Kevin Tanner joined fellow Georgia House representatives in Atlanta on Monday for the first day of the second session of the 154th General Assembly, despite the threat of freezing rain and a national championship football game on everyone’s mind.
The Dawson County News caught up with Tanner, R-Dawsonville, late last week to talk about his plans and priorities for the session, which lasts 40 days.
Like any good representative, Tanner’s first priority will be passing the state’s 2018-2019 budget. State lawmakers must lay out their spending plan for the over $24 billion at their disposal following a presentation from Gov. Nathan Deal that includes his final report and budget proposals.
Passing the budget is required by law, and Tanner says he’s optimistic about the state’s financial security and wants to restore austerity cuts.
“Our month to month revenue is increasing and the local unemployment rate is at virtual full employment,” Tanner said. “The state and local economy is doing really well, and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to continue to fund K-12 education. It took a big hit in the recession and I hope we’ll be able to fully restore austerity cuts.”
Several issues from last year continue to play an important role for Tanner, including the burgeoning opioid abuse crisis in Georgia.
Tanner said that though House Bill 249, signed by Gov. Deal last year, will work to prevent citizens from doctor shopping to obtain pain medication by forcing doctors to enter prescription information into a database, he still wants to address treatment options for those who are already addicted.
Tanner said he hopes to continue working with Renee Unterman (R-Buford) in the Senate on ways to reform drug treatment in the state.
He also mentioned the importance of last year’s Senate Bill 121, sponsored by state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, and also signed by Deal, which allows Naloxene, also called Narcan, a shot or nasal spray that reverses an opioid overdose, to be sold over the counter and removed it from the dangerous drug list when used for overdoses and supplied by a dispenser or rescue kit.
"It's too important not to talk about,” Tanner said last year. “People are dying, and we cannot stick our head in the sand and act like we do not have a problem with heroin and, more importantly, prescription medication.”
But perhaps Tanner’s biggest personal project is tackling transit.
He was appointed chair of the House Transportation Committee last January and subsequently appointed chair of the House Commission on Transit Governance & Funding in June. The commission was created to study Georgia's transit needs and analyze ways for the state to adequately plan and provide for those needs.
Tanner said the commission has met in public meetings all over the state and will continue to work until December tackling metro transit. He said he wants to create a regional governance structure, not just put in heavy rail.
“I’ve been working closely with Uber and Lyft on creating partnerships for that last-mile service with discounted rides to mobility hubs,” Tanner said. “I think we’ll see major legislation come out around that area and I plan to carry that legislation in the house.”
Tanner said transit tops the list of his priorities because Georgia is expected to grow by 2 million people over the next few years, with much of that growth concentrated in metro counties.
Deal’s appropriations bill for 2018, House Bill 44, includes $162 million in new transportation funds. With 2017 transportation spending at $1.7 billion, the new spending will push the state roads budget to almost $2 billion.
Much of that new money is coming from House Bill 170, the 2015 bill that restructured and in most cases raised the state’s fuel taxes.
The bill has been aimed at much-needed maintenance projects but is also pushing forward major road projects, such as a look at widening Interstate 985 in South Hall.
And then there’s public transportation.
Particularly being considered is a regional transit authority that would help metro Atlanta transit providers, such as Gwinnett County Transit, which has a station off I-985, with coordinating routes more efficiently.
“Everybody operates in their own silo and, when you’re talking about transit, you cannot just think about county lines,” said Tanner.
State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the involvement of several state and local agencies is causing “a lot of duplication and overlap, and there’s not a lot of coordination between those.”
“We think there’s a way to create more efficiencies, expand services and create a better product for everybody at a lower cost to the taxpayer,” Gooch said.
This year is also an election year, and Tanner said he won’t back down from another term in office. He also plans to continue hosting Saturday morning meetings in Dawson and Lumpkin counties to keep citizens abreast of what’s going on during the session.
No concrete dates or locations have been set yet.
“I feel like I’m in a good position to continue to make a difference in our community,” Tanner said. “Someone said recently that ‘Kevin’s a workhorse not a show horse.’ I just want to roll up my sleeves and get the hard work done.”
Gooch caught up with the Dawson County News on Tuesday and said that he too is planning to continue his time in the senate and will run for election again this year.
He also addressed the state budget, and said that the governor is expected to release revenue projections on Jan. 16 and though he hasn’t seen the numbers, revenue has been on the up and up and he too hopes that the state will be able to fully fund public schools this year.
Gooch said he intends to present local legislation for the Big Canoe Property Owners Association, which has requested the creation of a water and sewer authority to help with capital improvements to the community’s failing water system.
Gooch said that the legislation will have to pass through the House and Senate but that he doesn’t foresee any opposition.
Another big focus for Gooch will continue to be the issues surrounding broadband access in rural Georgia, particularly the lack of reliable, quality wireless internet service.
Gooch said the state will try to get federal funding that could be matched at the state and local level and put towards infrastructure. He also said he would like to see a statewide broadband plan that would utilize the right-of-ways of the Georgia Department of Transportation to lay down fiber lines, as well as other measures to increase the availability of affordable internet in rural areas.
He plans to introduce a substitute to Senate Bill 232, which he introduced last year but made little headway with.
DCN regional staff writer Jeff Gill contributed to this report.