Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Three days of Georgia’s 40 day meeting of the General Assembly are now clocked, and general themes of how the session will progress are beginning to emerge. This being an election year, most controversial issues will be avoided if possible with legislators preferring to do the minimum required, perhaps throw in a favor or two for a well connected friend, pass a few resolutions honoring notable Georgians, and adjourn sine die so that they may resume campaigning and fundraising for re-election.
The Governor has outlined his priorities in the form of a speech to the Chamber of Commerce at the annual “eggs and issues” breakfast, his State of the State address, and by forwarding his budget recommendations to the General Assembly.
After years of cuts, the Governor has proposed a spending increase of roughly 5%, to just over $19 Billion. The increase would be more than the rate of inflation, but less than the year over year increase from State tax revenues. Increases will be made in construction projects to the tune of roughly $700 Million. $15 Million was quietly added to purchase money adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center which would accommodate a new open air stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
Money for increased enrollment in Georgia colleges and schools was included, but no cost of living raise for Georgia’s teachers appears. Maintaining existing education funding should reduce the risk of furlough days, though decreasing property values could impact local tax collections and thus force furloughs at some systems from the local budget level.
As for legislative goals, the long discussed elimination of the energy taxes for manufacturers was the key plank in the Governor’s 3 point economic agenda as delivered to the Chamber of Commerce. “Competitiveness” will be the buzzword of the session, as it subtly shifts the goal of “jobs” into a one word strategy theme. Georgia’s neighboring states do not charge manufacturers sales tax on energy, and Georgia will likely forgo the roughly $140 Million per year to do the same.
Lawmakers who will insist that we must match neighboring states to remain competitive should probably be forgiven when told of gift bans from lobbyists in Georgia’s neighboring states as part of their ethics laws. Their talking points on the need to compare favorably to neighboring states did not include this item, and thus, they cannot be expected to know this. The TEA Party will do their best to add this to their talking points as the session continues.
The second item on Governor Deal’s jobs agenda is to eliminate sales tax on construction projects of a regional significance. As an example, let’s just say a large, open air football stadium located in downtown Atlanta next door to an existing domed football stadium and a few blocks south of an existing open air stadium would qualify for this tax break. If you’re now keeping score, the stadium is now receiving $400 Million of direct tax funds, a $15 Million site, and a waiver of sales taxes which are scheduled to be 9% in the City of Atlanta if the T-SPLOST passes.
Governor Deal is also proposing a expanded job tax credit for companies who hire employees at a wage above the average of the area in which they are located. The current tax credit applies to 50 or more jobs, which he proposes to lower to 15 jobs in a nod to small business.
Looming on the sidelines are various lobbyist driven proposals to get Georgia into the venture capitalism business. While Republicans are decrying “crony capitalism” at the national level in the wake of Solyndra scandals, Georgia lawmakers are kicking around various ideas to divert public money into public private partnerships or other ventures, again – say it with me – in the name of jobs and competitiveness. These should be resisted, but resistance is also not likely on legislative talking points at this time.
There are 37 days left for all of the above to change. Many of the surprise legislative items are not sprung until we near “crossover day”, and the real fun is always the last few days of the session. Until then, keep close watch on your wallets so that you can remain competitive as a taxpayer.