published Friday, March 29th, 2013

Dalton mayor eyes bid for governor of Georgia

Dalton mayor David Pennington speaks during the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for Wacker Polymers' technical center Tuesday morning.
Dalton mayor David Pennington speaks during the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for Wacker Polymers' technical center Tuesday morning.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Dalton, Ga., Mayor David Pennington, once called "King David" for his ruthless approach to budget cutting and tax slashing, is considering a run for Georgia governor in coming years.

He said he's received calls from conservatives and small-business owners across the state urging him to throw his name into the race. He is in the earliest stages of exploring the possibility, he said.

"It's under consideration," Pennington said Thursday. "[Gov.] Nathan Deal has done nothing for the Georgia economy. We rank 50th in our citizens' financial security. As far as labor participation rates, we are at the bottom of that, too. ... It's a difficult thing. We are trying to gauge if it's a lost cause. Georgia needs serious changes."

The state's economy is suffering, Pennington said, because it levies an income tax. Like other Southern states, Georgia should consider getting rid of it, he said. Many move across the state line to Tennessee for tax purposes, which hurts Dalton and Georgia's already struggling economy.

"This is the third straight year that the Georgia Legislature has refused to take on comprehensive tax reform," he said.

As mayor, Pennington has reduced taxes for city residents five years in a row.

But he has done so by aggressively cutting what he saw as excesses in government. After first being elected in January 2008, he directed the City Council to cut spending by $1 million and evicted the Downtown Dalton Development Authority from City Hall.

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The city no longer performs its own road maintenance, trash is collected less often and there are fewer police officers on the streets. His first year in office he fired 18 percent of city employees. Still, he said, he has invested millions in local infrastructure projects.

In 2012 when he refused to support T-SPLOST, a 1 cent tax to improve critical transportation problems in each region of the state, many people statewide voiced frustration with his campaign against it.

Joel Goldberg, who ran against Pennington and lost in 2011, said Pennington's tax cuts went too far. He also criticized the mayor for saying he supported a merger of the Whitfield County and Dalton governments.

Goldberg said the city should be offering tax incentives to attract businesses, as so many are fleeing the region. But Pennington called that idea "capital cronyism," records show.

"I am more of a consensus kind of guy," Goldberg said during a debate.

Besides taxes, Pennington said he also would push for ethics and education reforms, making more legislative meetings open and decentralizing control of state education.

Georgia funds less than 50 percent of the cost of local education, he said, and teachers in the county schools are forced to buy their health insurance through the state merit system.

"[If] we ran the city schools employees through the city's health plan ... It would save the city schools about $1 million a year and give them better coverage," Pennington said.

Joe McCutchen, a conservative radio talk show host whose son directs the Georgia Public Police Foundation in Atlanta, said he will back Pennington wholeheartedly if he chooses to run.

"I think he would be one of the greatest governors in history for the taxpayer," he said. "I have known him for 20 years. He is a great leader. He has a great financial background. I call him a super taxpayer champion."

Contact staff writer Joan Garrett at jgarrett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601. Follow her on Twitter at @JoanGarrettCTFP.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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