In his State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal looked to the heavens and the travels of legendary explorers to describe Georgia’s voyage through the darkness of the Great Recession and toward brighter days ahead.
It’s an apt metaphor, for the stars can guide us even today. First, it helps to see that there are rising stars, falling stars and all the rest.
Which will Georgia be in 2012 and beyond? Our short-term actions — or inaction — will determine where we land.
Through smart, innovative work, this state and its capital city can once again stand out as beacons that draw productive people and industry.
Or we can remain wedded to old, unproductive ways and continue to struggle.
It’s easy to visualize setting off on a romantic search for new lands and opportunities. Put literally, that means new jobs. What’s more difficult is envisioning the mundane, pre-voyage preparations that make such bold travels possible. Without this prep work, Georgia will remain lashed to the dock, watching other vessels leaning into the wind and passing us by in the race of economic progress.
We’re encouraged that, in recent weeks, Deal has outlined several tactics designed to help speed Georgia’s journey. He has pushed for an end to the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, a move that should help Georgia keep and attract job-producing industries. He has also proposed other changes in state tax credits and exemptions.
Deal has acknowledged, too, that seeding economic success requires government to adequately fulfill essential functions. At the Eggs and Issues breakfast this month, Deal declared, “We must make new investment through the regional transportation referenda in July.”
He went on to say, “We need to reduce congestion in metro Atlanta and remove the drag it places on our economy every time a shipment across town is delayed, and every time a business executive across the nation reads an article discussing how long our commuters spend in traffic.”
The governor has even called for restoring hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding that had been cut from K-12 and college budgets. Deal’s restorative moves won’t nearly make up for more than $1 billion of austerity cuts in recent years, but it’s a refreshing change, a smart investment and tangible proof that state revenues are finally looking up.
Although a sharp pair of budget-trimming scissors is a useful tool in Georgia’s competitive arsenal, we cannot simply cut our way to greatness. Like any successful enterprise, we should use thrift as a way of freeing resources better used elsewhere.
Improving school funding, for example, can help produce graduates who are solid contenders for good-paying jobs. And that will provide added incentive for businesses to expand in, or move to, Georgia.
The tactics Deal has laid out so far aren’t yet enough to constitute a truly comprehensive strategy. But they’re a solid start that we should build on.
It’s up to the Legislature to help fill in our competitive playbook. For example, Georgia still needs comprehensive tax reform to better provide a broad, predictable base to pay for basic services. Politicians love exemptions and tax cuts, but they’re a lot less fond of addressing the revenue side of the ledger. One can’t fully work without the other in benefiting Georgia’s economy.
So let this be the year we decisively address our state’s weaknesses. Doing so will let Georgia outshine our competitors.