Political Notes – What’s best way to spend all that new money?

[private]The new Georgia taxes that took effect July 1 have been like a shot of steroids juicing a state economy that had been puny and anemic throughout the prolonged recession and economic downturn of 2007-12.

HB 170 not only raised the gasoline excise tax by about 6 cents per gallon, it also imposed a new tax on electric vehicles and a $5 daily surcharge on hotel stays.

The response has been dramatic. State tax collections increased by 6.1 percent in July, zoomed up by 13.6 percent in August, and improved again by 8.7 percent in September.

Partly because of the new taxes, Georgia has collected $438 million more tax dollars during the first quarter of this fiscal year than it did in the same quarter last year.

What to do with that new money? Taifa Smith Butler of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute offered some suggestions from the Atlanta-based think tank:

If these positive revenue trends continue, the governor and state lawmakers will face choices that proved elusive during the leanest years of the 2007-2009 recession and long after.

Georgia will likely drive a short-term surplus with ongoing healthy revenues. The governor could use this surplus to increase the state’s rainy day fund, his stated priority. Preparing for economic downturn and ensuring money is in the bank is good fiscal management.

Competing priorities include covering the cost of enrollment growth in K-12 and higher education, making a dent in the ongoing $466 million austerity cut to state funding for public schools or implementing any additional reforms in criminal justice and child welfare that have been part of the governor’s policy agenda.

And Georgia has non-negotiable claims on some of the new revenue so the state can meet behavioral health settlement mandates, employee retirement and existing debt obligations.

Carson holds off Trump in Peanut Poll

Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s Peanut Poll at the Georgia National Fair in Perry ended with late surge Sunday that saw more than 28,000 total votes cast for one of the Republican or Democratic presidential contenders.

Ben Carson maintained his lead over the Republican field to the end as he held off second-place finisher Donald Trump.

The tally: Carson, 8,576; Donald Trump, 8,099; Carly Fiorina, 1,203; Marco Rubio, 1,064; Ted Cruz, 778; Jeb Bush, 629; Mike Huckabee, 597; Rand Paul, 234; John Kasich, 132; Chris Christie, 129; Lindsey Graham, 80; Rick Santorum, 98, and Bobby Jindal, 78.

The Democratic totals: Hillary Clinton, 2,513; Bernie Sanders, 929, and Joe Biden, 396.

Georgia lauded for pre-term birth rates

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) is being recognized for lowering Georgia’s preterm birth rate, which gives more babies a healthy start in life. Infants who are born early have a greater risk of respiratory distress syndrome, feeding difficulties, temperature instability (hypothermia), jaundice and delayed brain development.

DPH was given the March of Dimes Virginia Apgar Prematurity Campaign Leadership Award after the state’s preterm birth rate dropped to 12.6 percent in 2014, a decline from 13.8 percent in 2009.

“This award is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of health care professionals in maternal and newborn care, and health care organizations throughout our state,” Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald said.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: department of public health , gasoline excise tax , Peanut Poll , presidential candidates , state revenues