APN Interviews with Beskin, Bozarth, Gibeling, HD 54 Candidates, Part Two
(APN) ATLANTA — This is the second in a two-part series containing the answers given by Beth Beskin, Bill, Bozarth, and Bob Gibeling–the Republican, independent, the Democratic candidates for House District 54–in interviews with Atlanta Progressive News.
Part one is available here:
The candidates’ responses to the remaining questions are as follows:
6. WOULD/DID YOU SUPPORT HB 885, THE MEDICAL CANNABIS BILL THAT WAS BEFORE THE LEGISLATURE THIS YEAR? WOULD YOU SUPPORT A STRONGER MEDICAL BILL? WOULD YOU SUPPORT DECRIMINALIZATION OR FULL LEGALIZATION?
BESKIN: [Medical] I’m open to that issue, but would need to hear all the evidence. [Stronger bill] I would have to evaluate each one on a case by case basis, if an actual bill came before the legislature. [Decriminalization] It’s something I’m open to and would study. I’m aware of lots of studies both from the drug use and abuse standpoint as well as the criminal justice system, in terms of the vast majority of people convicted of drug crimes. Many people think they are not violent offenders and it is a waste of our taxpayer dollars to incarcerate people who are convicted of drug crimes. I’m open to working for an alternative way to disincentive the use of marijuana rather than through the criminal justice system or change the penalties in some fashion. [Legalization] At this point I would not .
BOZARTH: If we are talking about the legislation that almost passed in the 2014 session, I would have voted for that. I don’t want to endorse a pig in a poke, without seeing specifics. But in general, I think we need to look into extending what we have already looked at into other areas and see what makes sense and I would be supportive of voting for that if it did make sense.
Yes, I would support decriminalization.
I don’t support full legalization. Even if I did, I don’t believe that will happen in Georgia anytime soon, simply because of the political climate. I do believe, we have locked a lot of people up for bad reasons and it has an impact on us. It’s expensive to do that and potentially turns people who otherwise would not go down a criminal path in that direction. Because going to prison probably creates the opportunity for people to become criminals more than not going to prison. I believe that marijuana in terms of its social damage is no worse than alcohol.
But if we want to go the next level and make it legal and regulate it the same way alcohol is, I think we need to be thoughtful on that and I’m not ready to endorse that wholeheartedly. I want to see what happens in Washington and Colorado. Georgia may some day be ready to endorse that, but I don’t believe we are today.
GIBELING: Cannabis oil, yes I would support that. I think its a shame the Legislature did not do that already. There are details that need to be worked out but its something we definitely need to achieve. For medical conditions, yes. I think we should find a way to make cannabis available for other medical conditions.
I’m not convinced we can do that yet [decriminalization or full legalization]. I would seriously consider the issue but I think there are a lot of ramifications we need to examine before I would be willing to fully support that. I think there are some advantages that can be achieved by having government control over the distribution, but there may be some costs to pay by society that would be negative. I am willing to examine that but not willing to support it right now.
7. WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON THE CITY OF LAKESIDE PROPOSAL?
BESKIN: I think it is a matter of local rule and I think it is something the citizens of DeKalb will address. A similar thing is going on in Fulton County which is the municipalization of areas that have been unincorporated. So that is a DeKalb issue and I’m not opposed to them doing it.
BOZARTH: I believe what we are seeing in both Fulton and DeKalb counties in terms of the number of incorporated areas that are becoming cities. We are effectively seeing the effects of disenchantment with county government. I don’t know if these cities will fare any better, but I understand what is driving it. I would be willing to follow the will of the people in those communities, if they vote for it I would have no reason to stand up and say they should not have it.
GIBELING: A lot of the trend to form new cities is driven by dissatisfaction with the county government. People want a responsive and efficient government. When they don’t feel they have that, they sometimes resort to these referendums to form separate cities. I think there is a danger in doing that when you duplicate efforts and you increase the overall tax burden on the citizens who will be within those new cities, so that is a real red flag caution. But if the citizens of a county want to form a new city and they are convinced that’s the only way they can have a redress of their grievances. Then I would vote to allow the citizens to vote with the understanding they have to make the real decisions on whether or not they would be duplicating efforts in their new city and whether that would increase their tax burden.
I’m aware there is a North/South divide of opinions in Fulton County and the City of Atlanta. I feel I am very well qualified to help bridge that North/South divide in Atlanta and the county by listening to both sides and helping to understand the feelings of both sides, to relieve the tension that exists between the North and South.
8. DO YOU SUPPORT GMO (GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS) LABELING?
BESKIN: This is an area where we, as consumers, are learning more. I try to avoid GMO’s when I can. Everything is a cost benefit analysis for me as a consumer, in terms of what I am able and willing to pay for as a trade-off against food purity or health. I don’t know what full implementation of all of those regulations would mean cost wise for our food producers. We have a lot of those in the State of Georgia, so I’m open to that. I think we all need to pursue a healthful diet and do everything we can to eat as well as possible. GMOs are a relatively new phenomenon, and none of us perhaps fully understand all the implications personally as well as societally, even if we try to never ingest a GMO food.
