Making Georgia more attractive for businesses to expand jobs or locate here dominated the state legislature’s agenda during the recently concluded session.
We walked into the Capitol each day committed to give confidence to the jobs creators that Georgia is open for business. We strengthened the underpinnings of a healthy business climate through legislation and budget decisions that foster workforce-ready citizens, plentiful water and energy, cash for small businesses to expand, increased freight infrastructure and low taxes.
At a time when Washington D.C. has fostered economic uncertainty among citizens and businesses, we chose a decidedly different path.
Without fanfare, we acted with the calm conviction that creating jobs through a strong business environment beats “stimulus” checks or government programs in moving Georgians toward prosperity.
First, we made sure the state lived within its means with no increased taxes. The state budget is 14 percent smaller than last year’s. Our unwavering message to businesses considering expansion or relocation is that Georgia stands ready to support their efforts to provide jobs, not tax them into insolvency or the arms of another state.
Simply look to Illinois for what happens when you raise taxes to fill a shortfall. Overnight, companies with long-standing ties to the state like Caterpillar Inc. publicly entertained the idea of taking thousands of jobs with them to a new home.
Acting to maintain a strong bond rating – only eight states, including Georgia, have maintained a Triple-A bond rating through the recession – and prudent budgeting allowed us to invest $32 million toward deepening the Savannah Harbor. We are committed to keeping Georgia with the most productive port on the Eastern seaboard, prepared for giant container ships steaming through an expanded Panama Canal beginning in 2014.
We carved out funding for public-private partnerships with local Commercial Improvement Districts (CIDs) to improve commercial corridors around the state. And to increase our freight rail network, the state devoted increased funding for short rail lines that help distribute goods from the port and population centers.
We passed legislation to streamline financing for reservoir projects, while putting $80 million in bond funding toward reservoir construction. As we stare down the barrel of a pending federal court decision in the tri-state water wars, Georgia continues to push toward a secure water supply for its citizens and businesses.
Appreciating small businesses’ critical role in providing opportunities, we created a private capital fund totaling $125 million to help those struggling to secure traditional funding for expansion in these difficult times. Additionally, to drive down costs for businesses providing employee health insurance, we eliminated the ban on purchases of health insurance plans across state lines.
To further a workforce-ready citizenry, we preserved the HOPE Scholarship and Grant programs. These signature initiatives help keep the best and brightest at home while providing broad access to technical colleges for skills development and re-training.
In that regard, the House added $3 million in bond funding to the state budget for design and planning for a future technical college branch in North Fulton. Broadly supported by the area’s city councils, school board members and Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, it would offer associate degrees and career certifications to those seeking additional job skills or re-training.
Prospective students of all ages and without a college degree would be able to utilize the HOPE Grant to help pay for tuition. The branch is projected to cost $42 million and encompass 240,000 square feet to serve North Fulton’s 350,000 population.
By making jobs as the highest priority, Georgians from all corners of the state will benefit from initiatives, mostly unheralded, championed by my fellow legislators. In particular, the North Fulton delegation worked hand-in-hand to assure our area’s unique interests were considered when decisions were made.