As the senator who represents eight counties outside of urban Metro-Atlanta, I am proud to say that this year’s session focused heavily on rural parts of our state. Although addressing concerns for our state’s capital and surrounding counties is important, addressing broadband access, job creation, health and economic development in rural parts of our state is critical. Along with a major focus on broadband access and deployment with the “Achieving Connectivity Everywhere (ACE) Act”, or SB 402, being signed into law, this past session we worked hard to address other issues affecting citizens across this great state.
During the 2018 session, we focused on appropriating funding focused on rural Georgia’s development. In the 2018 Fiscal Year (FY18) Amended Budget, around $26 million was appropriated to extend runways for 13 airports around the state with 11 of those being in rural parts of the state. Around $375,000 was appropriated in the 2019 Fiscal Year (FY19) Budget for the creation of a new program for rural development under the Department of Economic Development.
Additionally, $600,000 was added for grants to rural hospitals for electronic intensive care units under the Department of Community Health. These are just a few of the highlights of the funding appropriated in the FY19 budget.
In addition to the appropriation funding above, we passed legislation and included funds to support the creation of new centers, positions or initiatives resulting from these bills becoming law:
· House Bill 696: Creates a sales and use tax exemption for electricity and computer infrastructure used by high-technology data centers. In an effort to attract these centers to rural Georgia for job creation and economic growth, I amended HB 696 in committee by creating separate ‘minimum investment thresholds’ based on population. This tiered system will give data centers tax exemptions based on invest amounts and the community’s population. For example, a high-technology data center located in a county with a population greater than 50,000 would need to invest at least $250 million. A center would need to invest at least $150 million in counties with populations of fewer than 50,001 but greater than 30,000 and for counties with a population less than 30,001, the threshold is $100 million. Additionally, a center must create at least 20 high-quality jobs and meet a series of other requirements that fall into the tiered system. The bill also contains an exemption certificate process and has annual reporting requirements. This legislation was signed by the Governor on May 7, 2018, and will become effective on July 1, 2019.
· House Bill 769: $300,000 was appropriated in the FY19 budget for the start-up of the Rural Health Systems Innovation Center created through HB 769. This legislation includes the establishment of “micro-hospitals” which will have two to seven beds and provide services 24/7 to stabilize patients. The bill also addresses grant programs which will offset the costs of insurance for physicians who practice in underserved areas of Georgia. Lastly, the bill would increase the value of the tax credit to 100 percent related to contributions to rural hospital organizations. This legislation was signed by the Governor on May 2, 2018, and will become effective on July 1, 2018.
· House Bill 951: $1.7 million was appropriated in the FY19 budget under the Board of Regents for the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations created by the final passage of HB 951. Along with creating the center, this legislation establishes and outlines guidelines for the membership and operation of the corresponding Georgia Rural Development Council. The center and council will focus on collecting and reviewing data on issues effecting citizens living in rural Georgia by providing a central research hub. Additionally, rural leadership training will be provided along with best practices for industry specific assistance, cooperative efforts with other agencies and community planning models. This legislation was signed by the Governor on May 2, 2018, and will become effective on July 1, 2018.
If you have any questions about anything related to appropriations or legislation focusing on rural Georgia’s development or other legislation passed this session, please do not hesitate to reach out. I will continue to update you over the course of the next few weeks on other legislation that passed during the 2018 session. Remember, I am always here to help if I can be of service in any way.
Sen. Steve Gooch serves as the Senate Majority Whip. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via email at email@example.com.