The Georgia Chamber of Commerce held its annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast this morning. The event is typically held in the first week of Georgia’s forty-day legislative session. It’s an opportunity to review the priorities for the coming year.
The breakfast is held at the Georgia World Congress Center. It’s typically a sell-out event, drawing about two thousand people. If you’re active in legislative affairs (because they affect all of our lives every day), it’s a great opportunity to fellowship with elected/appointed officials and compare notes with others.
Congratulations to Stephen Green, the 2013 Chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He introduced the speakers, beginning with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for a welcome to those in attendance. Mayor Reed highlighted the importance of working with Georgia’s Governor and General Assembly on issues like the Port of Savannah.
Mayor Reed drew applause from the audience when he suggested that “You can’t love jobs and hate business.” That turned out to be a segue to Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson‘s comments about “the mess” in Washington, D.C. Sen. Isakson noted that Washington is 100% leveraged and while we may have enjoyed the benefit of compounded interest, we’re about to learn the pain of compounded debt.
Senator Isakson noted three significant upcoming issues that the federal government must address: 1) The US will reach its debt ceiling sometime in February – any increase must be approved by Congress. 2) On March 1st, automatic sequestration will be triggered without some solution for government spending and debt obligations. 3) On March 27th, the current continuing resolution by which the federal government has been funding itself will expire and must be re-authorized by Congress.
Senator Isakson pointed out federal government discretionary spending is about $1.18T and the deficit is about $1.2T. Just reducing the spending of the federal government won’t pay our debt or obligations – the real problem is the money required for entitlement programs. He noted, “Entitlements are on cruise control.” and suggested “We need to see to it that a job is always preferable to a benefit.”
Senator Isakson’s comments were followed by a panel discussion featuring David Ralston, Speaker of the House, and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. Their discussion covered education, medical care coverage, transportation, venture capital and ethics reform. Both men acknowledged the defeat of the T-SPLOST last year and offered a few suggestions about the way forward.
Lt. Governor Cagle mentioned the use of reversible lane to make the most of our resources – he noted their successful use in other states. He spoke in favor of public|private partnerships (PPP) and highlighted the importance of finding greater efficiency by prioritizing our resources. We took his comment about PPP to mean Georgia should consider more toll roads – financed by a private company and paid back gradually by users.
Speaker Ralston spoke about the need for a continued discussion about other funding mechanisms. We took that to mean a motorist tax and other solutions weren’t off the table. It seemed to us that most regions in Georgia’s T-SPLOST vote rejected the idea of higher taxes or fees in favor of the legislature paying for transportation infrastructure improvements out of the current revenue sources. That discussion and the solutions that develop will have a huge impact on everything from commute times to air pollution to property values.
We’d hate to omit Speaker Ralston’s comment on ethics reform: The Senate passed an ethics reform bill on day one of the session. Lt. Governor Cagle, who presides over the Senate, spoke about the $100 cap on gifts to legislators. Speaker Ralston joked that the bill was more of a sun visor than a cap though he agreed that ethics reform will get serious consideration in this session. We hope that will make it easier for citizens to figure out what political agendas lie behind proposed projects that will affects our neighborhoods.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal was the final speaker. He dedicated his time to speaking about the healthcare challenges Georgia must face and the issues created by Obamacare.
We remain optimistic that our federal legislators will find legitimate solutions to our financial challenges. Despite all the media coverage and discussion of the fiscal cliff at the end of the year, they just stalled the solution for a few more months. Leadership at the federal level will make it easier for our states and cities to get back to work.
Congratulations to the Georgia Chamber for another successful event. Thanks also to all the people who joined us at the RTA table. We host a table at this event each year so please let us know if you’re interested in joining us – we’ll be happy to put you on our list. Also, please let us know if there’s an issue upon which you’re focused so we can compare notes and share resources.