The president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce urged Effingham Chamber members to dig in against the health care reform measures currently up for debate in the nation’s capitol.
George M. Israel III, the CEO and president of the state Chamber, said the potential ruinous effects of the bills could be long-lasting and irreversible.
“You better stand up and say, ‘no,’” he said at Wednesday morning’s Chamber membership breakfast at New Ebenezer Retreat Center. “Once we go down that road, it’ll be like Humpty Dumpty on that wall — you can’t put it back together.”
Israel gave the example of a relative from England who was visiting Israel’s mother in Georgia. The relative became ill on the flight over and remained ill during his vacation. A visit to a local doctor in Macon gave an early diagnosis of a blockage. On his return home, a visit to his English doctor confirmed the obstruction.
A date with a gastroenterologist was set but was delayed for several weeks. In the meantime, the obstruction became cancerous. An appointment with a surgeon was put off several times.
Eventually, his wife inquired why that was happening. She was told her husband, a retiree, wasn’t paying into the system for the National Health.
England’s National Institute of Comparative Effectiveness judges how much taxes a person will pay, the patient’s life expectancy and how much the treatment will cost the government, Israel said.
“This will also move us to rationed health care,” he said of the health care reform package.
Israel also took exception with President Obama’s assertion that any health care measures passed and signed will be revenue neutral. He said it would mean $1.2 trillion in costs to the federal government.
The state’s Republican contingent in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with Democrats John Barrow and John Marshall, need to be thanked for voting against the health care reform packages, Israel said. Those same lawmakers also have rejected the Employee Free Choice Act, which the Chamber also staunchly opposes.
The Chamber also has been against the Troubled Assets Recovery Program and the stimulus plan, Israel said. The national debt, pegged once at $5.8 trillion, has swelled to $17 trillion and an economist projected to the Chamber that the figure could swell to $23 trillion.
“That is money that your children, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren will have to provide,” he said. “That is why we don’t support the TARP funding. We do not support money for stimulus. We are absolutely opposed to a second stimulus. Everything they are doing in Washington is absolutely wrong.”
The Chamber also is opposing the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which calls for having 20 percent of electricity generated by renewable sources by 2020. Israel said its prospects for passing Congress are diminishing but it could have very deleterious effects for business.
“There are no viable options they will give us credit for in the state of Georgia,” he said. “They will not give us credit for biofuels. They will not give us credit for nuclear fuel. They simply give you credit for wind and solar, and we don’t have it.”
Energy costs for households would go up on the average of $1,700 a year, Israel said, and they would escalate from there, reaching over $4,000 by 2020. Personal income in Georgia would be reduced by $5.5 billion by 2010, if the bill passed.
“And that’s on top of a bad economy,” Israel said. “We’ll lose up to 50,000 jobs a year in Georgia over the next decade.”
The owner of a longtime mill in Griffin that employs 212 people has not drawn a paycheck for 10 years, Israel said. The mill, which has been in operation for more than 100 years, faces closure if the American Clean Energy and Security Act passes.
“‘George, if this passes, I cannot compete with the prices from China, Mexico and South America,’” Israel said the mill’s operator told him. “‘I will have to shut the doors.’”
Israel said he has counted five recessions in his working lifetime yet this one is especially painful.
“In every recession we’ve been through, Georgia has had a lower unemployment rate than the rest of the nation,” he said. “This year, because it has hit housing, banking and manufacturing so hard, we’ve been adversely affected. This one has a different feel for me. We still are facing a very steep climb to recovery. Georgia was hit particularly hard. Housing, finance, banking and manufacturing sectors all are taking a long time to recover.”
Israel also praised the efforts of Gov. Sonny Perdue in addressing the state’s education system, lauding his work with the state Board of Education, the Board of Regents and the Technical College System. The Chamber is a strong backer of the Georgia Work Ready Program.
In light of Clayton County’s school system losing its accreditation, the state Chamber also has backed a proposal for school board governance.
Such a bill made it through the Senate last legislative session.
“It leaves local flexibility and local control,” Israel said. “It provides some overall, overarching rules for boards. It will have a strong contingent of training school board members and they get some sort of certification.”
He also applauded the General Assembly’s measures to bolster business and investment in the state, such as the repeal of the megatax that paved the way for NCR to relocate to Georgia from Ohio. Lawmakers also passed a bill that gave companies incentives for high-paying jobs to currently unemployed workers.
Such actions have led Georgia to becoming the sixth-best state in which to do business and ranked as the best entrepreneur friendly state, Israel said.
The Chamber also is pushing for transportation fixes throughout the state, Israel added, including planning for a new Atlanta airport. With engineering and permitting, it may be 23 years before the first plane can leave a new airport but not having one could reduce the state’s competitive advantage with the current Hartsfield-Jackson International.
Israel also warned that traffic out of the Savannah port could increase four-fold in 10 years and the state needs to get the trucks on designated truck ways that get them out of Atlanta’s traffic. The state also needs to utilize its two railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, he said.
Plus, the state’s residents seem more willing than ever to do what it takes to fund transportation solutions, he said.
“As a statewide organization, we are committed to identifying sustainable, comprehensive plans that will meet long-term and short-term transportation needs,” he said. “Even in these economic times, the poll is fairly favorable that the citizens want us to address transportation issues in this state. A majority of the citizens are saying we’ve got to address transportation.”