AJC poll finds division in how Georgians feel about state’s economy

A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll suggests that most people in metro Atlanta think the economy is doing well, and figures released Monday showed an uptick in sales tax collections in December, meaning Georgians spent more money during the Christmas season.

But there is a flip side: Many poll respondents outside of metro Atlanta weren’t so optimistic about the economy. And income tax collections — the state’s largest source of revenue — were largely stagnant in December.

The new tax figures were released two days before Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to announce his state budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year.

About 60 percent of respondents in the new AJC poll said they think the economy is in excellent or good shape. About 40 percent said it was in poor or not so good shape. The poll surveyed 919 registered voters statewide from Jan. 2 to Jan. 5. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The results aren’t entirely surprising, since the state’s unemployment rate was relatively low last year and rising state revenue collections have been showing people are earning and spending more.

Where the poll respondents live, however, affected how they felt about the economy.

In metro Atlanta, 69 percent of respondents said the economy was good or excellent.

In southeast Georgia, about 39 percent felt that way. In southwest Georgia, about 50 percent.

Overall state tax collections were up just 0.7 percent in December, or $15 million for the month. For the first six months of the fiscal year, collections are up 4 percent, a rate that would be enough to fund the $23.7 billion state budget lawmakers approved last winter.

Net sales tax collections improved 9.2 percent, a good sign for the Christmas shopping season. But individual income tax collections were largely flat, and corporate income tax collections were off 18.6 percent.

In general, the state's tax collection numbers have been better than those of other states the past few years. In fact, collections have been so strong that Deal has been able to sock away $2 billion in the state's rainy day reserve.

One slow month for income tax collections won’t influence Deal, but he will be keeping a close eye on revenue numbers in coming months to determine how much the state has to spend.

Deal is already expected to propose a relatively conservative budget for fiscal 2018, which begins July 1, and he has told most state agencies not to expect an increase in funding.