Health care was the first item up for discussion, when state Reps. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) and Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock) were asked about progress on a proposed bill they announced Monday to prohibit state agencies from helping implement the Affordable Care Act.
“We’ve got, I believe, 15 co-sponsors so far, and it’s only been out there for a week,” Turner said, of the Health Care Freedom and ACA Non-Compliance Act, which he and Caldwell co-authored with two other state representatives. “I imagine that number will grow significantly.”
Many in the small crowd that turned out for the meeting Friday at the Cherokee County Administrative Building favored the bill Turner and Caldwell are trying to pass, with several residents offering their thanks.
Nelson resident Lamar Kellett, though, warned of potential unintended consequences of the bill, which wouldn’t change the Affordable Care Act’s position as the law in Georgia.
“It looks like, ‘We didn’t get our way, so we’re not going to play,’” said Kellett, who previously fought Nelson on its loose gun-ownership requirement. “How’s that going to benefit people in the state of Georgia? Is there going to be a blowback that’s going to hurt our citizens?”
Caldwell said he and the others had considered the consequences before submitting the bill.
“We’ve met with the governor’s office, we’ve met with the speaker’s office, we’re meeting with you,” he said. “We’re trying to involve as many people as we can to vet this process.”
Turner and Caldwell both said there are more than a few ideas floating around that would be superior to the enacted health care law.
“There are legislators on both sides of the aisle in Congress who have new proposals that plainly would be better than Obamacare,” Caldwell said.
State Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) was asked where she stood on the anti-Affordable Care Act bill.
“I haven’t read the bill,” Ballinger said, of the bill pre-filed with the state Monday. “I’ve been working on lots of other pieces of legislation. I think we all kind of have our own irons in the fire, so to speak.”
Cherokee County’s newest representative, state Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-Cartersville), said he would support similar legislation in the Senate.
The legislators were also asked about their plans to increase funding for education in the state, which both Turner and Caldwell said was not as easy as it seemed.
Turner said more than half of the state’s budget goes to education already, and the money has to come from somewhere.
“If you want to raise taxes, you’re looking at a 5 percent increase for everybody’s income tax, across the board,” he said. “We’re in a tough spot. Do we live within our means? Do we raise taxes? Do we cut other areas?”
Turner said he and the rest of Cherokee’s delegation had other ideas besides raising taxes.
“The plan really is about job growth and boosting the economy here in Georgia,” he said. “The idea is: We don’t need to raise taxes, we need more taxpayers, which means we need economic development.”
Ballinger added that when extra money comes into the state’s coffers, it goes to schools.
“Any time we have any extra money, almost guaranteed, it goes to education,” she said. “If there’s anything left after the bare minimum, we’re putting it back into education. It’s just not there (always).”
Caldwell said the state’s education funding formula, Quality Basic Education, is going to continue to be a “broken promise” to schools each year unless state revenues are taken into account before spending.
“It’s important that when we calculate how much we’re going to send the schools and we tell them that it’s an accurate number,” he said. “Until we take revenue into account, we can’t promise that. It’s an important factor of spending.”
Holly Springs resident Dave Konwick told the legislators that spending won’t solve everything.
“From my understanding, what’s going on now is we spend more money per student than any other country in the world,” Konwick said, adding that test scores in America still rank far from the top of countries around the world. “There is something definitely wrong there. Throwing money at education isn’t the answer. It’s spending it wisely.”