Georgians strongly support giving incentives worth more than $1 billion to Amazon if the company brings tens of thousands of jobs to the state, according to a new poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The public’s support bolsters the state’s bid to land Amazon’s second headquarters, which could employ 50,000 people and change the economy of the city it chooses.
About 65 percent of those surveyed said Georgia’s government should continue its pursuit of the internet retail company, even if it comes at a high cost. Atlanta is considered a top candidate for Amazon’s giant expansion, but the state hasn’t disclosed details or the value of its incentive package.
The poll of 940 registered Georgia voters was conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs earlier this month.
While residents want Amazon and the jobs that come with it, they say they’re less worried about the economy than they have been in the past, according to the poll.
For the first time in at least six years, the AJC’s poll found that the economy was no longer the top priority of Georgians.
Education leaped to the top of the list when residents were asked about the most important issue facing Georgia, followed by health care and the economy.
Many said the stock market boom and low unemployment rates give them confidence in the economy, and they now have different priorities.
‘Sometimes it takes money to make money’
Most Georgians polled generally support the idea of the state putting together a costly package that would lure Amazon to build its second headquarters in the state.
Irma Jones, a Decatur resident, said adding 50,000 jobs to the workforce would be a great achievement.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing for Georgia to offer them some incentive,” she said. “It’s just really important for them to take a look and make sure those incentives are reasonable in terms of what we’re offering and what we’ll get in return.”
Thomas Little, a 51-year-old trucking company owner from Johns Creek, echoed the need to pay close attention and make sure the cost matches the reward.
“It makes sense to offer incentives to attract an industry,” he said. “But at the same time, if it’s a break-even proposition, what’s the point?”
Little also said it was important that whatever is offered ties Amazon to the area, as opposed to a deal that allows them to leave after five years if another state pitches a better incentive package.
“Then we’ll have some more industrial blight and more unemployed people looking for something to do,” he said.
Gov. Nathan Deal and leading lawmakers united behind a plan last week to call a special legislative session to hash out the lucrative offerings for Amazon if the tech giant picks metro Atlanta as a top finalist for the $5 billion project.
In what is expected to be an Olympics-type bid, it would likely include a trove of incentives, with some analysts saying it could take at least $1 billion in tax breaks, transportation upgrades and grants.
Shantae Martin, a 29-year-old Lithonia resident who works in logistics, said Amazon is the new Walmart.
“If we can get a headquarters here, that would be great in the long run,” she said. “Sometimes it takes money to make money.”
Not all residents liked the idea of bringing the company to the state. Rivers Carroll, a 38-year-old Cobb County resident, said the economy already has bounced back without needing to offer $1 billion in tax incentives.
“I think the job market has already improved,” the restaurant manager said. “I can’t even find people to work for me or any of the restaurants I operate.”
Most Georgia residents polled by the AJC also seem to have noticed the improving economy, with nearly 32 percent instead listing education as the single most important issue facing the state.
Since at least 2013, the economy has topped the list of important issues that Georgians believed need to be addressed, reaching a height of 58 percent of the response in 2014. In those same years, education received the second-highest number of responses.
This year, focus on the economy fell to third among the most important issues with just over 15 percent of the responses. Health care was the second-most-important issue, listed by 20.6 percent of Georgians.
Amryn Soldier, a 24-year-old school administrator who lives in Suwanee, said she thinks there is a need for more government subsides for educators.
“We see a lot people leave the profession because they’re not paid enough,” she said. “There should be more incentives for someone to become a teacher.”
For years, educators have decried what they believe is low pay for the work they do. Teachers also often have trouble finding the money to stock their classrooms with equipment students may need.
How much or how little a school district gets is often directly related to where in the state those schools are located.
“There’s a lot of inequality in the school systems,” said Janice Ransbotham, a 70-year-old retired west Cobb resident. “Some counties get a whole lot of tax money for schools and it doesn’t seem to do much good.”
More focus should be placed on preparing students for a future that might not include higher education, said Little, the trucking company owner.
“These schools are encouraging children to follow a career path that might not be suitable for them, creating a massive amount of student debt in the process,” he said of pushing students toward college. “We need to invest money in vocational education in the primary school system and prepare people to be independent upon graduation.”
Little said he received a four-year college degree and worked for about 11 years in information technology before stepping into the truck business.
The Johns Creek resident said his education prepared him for both vocational work and higher education, something he doesn’t believe students are getting today.
“There need to be vocational options available for Georgia students, and they need to be encouraged to pursue them if that’s what they want to do,” he said.
Support remains for Medicaid expansion
Health care was listed as the second-most-important topic facing the state, and support for expanding Medicaid, the federal program that provides health care to the poor, was fairly constant among Georgians polled for the AJC.
About 73 percent this year said they believe the program should be expanded, versus 75 percent in 2017.
Little said just the idea of expanding Medicaid was too broad of a question to give just a “yes” or “no” answer. He said he supports the idea of providing health care to people who have low or no income “within limits.”
“I’ve heard incredible stories about people who are earning $50,000 or $60,000 a year and taking advantage of the system,” he said. “I don’t believe in expansion without oversight — there need to be consequences for those who defraud the system.”
Jones, the Decatur resident, said she strongly believes that there should be a reasonable option for every American who wants health care.
“We have many roads to it, be it Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, private health care insurance, as well as through Medicare and Social Security,” she said.
Georgians polled by the AJC have vacillated over the years on how much they support expanding Medicaid, reaching its highest level of support last year. In 2013, 65 percent of those surveyed said they supported expanding Medicaid in the state.
That number dropped to 57 percent in 2014. The AJC did not ask Georgians specifically about Medicaid in 2015 and 2016.
“It will only help our country if our citizens have access to comprehensive health care,” Jones said. “That’s such a drain on a family’s finances if they don’t have health care and then they become ill.”
Georgians are pretty evenly split on some of the more controversial issues facing the state.
Support remains virtually the same for a 2017 law that allows anyone with a concealed-weapon permit to carry a firearm on public college campuses — tilted slightly against the idea.
Less than a year after becoming law, about 53 percent of Georgians surveyed said they disapprove of allowing guns on college campuses. When asked last January, 54 percent opposed the idea.
Stan Wheeler, a 49-year-old College Park resident, said even though he is pro-gun and owns weapons himself, he doesn’t believe they belong on college campuses.
“More often than not the people who are carrying guns aren’t trained well enough to use them,” he said.
But Charles Knowles, a Baldwin County resident, said allowing guns on campus is necessary because police can’t be everywhere at all times.
“If I’m at a grocery store and I’m confronted with an armed gunman that’s trying to wreak harm, I could possibly do something about it,” he said.
Things get more divided when deciding what to do with Confederate monuments. Some lawmakers have suggested allowing local governments to decide whether the markers need to be removed or relocated. Others believe the state should continue to hold that power.
Georgians polled for the AJC mirror that split, with about 49 percent support giving the responsibility to local governments. Nearly 47 percent don’t believe cities and counties should have that authority.
Little said he generally believes it should be a local decision.
“I would support the state staying out of it with maybe some exception to monuments that might exist on state property,” he said.
But Knowles said moving the monuments creates a slippery slope for what could go on in the future.
“It won’t be long before someone says they feel threatened by the Martin Luther King statue in Atlanta,” he said. “They would have a right to have it removed. Sometimes you go in with good intentions, but it has unexpected consequences.”
Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.