We have reduced the burden on Georgia taxpayers. The Tax Foundation in an article published last month confirms that our state has decreased its state tax collections per capita over the last decade the most of any state in the nation, “collecting 25 percent less in real dollars than it did ten years earlier.” And last year, with tax reform, you lowered that burden again by increasing the deduction for married couples filing a joint return, bringing the total deduction to $7,400, thus virtually abolishing the so-called “marriage tax penalty.”
There is good reason to believe our job base will continue to grow. Employers like to locate in a state that operates its own affairs in a businesslike manner. But it is not only businesses that pay attention to the fact that we have downsized state government and kept our budget balanced while not raising but actually lowering taxes. Others are watching our state operations, as well, like the three major bond rating agencies that have once again awarded a Triple A rating to Georgia. This comes at a time when some states and the federal government have experienced a downgrade in their ratings. This saves us taxpayer money by reducing the interest rate on our state bonds.
The goal I have set for us is to make Georgia the No. 1 place in the country in which to do business. With Commissioner Cummiskey and his superb team at the Department of Economic Development, we are well on our way to achieving our goal. For two years in a row, we have ranked in the top five for business climate by Site Selection Magazine, and we ranked No. 3 for doing business in 2012 by Area Development Magazine.
Our state is blessed to have the busiest airport in the world in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport. This provides us with rapid access to and from about 80 percent of the U.S. population within two hours. It is also one of the reasons certain businesses are coming to our state.
Another asset is the Port of Savannah, the fourth largest container port in the country and the second largest on the East Coast. As you know, we have worked for many years to expand the Savannah Harbor and deepen the channel in order to allow the larger vessels that will soon be coming through the Panama Canal to dock in our state. We are very pleased that last fall we succeeded in getting a positive Record of Decision from the federal government. This is a major milestone on this project.
My budget includes an additional $50 million in the bond package for this project. This will bring our total state contribution to $231 million. That is almost the state’s entire contemplated share of the costs of this project; the remainder of the cost is to be paid by the federal government. While that is a sizable amount of money we expect the benefits to be $5.50 for every dollar spent—Not a bad return on investment!
I will conclude my remarks on a topic that does not require the recitation of statistics, but is one that is recognized in both the public and private domains as a cornerstone of success – that is ethics. We can build the strongest foundations of frugality, efficiency and competitiveness upon which our state government will rest; but if the citizens of Georgia don’t trust us, it will all be in vain, for the vibrations of distrust will crack even the strongest foundations. There will always be those in the media and elsewhere who thrive on sowing the seeds of doubt and distrust and who will never recant their sinister innuendos and malicious accusations even when they are vanquished by Truth. And while you will never silence those voices of discord, nor should you try to do so, you can bolster the confidence of the public that might be tempted to listen to them by simply establishing clear rules under which you and those who deal with you in your capacity as elected officials must operate. If there is to be an expansion of the code of ethical conduct for members of the General Assembly, it should apply equally to all elected officials at the state and local levels.
We have laid our foundations for a strong and successful Georgia—public safety, education, healthcare, economic development and ethics. I look forward to working with each of you this session as we continue to grow Georgia in these most crucial areas. And together, we will run a state rather than its citizens’ lives.
May God give you wisdom in your deliberations, and may he continue to bless this great state of Georgia.