By Maria Saporta
Gov. Nathan Deal used the forum of speaking to the high-level board of the Commerce Club at its Thursday lunch to talk about a “few things we had in the budget designed to stimulate economic development in our state.”
After the closed lunch meeting, Deal spent a few minutes in an interview to talk about what issues were on the minds of some of the top business leaders in Atlanta.
Deal, who had been invited to speak to the Commerce Club board three times in 2013 but ended up having to cancel each time, also outlined his plans for criminal justice reform and education in the state.
After his prepared remarks, business leaders asked the governor about what the state should do to fix the transportation issues that exist in metro Atlanta.
Deal said it boiled down to the availability of funding.
At that point, the governor and the business leaders brought up the future of a regional transportation sales tax. A referendum held on July 31, 2012 failed in the metro Atlanta region, but it passed in three other regions around the state. After two years, regions could decide to present a new referendum to voters.
According to a couple of the board members in the room, the governor told them that some people would like to throw out the regional transportation sales tax approach. But he said he was not ready to do so.
There also is a new bill making its way through the legislature that would provide a fractional sales tax and permit two counties or two governments to pass a tax for particular projects rather that have a regional tax.
Deal told the Commerce Club board that he is not in favor of taking a fractionalized approach at this time.
After the board meeting, Deal was asked whether he would support the state providing more money for transit. Currently MARTA is the largest public transit system in the country that receives no financial operating support from the state.
“We didn’t get into specifics on that,” Deal said. “There is ongoing discussion in the General Assembly about the connectivity of our buses, what Sen. (Brandon) Beach has been talking about. It’s not full-blown transit. It’s about unifying what we have and making it more accessible and user friendly.”
Asked about whether the state would continue to support the Xpress bus service provided by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Deal said: “I can’t think that there’s any extra money in the budget. We’ll try to maintain funding levels.”
Gov. Deal is running for re-election this year, and he is facing opposition both in the Republican primary and in the general election in November.
After the meeting, a couple of business leaders were asked if Deal would be receiving their support, and their answers were mostly positive. One person mentioned that it’s difficult for the business community to oppose a standing governor.