On the Record: With Georgia House Speaker David Ralston

The Republican from Blue Ridge talks about MARTA, taxes and ehtics.

A: I want to help MARTA ... I know there was a feeling that the last year or two here that maybe this General Assembly did not bring MARTA into the full discussion as it probably should have and I want to ensure they are included.

Q: What about splitting the way MARTA could use its operating budget?

A: I’m certainly open to having a discussions about that ... I think we have to look at all the needs here in the metropolitan area. I’m committed to making sure that whatever plan we come up with includes the entire state and not just non-metro Atlanta. I made that commitment early on that I recognize that this city matters greatly to this state and its transportation needs have got to be a part of [the] solution.

Q: Do you have any thoughts on Milton County?

A: I’m not sure if it’s a bad or a good idea at this point in time.

Q: What about the budget?

A: The truth of the matter is we are going to do unpopular things and there’s no way around that ... I know the governor’s budget has a hospital tax in it; I’m concerned about that being passed onto consumers in some fashion ... I’m concerned about the tobacco tax because my feeling is if you do that then you are going to drive down demand, which is not a bad thing, but then you are going to have an income stream that is not dependable ... It is my strong, strong preference that we not tax our way out of this situation but we do some things that will perhaps allow the economy to grow, and make the cuts that we need to make.

Q: Is there any place for revenue enhancement?

A: Revenue enhancement is just a way of saying a tax increase and I think that’s counterproductive for government to exact more money from people in this economy with the unemployment rate as it is ... You see people that are hurting and even people that still have jobs are worried about whether they are going to be there or how they are going to put their kids through college and all the things that families worry about ... Raising taxes sends the wrong message.

Q: Is [transportation reorganization] to be reopened?

A: I’m concerned that we have a board for a department in state government that maybe just doesn’t get it yet and that is operating by tradition and some history, outside the accountability that we expect of other department boards.

Q: Why do you think this has been so difficult?

A: Because they have operated like an independent kingdom for decades. No accountability to the General Assembly once they passed the elections, and they have been out of the process over here, whether it’s the budget process or maybe the legislative process, for so long that we’ve allowed that culture to develop over there.

Q: What’s your overall idea of transit in metro Atlanta?

A: We ought to let the planning process continue to go forward at DOT, working in conjunction with the local government, city of Atlanta and other local governments ... My expectation would be that whatever long-range plan is developed would probably be a plan that involves multiple transportation modes to meet the needs.

Q: How is Georgia doing on getting the federal dollars?

A: I think by and large we are probably doing fairly well. I have not heard a lot of complaints that we are not. I would give us at least a “B.”

Q: Is there anything for water if the [federal] ruling stands?

A: I’m hopeful first of all that we can reach a negotiated settlement with our neighbors. Failing that ... you may see some conservation-oriented type legislation ... later in the session.

Q: Ethics?

A: The 2005 package that we did really took us a long way in terms of tightening up and making stricter our ethics laws ... We’ve got transparency. Can we improve it? We probably can ... I think the debate is whether you have full transparency or then do you start drawing limits? ... I frankly thought that some of the gift giving was a little excessive ... Line drawing is a delicate process, but gifts, out-of-state travel, use of airplanes, all of these are things that we’ll be engaged in.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) spoke with reporters Tuesday.

On the record: A weekly event where reporters and editors talk to leaders about key issues for Georgians. Excerpts from the conversation also can be heard on News/Talk 750 WSB.

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