By Maria Saporta
Gov. Nathan Deal said Friday morning that he has not yet decided whether he will sign or veto the controversial immigration bill that passed the General Assembly Thursday night just before the end of the 2011 session.
“It was so jumbled at the end as to what was added and what was taken out,” Deal said. “We are going to look at it very carefully.”
The bill would require many Georgia businesses to check for illegal workers among their new hires. It passed the House of Representatives by 112-59; and passed the Georgia Senate by 37-19.
Under the measure, businesses with more than 10 employees would have to enroll in E-Verify, an online federal work authorization program that identifies whether a worker is in the country legally or illegally.
In recent weeks, a host of Georgia executives and industries have expressed concern that the bill would have serious economic consequences. The industries most impacted are agriculture and hospitality.
Also several Fortune 500 executives, such as Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, have urged Deal to vote against the immigration reform bill.
“He was concerned about the image it would have,” Deal said. “He didn’t want Georgia to be considered as a state that was unfriendly to business.”
Deal added that he believed the General Assembly also was sensitive to those concerns.
The governor’s measured response reflected that he has moderated his views on the immigration debate. Deal, a Republican who represented Georgia in Congress, had run for governor on a platform against illegal immigration.
Deal was the keynote speaker Friday morning at the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s annual Pacesetter Awards honoring Atlanta’s fastest-growing privately-held companies at the Cobb Galleria.
In his comments, Deal did not mention the immigration bill even though much of his talk focused on making Georgia as business-friendly as possible.
Little did he know that when he agreed to be the keynote speaker that it would be “the morning after the night before when we completed one of the most successful sessions on the General Assembly before midnight.”
Deal congratulated the company executives at the breakfast by saying: “what you do is what I do — to try to make Georgia a better place for business,” and a state that is able to provide jobs for its citizens.
“There are a lot of ingredients that have to go into having a state that is a good place to do business,” he said, adding that his administration is working with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to implement a competitiveness initiative to make the state as economically strong as possible.
The governor also mentioned disappointment that the legislature was unable to reform Georgia’s tax laws, following an in-depth review by an expert tax reform council.
“Unfortunately, none of that was put on the vote this session, but it is something that is still being considered,” Deal said. “We are looking at the possibility of included this issue in the special (legislative) session that will begin on Aug. 15.”
The state already is planning to hold a special session to address redistricting issues following the 2010 U.S. Census.
“Tax reform may very well be one of those (issues included),” Deal said. “We had some real progress on that. But we wanted to be sure that if we told people in the State of Georgia that there was going to be a tax cut, it would have been a great embarrassment if it had turned out not to be a tax cut.”
Deal said the goal was to move to more of a flat tax structure, but there are “manifestations when you move from an incremental tax system to a flat tax system, but I’m sure that’s going to be resolved.”
Certain people attending the breakfast were disappointed that Deal did not talk about the immigration issue during his speech.
“We hope he vetoes it,” said Tom Elliott, president of PalmerHouse Properties , a family of real estate brokerage companies. “We have serious reservations and concerns about it, and we believe it will be bad for business in Georgia.”