July 9, 2013

Pennington files to run for governor

Charles Oliver

— Ending months of speculation, Dalton Mayor David Pennington filed paperwork on Monday in advance of a run for governor in 2014, when he would take on a sitting Republican governor in the GOP primary.

Pennington filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, which will allow him to raise money for a gubernatorial run. Asked how much he needs, Pennington said enough to be competitive but did not give a specific figure.

Qualifying for the June 2014 primary starts in April 2014.

Under state law, Pennington will have to step down as mayor to run, but he says he does not plan to step down before the qualifying date.

“Being mayor is a part-time job, and I’ll be able to continue doing that job,” he said.

Pennington said in April of this year that he was considering a Republican primary challenge to Gov. Nathan Deal. Pennington spent the next three months crisscrossing the state talking to conservative leaders and community groups gauging the support for such a challenge.

“There are a lot of people out there looking for a competitive primary,” he said.

In April, Pennington said Deal hasn’t done anything really bad. Pennington said the problem is “he hasn’t done anything really good at a time when the Georgia economy has struggled much more than the national economy has.”

Pennington said Deal and the GOP-controlled General Assembly hadn’t done enough to deal with the state’s economy, and he didn’t sense any urgency to deal with such concerns. He pointed to the failure of the General Assembly to pass comprehensive tax reform during the past three sessions.

“If you look at the states around us, they either do not have an income tax or they are looking at eliminating their income tax,” he said. “Alabama is the only other state in this region that isn’t at least looking at eliminating the state income tax. We are already uncompetitive. As these states move further in that direction we become even more uncompetitive.”

Pennington said he would like to end Georgia’s state income tax.

“The state income tax is the most onerous tax for small business because we have to pay it on our personal income tax returns. Small businesses produce 65 percent of the net new jobs in America and right now we aren’t producing enough new jobs in Georgia to even handle the population growth,” he said.

Pennington said improving education is vital to growing the economy.

“We need to decentralize education. Local systems should have more control than they currently have,” he said.

Pennington campaigned vigorously last year across Georgia against referendums that would have created 10-year, 1 percent regional Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOSTs) to fund transportation programs. Those referendums lost in nine of the state’s 12 regions, including locally, and Pennington said earlier this year that people he met during that battle urged him to run for governor.

Pennington created an email list that he says now reaches some 15,000 people. He has used that list to address a number of issues. Pennington was an early supporter of eliminating the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, a proposal the General Assembly adopted last year.

Pennington has also supported ethics reform and greater openness in government.

Pennington is currently in his second term as mayor. He was first elected in 2007 and re-elected in 2011. During the last five-and-a-half years, the City Council has aggressively cut taxes and spending. The city’s operating budget dropped to $27.2 million this year from $30.9 million in 2008. The council cut the city’s property tax rate to 2.697 mills in 2012 from 3.66 mills in 2007.

And in 2008, city voters approved a referendum placed on the ballot by the council that ended a 1-mill tax devoted to recreation. Voters also approved a referendum creating a “freeport” property tax exemption on some types of business inventory. The council set the freeport exemption rate at 20 percent.

The council also cut garbage pickup to once a week from twice a week and got the city out of road paving and building inspection, merging those departments with Whitfield County.

The city also began or completed a number of major projects, such as tearing down the Dalton Community Center and replacing it with the Mack Gaston Community Center, refurbishing the old freight depot and creating biking and walking trails on Mount Rachel.