Speaker's focus is on tax reform, job creation

DULUTH -- In 2012, the focus of Georgia legislators will be on creating an economic environment beneficial to businesses, House Speaker David Ralston said to a crowd of business leaders at a Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday.

"I want to make this a good state to do business," Ralston said, adding that legislators will take up the recommendations of a tax reform task force when they return to the state Capitol in January. "I believe that by going that route, we have the opportunity to make the state even more competitive."

Ralston said ideas such as the repeal of a sales tax on energy, along with the work to deepen Savannah's harbor could bring more jobs to the area.

"There is no greater thing that we can be about in this state than economic development," he said.

While legislators have had to cut the state budget by 20 percent in the last three years, Ralston said a recent upswing in revenues will not mean that the budget will grow.

"I don't think I'll have to get out my big butcher knife or my machete, as I had in past year," he said. "But I'll still take out my sharp scissors because we will still need to do some trimming."

The speaker said he hopes lawmakers can take a lesson from a draft report he received a few days ago that could mean lower sentences for drug offenders.

The proposal could help the burgeoning Department of Corrections budget, which topped $1 billion, he said.

"In a way that will give second opportunities to Georgians to be productive citizens," he said, adding that there will not be breaks for violent offenders or those who victimize children or the elderly.

After the speech, Ralston told reporters that a proposal to allow horse racing or casino gambling in the state has to be weighed with the impact to the lottery, which funds pre-K education and college scholarships.

As for a proposed personhood amendment and requirement for "In God We Trust" to be placed on license plates, Ralston said that while he believes in the sanctity of life, his focus during the session will be on creating jobs.

Ralston also backed Gov. Nathan Deal's response to the HOT lanes issue in Gwinnett, where commuters have been angered by a traffic increase on Interstate 85 since tolls have been implemented.

"Right now, that is going along as well as can be expected," he said. "We continue to monitor its usage."