As the 2009 legislativesession convened last week, we will be addressing issues that are being discussed around kitchen tables throughout the state of Georgia. As Georgians in every corner of our state closely watch their bottom line during this economic downturn, it will also be a tough session for lawmakers as we determine the fate of state programs and projects as we face a budget deficit.
Since state tax revenues are lower than had been projected, we will have to address spending cuts for the last six months of the current fiscal year. Gov. Sonny Perdue has proposed a large program funded on borrowing, but has not detailed how he would spend the money. We are also waiting to see how much President Obama’s stimulus package will affect individual states. Once these two issues are clarified, we will have to roll up our sleeves and determine the most responsible way to proceed.
In regard to taxes, both House and Senate leaders have expressed support for plans to cap property taxes, although the details have not been agreed upon. We recognize that any tax relief would be welcomed by the citizens of Georgia, but we must be diligent so that any such legislation does not get drowned by dissenting legislators in a myriad of party-line details.
Roads and transportation will also be a major issue this session. As the more populous cities in the state experience an increase in traffic congestion, and as rural areas desire roads to entice employers, at the same time environmental groups want a mass transit system. All three interests are being represented as business groups and environmentalists are jointly lobbying for a constitutional amendment that would allow a group of counties to impose a regional sales tax to support transportation projects. The proposal would have to be passed by voters in the 2010 general election, so there is time for us to carefully consider all of the ramifications.
Trauma care is an issue that lawmakers have wrestled with for years and one that will likely be another top priority. Because there is a dire need for a dedicated funding source for a statewide network of facilities to provide advanced trauma care, including specialized equipment, air transportation for patients, and physicians, this is a cause for legitimate concern. Without a solution, there is a concern that trauma centers could be forced to close amid recent operating losses in the millions of dollars. Because of the dire need coupled with a suffering economy, this will undoubtedly be a hot-button topic again this year.
The Savannah Port continues to create jobs and bring in significant revenue for the state, and because of this the harbor deepening project that the Georgia Ports Authority hopes to partially fund with money from the state will more than likely be approved. The port wants to deepen the harbor from 42 feet to 48 feet to allow for larger vessels. Due to the budget crisis, it is more than likely that bonds will be issued to pay for this construction project. It is most likely that a final review of this project will take place later this year.
Georgia’s deepwater ports and inland barge terminals support more than 286,000 jobs throughout the state and contribute $14.9 billion in income and almost $3 billion in state and local taxes.