August 4, 2013

Does the GOP mean what it says?

Pennington brings message of small government to Murray County

Charles Oliver

— Is the Republican Party “truly” the party of limited government, less spending, less taxes and less regulation?

That’s what Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who plans to challenge incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal in the 2014 GOP primary, says he intends to find out.

Pennington found a receptive audience for his message of low taxes and limited government on Thursday in Chatsworth when he spoke to about two dozen people during a meeting of the Murray County Tea Party Patriots.

Pennington said Republicans have controlled the governor’s office and the General Assembly for a decade now but have done little to cut the size and scope of the state government. In fact, he said, they have supported several proposals that have increased the size of government.

Pennington first began to be talked about as a potential gubernatorial candidate last year when he campaigned against a set of regional transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (TSPLOSTs) that were placed on the ballot by the General Assembly and supported by the Republican leadership.

Murray County Tea Party Director Linda Fowler asked Pennington what led to him becoming involved in the campaign against those TSPLOSTs. Pennington said he first became concerned when he realized that if all of them passed that would have increased Georgia taxes by around $1.5 billion a year for 10 years, which would have been the largest tax increase in the state’s history. He said it would be particularly unwise to raise taxes during an economic downturn.

He said he became further concerned after looking at the lists of projects that would be funded by the TSPLOSTs and discovering them full of items he believed were unneeded.

Ultimately, 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 also criticized Republicans in the General Assembly for delegating their authority under the state constitution for setting taxes to other officials.

For instance, the General Assembly passed a law earlier this year that allows the state Board of Community Health to charge fees to hospitals to fund Medicaid. And last year, the General Assembly passed a law abolishing the annual ad valorem tax on vehicles but replacing it with a title tax. The law set the tax at 6.5 percent in 2013, 6.75 percent in 2014 and 7 percent in 2015. But it also allows the Department of Revenue to raise it up to 9 percent after that with no action by the General Assembly.

Tea Party member Kevin Tisdale said after the meeting he is concerned that lawmakers have delegated their taxing power to unelected officials.

“I want to get our representatives in here and ask them how they voted on these things,” he said. “I want to ask them to explain the reasons for their votes, whether they think this is constitutional.”

Pennington noted that by several measures Georgia’s economic health has declined under Republican control, a decline he says is linked to GOP leaders’ failures to live up to their promises to cut spending, taxes and government.

“Over the last decade, we have gone from 25th in per capita income to 40th,” he said.

Pennington noted his own record in Dalton, where the City Council has cut taxes five years in a row. He said he would pursue tax reform that would simplify Georgia’s tax code while making big cuts in income taxes.

Pennington said he would also fight for more transparency in state government.

“The state government needs to abide by the same open meetings laws that city councils and county commissioners and boards of education are required to obey,” he said.