With the news dominated by the economy and our minds distracted by what’s happening to our 401(k)s, it is easy to lose sight of some very important things happening right here at home. As the state’s largest business advocacy organization, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is working closely with our elected leaders to ensure that legislation is passed that will address current and future needs in key areas such as transportation, health care, education and economic development — bills that will help Georgia maintain the business friendly environment that has allowed our state to thrive and will ensure that we are ready to maximize on economic recovery.
First and foremost, no company can survive without quality workers, which is why the Georgia Chamber is committed to education and workforce development. A number of bills have been introduced this year to encourage excellence and ensure accountability in our schools, including a Senate measure to better define the roles, responsibilities and training requirements for local school boards and House proposals to create incentives for high performing teachers. Recognizing that not every student is the same, innovative legislation is also under debate that would allow more high school students to take post-secondary classes and strengthen Georgia’s career academy program.
There is no question that transportation has been and will continue to be vital to Georgia. Our location on the east coast, extensive railroad network, and world-class ports and airport have allowed business to thrive. That said, our investment in infrastructure is woefully behind and must be addressed in a way that relieves congestion, allows for the efficient movement of cargo, ensures safety, and allows communities to prepare for future growth. Two funding proposals are currently being considered, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce remains hopeful that a consensus will be reached this year. Equally important are efforts to create a transportation governance structure in which our citizens can be confident that their needs are being met in a cost-efficient, timely manner.
One of the most critical needs being addressed this year is adequate, state-wide trauma care. The facts speak for themselves. While a state of Georgia’s size should have 25 to 30 trauma centers, only 15 of our hospitals are designated as such. This means that millions of Georgians live and work too far away to receive critical treatment during the “golden hour” when the chance of survival is at its highest. Each and every one of us is at risk of being involved in a traumatic accident, with vehicle and workplace incidents ranking as the number one and two causes. Both chambers have considered the creation of a $10 vehicle tag fee that would raise approximately $80 million per year for trauma care, enough to create and maintain an effective network.
Another key issue to watch is Medicaid reimbursement. Our hospitals are already woefully underpaid for the services they provide and current proposals would cut the level of reimbursement even further, creating a real threat to the health of hospitals and therefore communities throughout the state. The Georgia Chamber strongly supports increased reimbursement for Medicaid and PeachCare and hopes that our leaders will use federal funds received from the stimulus to help close this critical funding gap.
Finally, in this economy, few things are more important than keeping businesses healthy and creating jobs. The Georgia Chamber is working closely with legislators on a number of proposals that would benefit businesses throughout the state, foster job creation and modify certain tax credits to better fit today’s economy. The JOBS Act of 2009 includes tax credits for new employees hired, eliminates the state inventory tax and the state sales tax deposit, and temporarily suspends incorporation filing fees. Changes proposed for the BEST Act include tax credits for higher paying jobs, research and development, imports and exports through Georgia’s ports, and retraining, as well as a mega tax credit for companies who commit to making a significant investment in the state.
These are just a few of the many issues still under consideration as the General Assembly enters its final weeks of work this year, but in my opinion are some of the most important as it pertains to keeping Georgia strong. Our future lies in the hands of the men and women elected to represent us at the state capitol and we are confident they will make the right decisions.
George Israel is president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.