The two Democrats vying for the state Senate District 6 seat differ on whether seniors should be exempt from school property taxes, while agreeing on state funding of transit expansion.
Jaha Howard, a dentist from Smyrna, and Jen Jordan, an attorney from Cobb County, are headed into a Dec. 5 special runoff election to replace Hunter Hill, a Republican who resigned to run for governor. They were the top vote-getters in the Nov. 7 eight-way race with five Republicans and one other Democrat. The seat — which includes most of Buckhead, parts of central and southern Sandy Springs, and southern Cobb County — will now flip Democratic for the first time in five years.
The senior school property tax exemption became a prominent issue after most residents learned their property taxes would be higher this year in controversial assessments. Some other nearby jurisdictions, including Cobb County, have senior tax exemptions.
Jordan said that Cobb is one example of why District 6 does not need the exemption.
“Cobb County has not been able to fully fund its schools,” Jordan said. “I think they’re hurting.”
A senior tax exemption would not be something Jordan would consider because of this threat to schools, she said.
“I don’t think that would be the best move for Fulton,” Jordan said.
She also said she would push for more state education funding.
“The state needs to fund education at a higher level. I think that’s going to take some pressure off of schools,” she said.
Howard said the exemption “should be on the table” for providing taxpayer relief. He said the funding balance between the state and county needs to be adjusted, and that the exemption can be implemented while still ensuring schools are fully funded.
“I think there’s a way to do it so that it protects schools,” he said.
He would also work to update the formula for education funding and give more flexibility to schools on how they use state funds.
Both candidates said they both support expanding transit options in the district and increasing state funding.
“Whether you’re in Cobb or Fulton, we should have a way for you to get from point A to point B,” Howard said. “I would like to be a part of increasing connectivity.”
Jordan said she supports diverting funding from the state gas tax to transit.
“[Metro Atlanta] is number one on every list except transit,” she said.
Jordan said one of the main issues she hopes to tackle if elected is healthcare. While Republicans in the federal government attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Jordan hopes to solidify some of the main protections the ACA provided. The General Assembly can pass legislation ensuring people under 26 can stay on their families’ health insurance plan and people with pre-existing conditions are covered.
“We can tackle some issues Congress hasn’t been able to at a national level,” she said.
Some controversy emerged in October about Howard’s statements from years ago about his religious beliefs that identifying as LGBT is a sin and that women can’t serve as pastors or as heads of a church because women can only teach other women.
He wouldn’t clarify what points he still believes or doesn’t believe, and said that is “unproductive” to list all his religious beliefs. Those differences don’t prevent him from working with others to improve the community, he said.
“No matter what are differences are, we can still come together to fix transit and education,” he said.
He said he supports marriage equality, gay adoption and protecting LGBT people from discrimination. He would also vote against any “religious freedom” legislation, which some members of the state legislature have attempted to pass in past sessions, he said. Religious freedom is already ensured in the Constitution and the legislation is “unnecessary.”
“I think they are completely unnecessary. I think they do a lot more harm than is intended,” Howard said.
Jordan also opposes “religious freedom” legislation, saying on her website that it is promoted by “extremists” and “demeaning to individual Georgians and hurts all of us by making it less likely that job-creating businesses will move to Georgia.”
Jordan was endorsed by the Georgia Stonewall Democrats, a group representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community interests that works to elect Democrats.