Along with the arrival of a new year comes the start of another legislative session. It’s no secret that this year, legislators must find solutions to some challenging problems — a shrinking budget, securing access to water resources, funding transportation and fixing a broken property tax system.
At the core of these and other issues lies the key to our state’s future success: job creation. This year, our overall focus must be on getting people back to work.
We are living in unprecedented times, with a state unemployment rate hovering at 10.2 percent. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel as we should begin to see Georgia’s job market grow by the middle of 2010, according to an annual economic survey by the University of Georgia. Our job as legislators will be to create an atmosphere focused on job creation.
That means getting government out of the way and encouraging private sector development. We’re facing a billion dollar shortfall heading into session, but as I’ve said before, raising taxes is not an option. Less government intrusion means the less of your money the government is spending. Raising taxes is no way to stimulate the economy in a downturn.
Economic growth comes from putting money back in the pockets of taxpaying citizens and businesses and letting them decide how to spend it. Simple economics prove that the more money businesses have, the more jobs they are able to offer.
Another dominant issue will be ensuring that Georgia has access to a sustainable water supply. While we work to find a solution to metro Atlanta’s use of Lake Lanier, we must also enhance other options for supplying water to the state.
Water is fundamental to our economy. Without an adequate water supply, we cannot hope to see economic growth.
First on the list should be to increase water storage capacity by building more reservoirs.
The infrastructure alone will bring much-needed jobs to Georgia’s devastated construction industry. Positioning Georgia as a state with sustainable water resources opens the door for a stronger agricultural industry, as well as energy initiatives, manufacturing and tourism, just to name a few. Businesses won’t locate in an area without adequate water sources, and we cannot afford to lose any potential future investments.
Transportation is another key element to giving Georgia a competitive edge in a global economy. Traffic congestion is stifling our business climate and costing us jobs. In order to develop long-term transportation infrastructure across the state, we need a sustainable, dedicated source of funding. After years of deliberation between the Senate and House, now is the time to let the voters decide how they want to fund transportation. We need to give them the chance to vote on a 1 percent sales tax within their region to fund transportation projects. Instead of ordering a state-mandated tax, we can give taxpayers a choice on how they want to spend their money. With a dedicated source of funding, we can develop a long-term, sustainable transportation system that makes Georgia increasingly attractive to new and expanding businesses, bringing more jobs to the state.
Georgia’s property tax system is another area that is ripe for reform. Too many property owners have been forced to pay taxes much greater than what their home is worth, a financial burden that couldn’t have come at a worse time.
There is a strong commitment from leaders in the Senate to ensure that the system is fixed. Part of this reform will include legislation to strengthen a bill I passed last year to require tax assessors to factor in neighborhood foreclosures when assessing the value of a home.
When tax season came around, many assessors chose not to follow the new law. New legislation will be drafted to state that tax assessors must account for foreclosures in their assessments. Such reform to our property tax system will ease the financial strain for many homeowners, allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money.
I look forward to working on these and other critical issues facing Georgia in the upcoming session. I’m confident that we will develop solutions to move our state forward and most importantly, re-energize our employment sector.
Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties and portions of Forsyth and White counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.