Georgia's economy: Tax cuts alone won’t lift us

Atlanta Forward / The Editorial Board's Opinion -- and Four Alternate Views

It’s not a perfect intersection, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless that the end of this year’s Georgia General Assembly session came not long after the end of the first quarter of 2011.

Economists and businesspeople focus on quarters of a year. Doing so provides a consistent way to measure progress of companies and the broader economy in which they exist.

Last week’s adjournment of the state Legislature marked the end of a session that had the professed aim of focusing on ways to speed economic recovery in Georgia.

To that end, we asked four state leaders — two Democrats and two Republicans — to answer the questions: “With the first quarter of 2011 behind us, where’s Georgia’s economy headed for the rest of the year? What else should government be doing this year to help our recovery?” Their answers are below.

With state and local unemployment still stuck just above 10 percent, helping businesses create jobs is indeed important.

An effective strategy to do this involves much more than just cutting taxes, in our view. We need a blend of belt-tightening and infrastructure-building that helps keep us an attractive place for company relocations or expansions.

Economy-watchers argue with considerable justification that states can’t really have a large impact on economic growth and the jobs that result. That’s true in a broad sense, but we’d suggest that where a state targets its spending can make it harder, or easier, for companies to prosper.

Inadequate funding of important matters such as education and transportation will push away private-sector investment faster than lower taxes can move the scales in Georgia’s favor.

That’s something to keep in mind now that we’re early into the second quarter of 2011.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board

Great plans need funds

By Rep. Stacey Abrams

Recent state tax receipts and federal statistics offer a glimmer of hope for our economy’s recovery. The challenge for 2011 is to nurture this slow progress. Government plays a critical role as a partner in recovery, which we cannot shirk.

Federal Race to the Top monies offer the state’s underperforming education system a crucible to prove out theories of independence coupled with appropriate levels of funding. Georgia has taken critical steps on the first and has a depressing record on the second. Until we as a state recognize the intractable link between the two, our quest for the jobs of the near future will continue to be hamstrung.

Georgia’s Transportation Investment Act of 2010 also suffers from incomplete action. Mass transit, like roads, deserves the public investment that has long been denied our core system — MARTA. Critics may decry former bad actors, but the reality of underfunding and indecent restrictions on proper maintenance and operations cannot be ignored. For the transportation funding plan to have legs in the metro area, the state’s largest economic zone, the General Assembly and the governor must use our August special session to clarify our commitment to regional transit.

Supporting small businesses is the vital effort on jobs. The Obama administration’s State Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 is an economic boost that will have ripple effects across the state. Already, small businesses in Georgia have begun to take advantage of eight tax cuts and credits. In the coming months, vital credit enhancements worth nearly $48 million will be available to Georgia entrepreneurs, which will create new jobs.

Together, these programs will do what government should for the economy: educate its population, deliver workers to jobs in timely fashion and help businesses through targeted investment. Every significant economic advance in our nation’s history has benefited from government investment (universities, railroads, highways, technology), and the Great Recovery will be no different.

State Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, is House minority leader.

Rebound likely in 2011

By Mark Butler

Since the recession began in December 2007, Georgia has experienced three consecutive years of job losses. We’re seeing indications that we may have finally turned the corner on job loss, and could end 2011 with 30,000 to 45,000 new jobs.

This year, we expect growth in job categories such as health care, manufacturing, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality. The consumer-driven trade sector may improve and create jobs.

The construction industry, the collapse of which accounted for much of Georgia’s economic problems, continues to suffer and will likely take several years to recover. However, based on what I have seen, and from discussions with people in construction and related industries, I’m optimistic we’ll soon see signs of growth.

The number of claims for unemployment insurance by newly laid-off workers, a leading economic indicator, has declined this year, with fewer layoffs reported in manufacturing, trade and construction — a sign that employers are gaining in confidence.

Although improving slightly, long-term unemployment remains a drawback to our recovery. Based on current conditions, it’s projected that Georgia’s unemployment rate will show a modest decline throughout the year, dropping from an annual average of 10.2 percent in 2010 to 9.8 percent in 2011.

For Georgia’s recovery to gain solid footing and return us to economic prosperity, public- and private-sector leaders must work together, not only to attract new industry, but also to help existing businesses grow. We must educate and train Georgians to be ready to fill the jobs that not only will be created in years to come, but for the jobs that are available now.

It is critical for businesses, educators and public leaders to work together to provide a qualified work force for the 21st century. Without skilled workers, Georgia’s economy cannot compete successfully in the world market.

Georgians have always answered past challenges, and I have no doubt that they will do so again, leading us to prosperity.

Mark Butler, a Republican, is Georgia’s labor commissioner.

Low taxes grow jobs

By Melvin Everson

The good news is that signs point toward economic improvement. However, the economy in Georgia — and everywhere else — faces the crunch imposed by rising prices for food and energy. There’s also the uncertainty that derives from the Obama administration advocating tax hikes on American job creators. In Georgia, we are well served by the pro-business, pro-consumer policies of Gov. Nathan Deal.

Deal has reduced the size of government and assured that taxes won’t rise in Georgia. The governor understands that government must reduce taxes, fees and regulations on businesses so they can be free to do what they do best: create jobs in the free market system.

We’re seeing positive signs. For example, we’re consistently seeing state revenues rise 10 percent month to month from where we were a year ago.

The No. 1 thing government should do is understand that jobs are created by businesses in the private sector, not by the government. The appropriate role of government is to foster a positive environment where the private sector can prosper and create jobs. Gov. Nathan Deal is spearheading the Competitiveness Initiative, which aims to make Georgia the best place to locate and keep businesses that will help our state and its people prosper.

Melvin Everson is director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development and a former Republican state representative from Snellville.

Invest in better jobs

By Sen. Doug Stoner

Mark Twain once said, “A great, great deal has been said about the weather, but very little has been done.” The same can be said about creating good-paying jobs in Georgia.

Georgia has become a haven for low-wage jobs and unemployment. In 1999, Georgia ranked 21st in per capita income. In 1979, we ranked 35th. However, by 2009 we had sunk to 39th place, sending the state backward.

Our closest competitors for low-paying jobs are Vietnam and Bangladesh. Since 2002, Republican leadership has failed to make the necessary investments in public infrastructure such as education, transportation and quality-of-life projects. These factors are the key elements that attract businesses and spark job creation.

Similarly, House and Senate Republicans have not prioritized investment in k-12 education. Our ranking of near-dead last in education funding in the nation proves this out.

The Republican-appointed A.D. Frazier, chairman of the Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness, commented at the Georgia Biennial Institute for Legislators last year that “such things as public education, infrastructure and quality of life are factors that figure more heavily into corporate relocation decisions. Corporate income taxes are not a factor. Taxes are not among the top five reasons why businesses move here. The corporate income tax is not nearly the driver in business decisions to locate here as we thought.”

He added, “If 48 other states already impose heavier taxes than you do, how much of a difference will it make to lower your tax rates by another point or two?”

Yet this legislative session, Frazier’s proposal to reform Georgia’s tax structure to spark job creation was shunned by the GOP.

For Georgia to be a global leader in business, and in order to fix our limping economy, our government must invest in the necessary programs that spark job creation and attract businesses. No sound investor would join with a company not willing to invest in itself. Georgia must invest in itself, our families and our businesses.

State Sen. Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, is Senate Democratic Caucus chair.

Atlanta Forward: We look at major issues Atlanta must address in order to move forward as the economy recovers.

Look for the designation “Atlanta Forward,” which will identify these discussions.