State Representative Dave Belton came through Morgan County this week to give a legislative update to the public, reporting on the state legislature’s main priorities for the year and recent progress made on various issues.
“Our top three priorities this year are education, healthcare, and broadband access,” said Belton, who noted all three of these issues are in desperate need of improvement throughout rural Georgia.
Belton announced that Georgia’s state budget this year was passed at $26 billion, a full billion dollars higher from last year’s budget.
“That is all from economic growth,” said Belton. “We have gotten all that extra income without raising taxes.”
Belton noted this year’s budget contains significant increases to education spending, school and other infrastructure construction, and a $356 million boost to Medicaid.
Belton also noted that over half of the state budget is designated for spending related to children.
“About 53 percent of the state’s budget goes to children,” said Belton. “Nearly one in four Georgians are children…that means we have the population for a strong future workforce but it also means we have to invest a lot of money into them now.”
Belton did not offer specifics on how the state would aid in improving healthcare in Georgia, but promised state legislators were in the process of “looking at it carefully.”
Belton said State Senator Burt Jones was speaking with Vice President Mike Pence this week in regards to securing broadband access throughout rural Georgia.
“We think the state needs to step in and provide this our citizens, like we did with utilities,” said Belton.
Belton praised the Morgan County School System for its fiscal responsibility, a graduation rate of 92 percent, and overall academic success among students.
“The Morgan County School System is the eighth best school system in the state,” said Belton. “They have also been able to take the rollback rate for 11 years in a row. That’s a good deal for your money.”
Belton listed improvements across the state including Georgia boasting of the second lowest tax burden in the country, having a growth rate at twice the national average, constructing more new roads than any other state in the country currently, and adding more than 600,000 jobs since Governor Nathan Deal took office in 2011. Belton also praised Georgia booming airport in Atlanta and seaport out of Savannah, which is the fourth largest seaport in the nation.
According to Belton, the film industry has significantly improved Georgia’s economy.
“Georgia is the Hollywood of the world right now. We are the number one place to film, bringing in $10 billion a year in movie-making,” said Belton.
The audience was filled with local elected officials, some of whom spoke up to inquire about pressing local matters in need of the state’s attention.
Madison City Manager David Nunn asked Belton to looking into how the state could prevent Airbnb and other similar vacation rental businesses from popping up in local neighborhoods. Nunn also asked Belton to advocate for Highway 441 to be expanded to four lanes between Madison and Athens.
“It’s a dangerous road,” said Nunn.
County Manager Adam Mestres asked Belton to look into securing state funding mechanisms to cover currently unfunded mandates from the state to local governments.
Other public comments included concerns over healthcare insurance providers leaving the state and funding for the arts.
“I consider myself a representative and want to represent the will of the people of Morgan County,” said Belton, who promised to look for solutions to the public’s concerns.