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House candidates debate tax proposal

7/25/2012

By NIKKI WILEY
The Brunswick News

Republican candidates for a state House of Representatives seat took different sides in a discussion on the T-SPLOST proposal at a candidates' forum in McIntosh County.

Jeff Chapman, a former state senator and Glynn County commissioner, and John Tuten, a Brunswick architect, are vying for House District 167, which covers northern Glynn County, McIntosh County and Long County.

The two addressed the proposed 10-year, 1-percent sales tax for transportation projects and other issues at a meeting of the Darien Lions Club on Monday.

Chapman called the sales tax one of the biggest tax increases in state history. Tuten said he prefers to remain neutral.

Coastal Georgians will join other regions around the state in Tuesday's primary elections to decide whether to increase the sales tax in each county by 1 percent for preselected transportation projects. The referendum on the Transportation Investment Act - or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax - will be voted on and decided by region.

Glynn County is in the Coastal Region with nine other counties, including Chatham and Camden.

It was Chapman's position on the T-SPLOST referendum that drew the applause of the Darien Lions Club.

Chapman described the referendum as a bureaucratic nightmare and compared it to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he calls "Obamacare," because it punishes those who choose not to participate.

"I'm very ashamed of my party for even passing it," Chapman said of the referendum. "(Republicans) are getting very nervous about it because the polls are not what they want to see."

Chapman says he was the only senator on the Senate Transportation Committee to vote against the legislation when it came up during his time in the upper chamber.

"This was just a completely upside down way to do it," he said. "I think it's unfair and unbalanced for rural Georgia."

Chapman also chastised the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for "pumping propaganda" and spending $12 million to encourage constituents to vote for the referendum.

Tuten, taking a different stance on the referendum, called the legislation "overly complex" and told the audience he would not have supported the legislation as an elected official when it passed through the General Assembly, though right now he prefers to stay neutral.

"I decided to publicly take a neutral stance," Tuten said. "I have friends in many places that are strongly for T-SPLOST and are strongly against. I would say that the legislation is not something that I would have voted for if I was in the legislature in 2010."

Tuten encouraged voters to do their own research and make an educated decision on the tax.

The candidates also discussed the potential expansion of Medicaid by state governments after the Supreme Court upheld the majority of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Tuten said expanding Medicaid would be an expensive process and the economically reasonable thing to do is to hold Medicaid where it is.

"Hopefully, Obamacare will be repealed in the next Congress," Tuten said.

Chapman acknowledged he was not familiar with the Medicaid issue but noted he sponsored legislation that provides tax credits for nonprofit organizations that provide medical or social services.

While Chapman said he is an advocate of helping those who cannot help themselves, he feels there should be real, stringent reasons for providing expanded help.

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