Incumbent Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) and challenger Michael Caldwell faced off Monday night in a debate sponsored by the Cherokee County Republican Party at its headquarters in Towne Lake.
The debate is one of a series of candidate forums planned leading up to the July 31 primary election. A crowd of about 100 arrived to hear the candidates and have a chance to ask questions. Byrd is seeking a fifth two-year term to the state House, and Caldwell is challenging the incumbent for a second time.
Both candidates debated the issues of school funding, the upcoming regional sales tax referendum for transportation projects and ethics reform. Both candidates said if elected, they would not vote to raise taxes.
Caldwell said he would not raise taxes, but said the state should consider moving toward a consumption-based tax rather than an “antiquated” system of relying on property and income taxes.
Both candidates also debated the Quality Basic Education, or QBE formula, the state’s method of funding school districts.
Byrd said the system is unfair as Cherokee County is a donor county to the state’s poorer areas.
“What we need to do is start keeping our own tax dollars right here in Cherokee County,” she said.
Caldwell agreed, adding that the QBE system does not take into account the amount of revenue the districts would receive.
The candidates were also asked their take on what they would do to keep Cherokee County’s unemployment rate down.
Byrd said the state won’t grow at the rate it wishes if it does not consider implementing incentives to bring jobs and manufacturing to the state. She said the state’s recent elimination of the energy tax on manufacturing was a “good start.”
However, Caldwell said he believed unemployment rates would eventually fall if government got out of the way of the private sector.
Both candidates also expressed their dislike of the upcoming regional transportation sales tax referendum that’s on the ballot for the July 31 primary and what could be done to ease congestion in the county. The state has been divided up into 10 regions and each region will decide whether to impose a 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects in their region over a 10-year period.
The projects for Cherokee County, which is in the Atlanta region, include the widening of Highway 140/Hickory Flat Highway from 575 to the Fulton County line and replacing the Bells Ferry Road bridge over Little River.
Caldwell said the best way to relieve traffic congestion in Cherokee was to have an opt-in measure. He said he has a problem with the regional push and with its possible conflict with the state constitution.
Byrd said she believed what started out as good intentions to ease congestion ended up as a wish-list for “every county in our region.” She said she felt companies should invest in telecommuting options, bringing jobs to Cherokee and possibly doing more bus services that would take residents to and from the area’s employment centers.
Both candidates also fielded questions on a proposal to ban lobbyists’ gifts to state lawmakers that exceed $100.
Caldwell said he hasn’t been convinced that’s the way to solve the problem, and said ethics reform started with transparency and accountability with candidates. Byrd said she is “all about ethics reform,” but said the state should focus on empowering the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, formerly known as the state ethics commission.
“This is just a Band-Aid fix,” she said.