The Republican primary will be held on July 31 to determine the Dist. 31 State Senate seat between incumbent state Sen. Bill Heath, and challengers Bill Carruth, former Paulding County Commission Chairman, and Jason “J.K.” Rogers.
The event was hosted by the Paulding County Republican Women’s Club and moderated by columnist Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The debate began at 7 p.m. with three-minute opening statements by the candidates.
After opening remarks, the candidates were asked questions that were formulated by the Paulding County Republican Women’s Club and chosen at random by the moderator. The debate’s most discussed topics included the TSPLOST, House Bill 386, House Bill 87, Agenda 21, and the policy of neighboring states eliminating the state income tax.
Georgia residents will vote on the Transportation Special Purpose Locally Optioned Sales Tax (TSPLOST), also called the Transportation Investment Act (TIA), on July 31. This is a one-percent sales tax increase for the next 10 years to fund a specific list of transportation projects determined by a collection of each region’s county commission chairs and mayors. This bill would be the largest tax increase in Georgia’s history, accumulating a total of 18.7 billion dollars over the 10-year period.
None of the State Senate candidates supported the TSPLOST, but Heath admitted to voting to put it on the ballot because he believes that the people should be able to make their own decision on the subject and that he should not make it for them.
Rogers agreed with putting it on the ballot, but he added, “The biggest concern I have, and I'd vote no, is because it will never work if each city and each county don't agree with one another. You can't have highways going through different counties and doing different things.”
When asked about alternative methods to solving the situation of Georgia’s lack of transportation funding, each candidate gave a different answer.
Carruth stood strongly against the TSPLOST, refusing to believe it is the last resort to solving the issue. He claimed that there is no definite answer right now but that there must be a collaborative effort between all departments to find one.
Heath disagreed with the many areas of transportation covered by the TSPLOST, saying that it would be more effective to focus on one area.
Rogers’ stance was that more community involvement and efficient leadership would trickle down to solve the issue.
House Bill 386 was put into effect on April 19 of this year, sponsored by Heath. The main points of the bill include capping the tax exemption for retirement income, providing a tax cut to married couples, reforming the taxation of vehicles, and beginning to tax online purchases.
When the three candidates were questioned about their stance on HB 386 and tax reforms, Heath answered first by stating he co-chaired the committee and voted for the bill, specifically mentioning the replacement of the ad valorem as a good focus.
Rogers, however, was not completely sold on the bill, saying that any type of tax-cut is not the answer since it affects other branches and aspects of life and government.
Carruth began by crediting it as a good bill but agreeing with Rogers, claiming that these reforms don’t go far enough and bringing up the elimination of the state income tax.
Heath offered a rebuttal, stating, “My opponents want to talk about tax cuts. But you have to be ready to talk about cutting spending. Education makes up 60 percent of the state budget … income tax brings in half the state's revenue. I am a firm believer in a consumption tax — I think we ought to reward people for being wage earners. But we have to balance the budget.”
With several surrounding states eliminating the state income tax, one of the questions asked of the candidates was their stance on the issue. This was the focus of Carruth’s platform, so he answered first.
Carruth claimed that he didn’t have any figures to propose but that the wage-earners should not be the ones paying the government.
“I think we need to go into more of a consumption-based tax, which would distribute the burden onto people spending money … whatever the number needs to be,” Carruth said.
Heath resonded that he has brought several plans to the political table before as to how to shift to more consumption-based tax and that he has and will continue to work toward that goal.
Rogers stated that he does not believe that is the answer and that growth in the economy will make up the revenue, not shifting taxes.
In closing statements, Rogers, an Army reservist, told a story of a fellow soldier who had been laid off and moved to Georgia to take advantage of the cheap housing and available jobs. Rogers said that this is the way to increase revenue in Georgia, and explained his plan to promote the low prices of real estate across the country to bring residents – and income – into the state.
“Tax reform is great … but we are at a point now, we need to be offensive,” Rogers said. “We need to move forward and take your skills and create things instead of playing defense.”
Heath took the podium and told the audience that he sees himself as a “normal guy” and that he is a farmer, the owner of a small electronics company and an active member of the First Baptist Church in Bremen.
“That’s the Bill Heath that goes to the Senate to represent you,” he continued. “I haven’t forgotten where I come from, and I haven’t forgotten what’s important to the people that I represent…I’m not into the political games or the back-road deals; just ask the other elected officials.”
In closing, he gave his home phone number and email address and invited all in attendance to contact him with any questions about his campaign.
Lastly, Carruth summed up his plans to cut unnecessary regulations and reduce wasteful spending. He announced that he has a record of reducing taxes and that his stance will not change.
“I know what it takes to make a small business succeed,” Carruth said, concerning his own business. “How many times have you heard “We need to run our government more like a business”? Well I agree.”
Carruth concluded by saying that, if elected, he would remain accessible and responsive to the people of District 31.