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Clayton Democrats Defend Vote on Bill Aimed at Shrinking Fulton County Footprint

A pair of Democratic state lawmakers from Clayton County upset many in their party earlier this week when they abruptly switched sides on a controversial bill and voted with House Republicans.

The episode involved House Bill 541, a measure aimed at significantly reducing the size and scope of Fulton County government.

North Fulton Republicans support HB 541, arguing Fulton County government is wasteful and needs to shrink. South Fulton Democrats stand opposed, saying it threatens critical county functions, like funding Grady Hospital.

Beginning last week, House Democrats mounted an effort to kill the bill. At first, it worked because Democrats voted in bloc against it. But then Republicans held a second vote on a piece of legislation that combined House Bill 541 with several unrelated bills.

The combined measure passed partly because Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro) broke from his party and voted with Republicans. He said he did it for the sake of his constituents.

“Yes, it was worth it, to me and to the residents of Clayton County it was worth it because Clayton County for many years down here have been getting dumped on time and time again.”

Glanton points to two bills: one reduced county tax revenues by giving Delta Airlines a two-year tax break on fuel; another bill currently making its way through the legislature would bar Clayton from collecting ad valorem taxes from airport vendors.

The same day the House passed HB 541, it also passed a bill sponsored by Glanton. House Bill 330 would give voters in the city of Jonesboro the chance to raise its property tax revenue.

Glanton says since the housing crash, property tax revenue has plummeted, while business owners have picked up the tab.

“Businesses continue to move out because they are tired of carrying the entire [tax] burden,” said Glanton. “Residents understand that and they overwhelmingly came to a town hall meeting we had a week and half ago saying ‘Representative Glanton, we know what we’re doing, we want an opportunity to vote on this.’”

Meanwhile, Rep. Valencie Stovall (D-Ellenwood), the other Clayton Democrat who broke from the party, said she too has had enough of Clayton getting “hit and beat up.”

“If it happened tomorrow I would do the exact same thing again, I would not change my vote,” said Stovall.

By voting with Republicans on the Fulton County bill, Stovall said she was able to pass House Bill 545, which would create an economic development authority representing communities surrounding Hartsfield airport.

“Development in that area has gone lax for many, many years, even compared to other airports around the United States,” said Stovall.

The bill would allow a collective of cities and counties, including Forest Park, College Park, Hapeville, and Clayton County, to organize and issue bonds for projects it felt could be beneficial to the area.

Like Glanton, Stovall said breaking rank was worth it.

“My constituents sent me down here to look out first for Clayton County and I felt like that vote was the best for Clayton County,” said Stovall.

The two Clayton County bills and the Fulton County bill still must be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor.