Forum: Westmoreland, Flanegan take different stances on TSPLOST
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland and Chip Flanegan, one of his Republican challengers, highlighted their positions at a Saturday forum — including sharp differences on the upcoming TSPLOST vote.
“I didn’t really come here to talk about TSPLOST,” Westmoreland said at the forum sponsored by the Coweta Tea Party Patriots on Saturday morning at Golden Corral. Nonetheless, he and Flanegan spent much time outlining their positions on the proposed transportation tax that will be on Georgia ballots on July 31.
Opposition to TSPLOST has been a centerpiece of Flanegan’s campaign for months. He brought a large role of anti-TSPLOST stickers and explained he had 25,000 of them printed before he knew how voters might see the issue.
Flanegan put his opposition forward even when he knew “it might cost me my campaign,” he said.
“I’m going to go ahead and be up front with you. I’m voting for the TSPLOST because I know what the consequences are if we don’t pass it,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland related a conversation a few years ago with Ray LaHood, the U.S. Transportation secretary and a former Congressional colleague. Westmoreland was seeking funds for a transportation project in Georgia, but LaHood pointed out Georgia has a lower transportation tax than its neighboring states.
He said LaHood told him there was no need to talk about the project further “until you start doing something to help yourselves.”
Westmoreland said it is important for transportation taxes to go for transportation only — and for states to provide for their own transportation needs.
“I have just voted and we passed out of the House an amendment to a bill that says we can’t spend any more than the motor fuel tax brings in” for federal transportation projects, Westmoreland said. He said the federal fuel tax is being supplemented from the general fund.
He said the federal transportation projects need to be scaled back. “We don’t need to be doing cart paths. We don’t need to be doing bike paths,” he said.
Westmoreland said the federal government “would have enough money” for transportation if the dollars were only used for infrastructure.
He also said bond debt on road projects takes about half the federal transportation funds.
“This is not something that just started happening today. We started bonding our roads probably 20 years ago,” Westmoreland said.
Another issue is that federal officials have tied spending to anticipated income from the fuel tax. As people drive less — and use vehicles that use less fuel — those numbers are running ahead of actual tax receipts.
“The money’s on the decline — and yet we’re wanting to spend more,” he explained.
He said Georgia gets 92 cents of each dollar it generates in fuel tax back from the federal level. Alaska gets $6.40 for each dollar it produces.
“I don’t like being a donor state,” Westmoreland said. “If I have anything to do with it, it’s going to be up to the states to pay their own way. ... The states have to stand on their own.”
Westmoreland noted a recent poll that showed 70 percent of Georgians say they will vote against TSPLOST.
“It would have been a great political decision for me to say I’m against it,” the congressman said. “But that’s not integrity. If I know the factsâ ¦ I’ve got to do what I think is the best. It would have been a lot easier to say that I’m against (TSPLOST).”
TSPLOST will allow for timely completion of transportation projects. The current process works so slowly that prices rise before the construction actually is done.
“We want be able to maintain our bridges and our roads” with existing funds, Westmoreland said. With the current system, road funds are “just dripping ... in,” he said. With TSPLOST, “you have the money to front load these things.”
Turning to the federal level, Westmoreland urged the approximately 55 people present to work to defeat Pres. Barack Obama in November.
“It’s so important that we all stay active,” Westmoreland said. “This election is important. Make sure you use your email list to stress how important it is.”
He said Republicans must “be active” and make sure there is “a big voter turnout.”
He described Obama as “a president who is proving to all America that he thinks he’s a dictator.”
Westmoreland said he is pushing for cuts to spending that will take place this year or next — not 8-10 years as in some proposals. He did say he had voted to continuing resolutions which allow spending to continue at current levels while negotiations are under way.
“I don’t think we want to shut the government down. In the political business, when do you claim victory? You’re not going to get everything you want,” he said. “You have to take that progress that you make and you claim that territory.”
Westmoreland talked about the difficulties in dealing with federal fiscal issues.
“We’ve got enough Band-Aids on our sores to last forever. If you have a wound and you don’t clean it out, it’s going to get infected. We don’t want to go through the pain of cleaning out some of these wounds, so we just keep putting Band-Aids on,” he reflected.
“There’s no perfect solution to this. I don’t know of a good solution because this didn’t just start yesterday. It’s being going on, going on, going on, going on,” Westmoreland said.
When cuts are made, “you start hearing from those people you cut,” Westmoreland said. “These are the same people who say you need to cut spending — but they don’t like being cut.”
Flanegan pledged not to vote for any continuing resolutions. “We’re borrowing $1.3 trillion every year. Those loans are going to have to be paid back, and the interest on those loans is going to have to be paid back,” he said. “The numbers are just phenomenal.”
He compared the inertia in Washington to what he called the “victory in Wisconsin” following the unsuccessful attempt to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
He said voters have sent enough Republicans to change things in the U.S. House and Senate. He said congressmen and senators “instead of standing tall” have passed continuing resolutions, which he said communicate a “keep spending what you want to” message.
Flanegan said he is not running for Congress simply to get re-elected. He said he is coming into the race from the perspective of running a small business for 32 years.
“You either make the budget or your kids starve,” he said. He said he has had to survive several recessions during those 32 years, as well as a tornado and a fire.
Flanegan also said he is using his retirement savings to run for Congress.
He also reflected on trips to Russia when the currency there was being revalued. He said the cost of a cup of coffee and a doughnut went from $2 to $1,000.
He warned the United States is following a similar path with money — “just printing it out of thin air.” He added, “Eventually it collapses. It always does.”
Flanegan said he wants to “go up there and cut budgets” and not just “cut a little bit.” He would like to see some parts of the federal budget completely gone.
“Economics is a pretty simple and boring science: You’ve got this much coming in; you’ve got to have less going out.”
The current economic course is “going to steal your retirement,” Flanegan said. “It’s nothing but slavery.”
He said if additions to the budget added under Obama’s leadership were removed, the budget would nearly balance.
“We cannot continue passing continuing resolutions,” he said.
“The only thing that counts is that year’s budget. You can’t control next year’s budget because that’s going to get voted on by another group,” Flanegan posited. “If you’re not cutting anything today, you’re not cutting anything. It’s just that simple.”
Jim Camp said he knows Westmoreland and has nothing against Flanegan. He said he is for Kingsley because he believes it is “time to do something else.”
He said Kingsley chose to run because he felt “we are losing our country” and that he “did not feel the people who are in there now are voting the conscience of the people.”
He said Kingsley wants to implement an advisory committee to read bills and get input from constituents.
He also said “a health care bill that works” is a plank in Kingsley’s platform.
“We’re not stupid,” Camp said. “We know the health care system is broken ... We’ve got to have leadership. We’ve got to do something to fix it.”