More than 2,600 lawmakers and business leaders filled a ballroom at the Georgia World Congress Center Wednesday to hear several top politicians share their perspectives on the state’s economy.
The overall message of the morning was that business is booming in Georgia: from low unemployment rates to more companies expanding their operations across the state. But state officials have difficult decisions to make regarding proposed budget cuts as slowing tax revenues don't match up with larger growth seen elsewhere.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms opened the morning’s proceedings with a message from the Biblical book of Ruth and listed several recent accomplishments for the city, like hosting the Super Bowl last year and hosting the NCAA basketball Final Four games later this year.
“The good work must continue,” Bottoms said. “It's an honor to represent your capital city, and it is an honor to have divine companions in each of you to make sure that Georgia continues to be the absolute best state in the nation.”
Last year, some lawmakers in the Senate pushed through a measure that would have the state take over control of Atlanta’s airport, something Bottoms and other business leaders strongly oppose.
“Mayor, please know that each of us in this room appreciates the critical role that Atlanta and Hartsfield Jackson International Airport play in our state's economy,” Georgia Chamber CEO Chris Clark said as he welcomed Bottoms to the stage. “And we look forward to continuing our work with your administration to ensure an even brighter future for George's capital city and airport.”
One year into his tenure and one day before his annual State of the State address, Gov. Brian Kemp recapped his 2019 accomplishments while previewing some of his priorities for the future.
He mentioned record-low unemployment, the growth of the Georgia ports, and an increase in business expansions happening across the state.
“While these accomplishments are significant, we cannot and will not take our foot off the gas,” Kemp said. “We have made history, but there is more work to be done.”
For 2020, the governor said that includes reforming foster care and adoption laws, continue investment into education initiatives and work cracking down on gangs and human trafficking and passing the state budget.
In September, Kemp ordered state agencies to submit budget cuts of four percent for the amended fiscal year and six percent for the next fiscal year as revenues were forecasted to lag and a potential tax cut is on the horizon.
Speaking about the budget, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) told the audience that he would not set an end date for the legislative session until the budget process was further along.
“I have already cautioned our members however, that one person's waste can be another's vital expenditure,” he said. “And so we will carefully scrutinize this year's budget, bearing in mind, the nearly 11 million Georgians impacted by those numbers.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan formally announced the “Georgia Innovates Task Force” that he teased on Monday. It will be helmed by former Georgia Tech president Bud Peterson and recently-retired Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.
The group will look at four areas: exploring public innovation; education and training; entrepreneurship and start-ups; and rural initiatives.
Sen. David Perdue, a Republican up for re-election this November, extolled the virtues of capitalism and economic prosperity.
“As a matter of fact, in the last 75 years, the United States has enjoyed the greatest era of economic boom in the history of humankind,” he said. “I’m committed to make sure that this free enterprise, free market system that’s a backbone for capitalism and freedom remain strong for our children and our grandchildren.”