedented, that the State has never provided state funding for disaster relief. Only the federal government has provided disaster relief. Then, in April the Budget Committee put another $25 million into the fund as it rapidly became depleted.

Continuing with the relief given as tax credits to timber farmers, Burke said it became necessary to tweak the language a bit. Originally, timber farmers would have to clearcut in order to get relief. Many farmers said standing timber remained in many of their fields and they didn’t want to destroy them. The language was changed to if they cleaned up the site they could get credit.

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Burke then addressed three topics in which he has special interest: Health Care, Education and Rural Economic Development.

Specifically, Burke noted the changes he is seeing in Bainbridge and other small towns as a result of the downtown development tax credit. Also there is the new industry coming to the area, especially Taurus in Bainbridge. Funding is there to help communities put in infrastructure to attract new industry.

Education: We did some historic work as the state fully funded QBE (Quality Basic Education) for two years in a row. They also gave teacher pay raises in the amount of $3,000 per teacher, but has not put a time limit on it.

The Governor this past summer asked all state agencies to cut their budgets by 4 percent this Fiscal Year and 6 percent in the new budget in January. This was primarily about concern had regarding trade and people being afraid of a recession. Then he also has some issues of his own he would like to see funded.

But, Burke said what he didn’t anticipate was the fact that as of now the state is $225 million behind the budget for this fiscal year. All those with a connection to government will be affected somewhat.  “Just remember that the State Government is funded by You,” he added.

Burke then asked for concerns from the Rotarians. “What I want to hear from you is what is on your mind. What should the state be doing that it isn’t doing?

Jim Conger then asked a question about health care insurance for low income people, stating he has some clients that had health insurance with a $6000 deductible and it has gone from a $50 premium to $200 a month.

Burke’s response told of a Health Act that involved insured people on State Medicaid. He said Georgia has one of the lowest percentages of persons on Medicaid in the country because the eligibility criteria is so high. There is a proposal that would provide a waiver up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level as long as people work a minimum of 80 hours a month. He estimates it will cover 50,000 Georgians. He also addressed a second piece that would allow the state to change some criteria around the exchanges whereby Georgia can add to the supplements people receive there.

With regard to education, Burke said the state has a scholarship program for students enrolled in certain technical fields, whereby students get a free ride if they complete the program. It is responsive to the business community based on what the needs are in a certain field and new fields are being added each year.

In response to a question of where Burke stood on the subject of term limitations, he said he would support it in some ways; but noted that it takes some time for newly elected people to learn what is going on. He doesn’t believe they should be required to leave at the end of two years when they are just beginning to figure out what is going on.