ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- Georgia lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Monday morning to convene the 2020 legislative session.
As leaders outlined their focus for the session, budget and revenue were the two consistent themes.
Governor Kemp wants to cut the state budget this year and lawmakers will be challenged to do so, while also trying to expand services and bring in revenue.
Senate majority leaders held a press conference Monday morning after the opening session to outline their top priorities.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, lead the meeting explaining that Senate lawmakers are trying to build revenue by recovering revenue that has been unpaid to the state for years.
“Another part of being fiscally responsible is collecting what’s due to you,” Dugan said.
The Senate majority believes that Georgia has been missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in state sales taxes from online retailers that have not paid the state’s sales tax rate adequately like brick and mortar businesses have.
“We’ve got a revenue issue, but bigger than that we’ve got a collection issue,” Dugan said. “We need to be collecting the money that’s due Georgia so that those that are paying their fair taxes don’t have to pay more.”
“We’ve got the marketplace facilitator which we made a motion on today that we hope to take care of very quickly in this session. Over 30 states have implemented this,” Sen. Chuck Huffstetler, R-Rome, said that this will be a clean bill. “Air BnB, walmart.com, homedepot.com. Google and Amazon all agreed to be facilitators to help the state bring in this money that is owed, that is not being collected at this time. This is going to be a big revenue source for the state of Georgia,” he added.
He explained that the state is only receiving around $10 million of the more than $80 million that Walmart.com brings in from online sales each year.
“We believe 10% to 15% of the money is not being collected.”
Huffstetler told reporters. He says the move to collect could bring in between $150 million to $300 million in taxes.
Some lawmakers have proposed casino gambling as a way to bring in revenue. Dugan made clear that gambling is not a priority of Senate leadership.
“Obviously it is a contentious subject among the entire state,” Dugan said. “You have great passion for and against and honestly we don’t have a consistent evaluation on what that return, the income would be from this. What we are focused on are things that would have the greatest impact on the greatest number of Georgians and the fastest amount of time--everything can’t be a priority,” Dugan explained.
House Speaker David Ralston said in a press conference last week that gambling is already happening in Georgia, the state just isn’t getting the revenue from it. He was not opposed to bringing the issue voters.
“At some point I think it is appropriate to let the people of Georgia have the final word on it,” Ralston said.
Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan sided with the Senate Majority Caucus on the gambling discussion.
“I haven’t seen that overwhelming push for gambling in the state of Georgia and I certainly haven’t heard it out as I’ve traveled around the state,” Duncan told reporters in his office Monday afternoon.
Duncan’s priorities were centered around healthcare, foster care reform, technology growth across the state and education.
Senate leaders also are looking to impose limits on pharmacy benefit managers and hospital billing surprises. They also plan to budget for more resources to improve maternal mortality rates in Georgia, an issue that has bipartisan efforts in the Georgia House and Senate.
After the opening session Monday, First Lady Marty Kemp led a press conference on human sex trafficking awareness. She announced the launch of a human sex trafficking training for all state employees. The training will show employees how to spot the signs of potential trafficking and who to contact if it is suspected.
Gov. Kemp vowed to require everyone on his staff to take the training and asked all state department heads to have their staff members take the training as well.