Election year looms as Georgia lawmakers return to Atlanta

Election year looms as Georgia lawmakers return to Atlanta

ATLANTA, Ga. (WTOC) -Georgia lawmakers returned to Atlanta on Monday morning for the 2020 General Assembly session.

Those lawmakers will set the state’s budget while addressing a range of issues affecting the state. That list could include letting voters decide whether they want legalized gambling.

Gambling has had no luck getting to a vote for the past four years. The idea of a state referendum on gambling may or may not have traction, depending on which lawmakers you ask.

Lawmakers gathered for day one of the 2020 session with many already talking about a proposal to allow a select number of casinos. The taxes from it would go toward the HOPE Scholarship and education like the state lottery does. Some feel the bill could see action with state tax revenues down slightly.

It’s in a better position this year than it’s ever been. The Speaker has sent a strong message that he thinks the people ought to have the chance to decide.

Others caution the money brought in might not pay for the trouble it creates.

“I’ll just say up front I’m opposed to it," said Representative Bill Hutchins of Rincon. "I’ve talked to my friend who’s the former state police superintendent in New Jersey and he’ll tell you about all the problems they had up there.”

In an election year, many legislators won’t want to start the debate when they could be back home campaigning.

“I’m not sure we’ll have time to completely vet that bill in this session,” said Representative Jan Tankersley. “But, it could happen.”

The bill would need the votes of two-thirds of lawmakers. That’s 120 representatives and 37 senators, to call for a statewide referendum.

State lawmakers will also be finding places to cut spending, at least for one year.

Georgia law requires state lawmakers to pass a budget each year. That could be more challenging this year than in recent past.

House senate members already have Governor Brian Kemp’s directive to cut state spending by four percent to match a drop in state revenues. This comes while the state tries to deliver on a promised raise to teachers and a promised cut to state income taxes.

Lawmakers say it has them trying to project how soon state revenues pick up and by how much.

“We’re not in a deficit as much as we’re just not growing as fast as we thought we would. So the money we planned to spend on certain priorities, we’re going to have a difficult time choosing those priorities with less revenue,” said Rep. Greg Morris of Vidalia.

They’re expected to pass the budget early in their 40 day session and devote the remaining time to bills ranging from education and healthcare to legalized gambling.

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