BOZARTH: I’m very much in favor of making people aware of what’s in their food products. I would like to see us more open about what’s in food. I support that concept.
I believe knowing more is better and I know a lot of the reason it doesn’t get put on is some of the food producers have clout in the political system and prevent that from happening. In my election, I’m not taking an big donations or any lobbyist money. I cannot be compromised from a campaign finance point of view by any of the special interests that would work against full disclosure of labels. The reason we don’t have labeling today around GMO and other stuff is because the producers have the political clout to influence the law so they don’t provide the information.
GIBELING: Yes, I think labeling would be helpful. It’s always good to have information where people can make their own decisions about purchases.
9. WHAT IS/WAS YOUR POSITION ON HB 891, TO REDUCE EARLY VOTING FROM 21 DAYS TO SIX DAYS?
BESKIN: I think early voting has been a good thing. The district I ran in has early voting and it has enabled more people to get to the polls than otherwise could on a weekday. I think we have to strike a balance between an open-ended, unending early election period and simply a day of voting. I don’t think we will ever go back to a day of voting and I would not advocate that. In terms of six days versus 21 days, I don’t have a strong opinion on that and would like to study it further.
BOZARTH: Longer periods of early voting are generally healthy. Some of the smaller areas are saying the cost to keep everything running for the longer period is hurting them. I think we need to fund the elections properly, so that we don’t need to make those kinds of compromises. I would like to see us keep it 21 days statewide. I believe it gives more people time to vote and I find it convenient to vote early. I’m a big fan of early voting. I don’t want to see it reduced from 21 days to a few number of days.
GIBELING: I strongly oppose reducing early voting. That has become increasingly popular as a way to encourage voter participation in elections and I’m against those measures that would discourage participation.
We need to have a broader group of people who are participating in our democracy not discouraging people by making it more difficult to find a time and a place to vote. I’m definitely opposed to reducing and would want to increase the time and places where people could participate in early voting.
10. WHAT CHANGES, IF ANY, WOULD YOU SUPPORT TO THE GEORGIA TAX CODE?
BESKIN: I’m a fiscal conservative and I’m all about less regulation and smaller government , so some of the changes I would make to the tax code would be to make it smaller and simpler . I advocate for property tax relief for my constituents, all of whom live in the City of Atlanta and Fulton County. I would like to eliminate the Georgia Personal Income Tax and we are going to have to make some changes to the tax code in order to make that feasible. It would have to be a revenue neutral thing . We would continue to raise money that we need to raise in order to fund our government . I have campaigned in the past on the elimination of the Industrial Energy user sales tax and we have done away with that. It has worked to increase our attraction of business to Georgia that benefit the economy.
BOZARTH: The main concern I have about the way we collect our revenues is out of date. I have consulted with both the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute and Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and both the conservative and liberal economic think tanks agree, an overhaul of the way we collect revenue in Georgia is in order. So I support that but I don’t support abolishing the personal income tax. I think that has consequences that are not good and if this Republican majority thought they could do that, they would have already done it a number of years ago.
I believe there are a lot of tax forgiveness, and I’m skeptical of some of those. I think we need to look at some of the tax giveaways and find out from some sort of metric, if they are really providing the benefits we think they are. Most people seem to be positive on the tax incentive we have given the film industry, but we need to look at what the real economic impact of that is. We are creating some jobs in Georgia but they are not the good jobs in the film industry, they are not permanent jobs. They are [tax form] 1099 jobs without benefits and when the filming is over the person needs to look for the next job.
We have given tax breaks to the airplane manufacturer, and we’ve got a tax holiday. We give away tax revenue to the tune of about 40 million dollars a year. Not sure that is productive. More and more are being bought online and less being bought in brick and mortar stores. So much of our tax collection is based on conditions that have simply changed over the years. As far as the gas tax is concerned, there has been a lot of talk lately about figuring out ways to get money into the material so we can invest in transportation infrastructure. The tax structure in Georgia on how we pay for transportation needs to be looked at. We are currently one of the pennies of the four cents per gallon sales tax…
One percent goes in the general fund and the other three percent goes to transportation needs. We may need to look at additional revenues to fund transportation. We are 49th in per capita spending on transportation in a state that depends on moving things around for its economic prosperity.
I think we do need to look at a significant overhaul of the tax code, which is always difficult politically because when you change something you always get a lot of resistance.
GIBELING: I would want to make sure whatever changes are made keep a progressive tax format. I’m not in favor of eliminating the state income tax and going to a sales tax. Because that would be very detrimental to the economy and simply eliminating the state income tax would cause a budget crisis in Georgia just like what is going on in Kansas. Their governor has slashed the state income tax and that has caused tremendous trauma to their economy. It’s so drastic that there are 100 prominent Republicans who have endorsed the Democratic candidate for Governor because the leadership for the Republican Party in Kansas has brought about this crisis by virtue of slashing the state income tax.