By Maggie Lee

State Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), who represents Sandy Springs as well, said the state budget squeeze makes it a good time to fundamentally re-examine spending.

Freshman state Sen. John Albers outlined a variety of legislative ideas at his first Sandy Springs “Town Hall” meeting. One priority stood out to the audience: education.

“There is an absolute sense of urgency that we start changing how we do education,” Albers said. “I’m not sure exactly what that’s going to look like yet.”

The Republican Senator spoke to about 30 of his constituents at a Jan. 29 forum held at Sandy Springs City Hall.

Albers covered everything from education to taxes and the possible creation of Milton County, which could include the cities of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton, Alpharetta and Roswell.

It will be a tough year for the state budget, including education, Albers forecasted. Federal stimulus funds, which had been used to balance the budget, disappear from next year’s budget and Georgia’s budgeting schedule lags behind the real economy. Today’s growing tax receipts don’t get appropriated until next year.

Albers put himself squarely behind the idea of creating more charter schools. He called himself “a huge fan” of charter schools because “there is no one answer to education.”

Charters are publically funded schools that can offer curriculum that differ from the typical public school system. The schools can be organized and governed by a group of parents, a private organization or state and local public entities.

Albers also said he’ll try to pass legislation to raise the age at which students can legally quit school to 16 ½, from the current age of 16.

“You can’t go to an R-rated movie … but you can quit school?” Albers asked. “If you’re not an adult for that, you’re not an adult for quitting school.”

The state’s legislators could tweak the state’s Quality Basic Education Formula, which is an appropriation that funds public schools. The program has not been fully funded for years. Gov. Nathan Deal’s draft budget is $60 million short of full funding for the program, Albers said.

Meanwhile, north Fulton County’s legislative delegation will fight to tear down the toll booth on Ga. 400 and work for the creation of Milton County, Albers said.

The Ga. 400 toll booths are not likely to go away no matter the politicking because the state has already sold bonds against future revenue from the booths. Albers admitted north Fulton County hasn’t quite yet hit on a legislative solution.

In general, Albers said tolls are a good idea because a road is essentially paid for by the people who use it. But the revenue generated at Ga. 400 is not used correctly, he said. For the last few years it has been supporting projects far from the corridor, he said.

The struggle to create Milton County could be difficult, Albers said.

The idea is for Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton, Alpharetta and Roswell to break away from Fulton County because officials feel that Fulton government is unresponsive and inefficient.

However, the state constitution limits Georgia to its 159 counties. Therefore, it would take a constitutional amendment to add another. An amendment to the document requires statewide approval.

Then, if that’s accomplished, there would have to be a vote for the formation of the county. It’s not clear if only the people to be incorporated into Milton County would vote or if the vote would include all of Fulton County’s residents.

As far as including Sandy Springs being in a newly formed Milton County, Albers pointed out that creating the city itself once seemed impossible.

“Don’t get in a fighting match with folks who are against this. Right now, we are in legislative mode,” he said. “Just smile and understand the facts are on our side and the truth will set us free.”

Some who favor creating Milton County have a study that says the rest of Fulton County wouldn’t be hurt economically by losing some of its wealthiest areas. Fulton, for its part, has a study saying it would.

The legislature will likely hear several major tax change propositions this year, all broadly aimed at cutting income taxes and raising sales taxes. Taxes on cigarettes will likely rise, which Albers said he approves.