By Maria Saporta
Friday, January 6, 2012
Working closely with Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is unveiling its ambitious legislative priority list in advance of its annual meeting Jan. 9 and its Eggs & Issues breakfast Jan. 10.
The list of priorities ranges from supporting the recommendations of the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative —which the governor is expected to highlight at the chamber breakfast — to priorities in economic development, taxation, education, environment and energy, health care, legal reform and transportation.
Ed Heys Jr., the 2012 chair of the Georgia Chamber and managing partner of Deloitte’s Atlanta office, said the organization today is more “proactively involved with issues” and that it has developed a “unique positive relationship” with the governor and the state economic development department.
Specifically, Heys said the Georgia Chamber was “proud to be part of the team” that worked on the Competitiveness Initiative, which he said revealed that common themes exist across the state — education, workforce development, transportation, the deepening of the Savannah port, tax reform and economic development incentives.
One of the top issues that the Georgia Chamber will work on in 2012 will be to pass the regional transportation sales tax in regions across the state. The chamber will work to get the date of the referendum changed from the July primary to the November general election as well as try to simplify and clarify the language that will be on the ballot.
“This is our one shot,” said Chris Clark, president of the Georgia Chamber. “There’s no other option out there. There’s no question that it is going to be difficult to pass. So we are going to give it the best shot that we can to pass it.”
Several more of the chamber’s legislative priorities — several of which could overlap with the Competitiveness Initiative — focus on economic development and taxation.
Enacting regulatory reforms that streamline government and help create an environment that stimulates the economy and job growth;
Expanding access to venture and seed capital by authorizing the use of state employee pension funds for alternative investments and by offering other incentives to attract venture capital firms to Georgia;
Modernizing Georgia’s revenue structure through broadening the sales tax base and reducing income tax rates;
Eliminating the sales tax on energy used for manufacturing, mining and agriculture in order to spur economic development, job creation and reduce the costs of goods produced in Georgia; and
Improving Georgia’s economic competitiveness by expanding state discretionary economic development resources, modifying job incentive and credit programs, reducing inventory taxes and creating an independent review process to remedy state tax disputes.
Its education agenda will focus on getting a referendum to allow more state involvement in charter schools, clarify state funding and governance of local school systems.
Clark said the chamber also work on building the state’s water resources by working with the Regional Water Councils and by encouraging new reservoirs. Last year, the governor set aside $300 million for reservoirs, and there’s a possibility that he could increase that amount this year.