By Maria Saporta
The partnership between the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia continues to strengthen.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told members of the Rotary Club of Atlanta Monday that on June 1, he and Gov. Nathan Deal will be traveling together to Washington, D.C. to meet with more than “half a dozen cabinet officials” about several issues including the deepening of the Savannah port.
“I hope I’m not stealing the governor’s thunder,” Reed said. “We’ll be working shoulder to shoulder now with only one thing in mind — what’s best for the City of Atlanta and what’s best for the State of Georgia.”
Reed spoke about the great relationship the city and the state developed in getting Porsche North America to relocate its headquarters next to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. That culminated with an unprecedented joint press conference at the state capitol.
“That’s the future — the governor of the State of Georgia and the mayor of Atlanta working on big things,” Reed said to warm applause from Rotarians. “It’s absolutely essential. That’s been our biggest weak link when looking at our competitors.”
Reed went on to mention cities in Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.
“Charlotte likes to believe they’re competitive with us, but that’s only their positive notion,” Reed said laughingly, adding that he has said that to Charlotte’s mayor.
But more seriously, Reed said he has been meeting with the governor, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle on a regular basis.
“That bodes well for the future of the state of Georgia and the deepening of the Savannah port work that we’re doing,” said Reed, who later added that he and the governor have been talking about a joint trip to Washington for the past two or three months. “We both agreed that needs to be a non-partisan issue, and the only way we are going to make progress is in a bi-partisan way.”
The mayor also said that one of his overarching goals is to make sure Atlanta remains the dominant city in the Southeast, which will assure its role as a leading city in the United States and the world. He said he will fight “any threat to Atlanta being in that position.”
Reed then immediately brought up the governance problems at the Atlanta Public Schools and the system being in danger of losing its accreditation.
“I’m pleased to say that is moving in a positive direction,” said Reed, who added that he was hopeful that would lead to the hiring of a “world class superintendent.”
Much of the mayor’s talk to Rotary was an appeal for the group of business and civic leaders to help him pass pension reform. Reed said that if his proposals were passed, the city’s budget would be $20 million in the black rather than $17 million in the red.
Reed also spoke openly about what was at stake for him in trying to enact pension reform — explaining that 10 years ago, the city’s pensions were 95 percent funded and now its down to 63 percent.
“My opponents — many of them my friends in labor — helped put into office,” Reed said. They have made two proposals to cover the city’s pension obligations — raise property taxes or implement a commuter tax.
“I’m not going to raise your taxes, and I’m not going to facilitate anyone else raising your taxes,” Reed said.
And about the idea of a commuter tax, Reed said: “I’d like to meet the legislator — him or her — who would introduce that bill in the state legislature just for the fun of it.”
By the mayor’s comments, it was obvious he believes the City of Atlanta would have almost no chance in getting a commuter tax passed in the legislature. Remember, Reed was both a state representative and a state senator before he ran for mayor.
The mayor also used the occasion of the Rotary lunch to introduce his new economic development chief — Brian McGowan.
McGowan has just started his new role as president and CEO of the Atlanta Development Authority after serving as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, and COO of the U.S. Economic Development Administration since September, 2009.