The new president of the Georgia Association of Educators is reviving her predecessor's call for a half-cent state sales tax hike to fund education and adding a push for higher tobacco taxes.
In an interview, Calvine Rollins, who replaced Jeff Hubbard, wouldn't estimate how much the taxes would raise.
"But I do know for a fact that it would generate ... enough to see our teachers not be furloughed any more, and it would definitely help the class sizes decrease," she said. The money would be earmarked solely for education, she said.
Austerity cuts to education funding that started in 2003 have totaled almost $2 billion over the past seven years, she said. Fresh funding could offset some of those losses before further cuts scuttle recent positive strides in academic performance, she said.
She said the sales tax increase would expire in five years unless lawmakers enacted an extension. She did not say whether the tobacco tax would be permanent.
GEORGIA'S K-12 AUSTERITY CUTS
Fiscal year / Reduction
Source: Georgia School Superintendents Association and the Georgia Parent Teachers Association
Rollins said GAE officials have met with lawmakers but are not ready to name a legislator who might carry the proposals to the General Assembly.
"We feel we have friends on both sides of the aisle," she said. "We feel very optimistic about the upcoming session."
But Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, said it is unlikely either idea will get a warm reception when the Republican-dominated Georgia Legislature convenes in January.
"While I certainly appreciate and understand the concerns of educators - we've had significant cuts in education over the last couple of years - we have protected education considerably, and we'll continue to try to protect education moving forward," Neal said.
"I don't think there'll be that much of an appetite in legislature for an increase in sales tax," he said.
Neal said he's interested to see how legislators react to a proposed tobacco tax increase, but warned that conservative lawmakers won't warm to higher taxes.
"Our No. 1 priority is to balance the budget without raising taxes on Georgians. We'll be going into session with that thought in mind," he said.
Chickamauga business owner Monty Daggett, 45, said he understands schools and teachers need help but he's leery of increased taxes without assurances of where the money will be spent.
"I'm never for a tax increase, but as much as the teachers are struggling in the state I think they could use the help," said Daggett, one of the owners of the Old Mill General Store. He said a fellow owner's wife is a teacher in Chickamauga and he's seen the impact of education funding cuts first hand.
"They keep forcing them to take furlough days," he said. "They seem to be suffering the brunt of the shortfalls."
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