For my radio program in Atlanta, I am interviewing all the candidates running for governor. The interviews are not intended to be combative, but probative. There are seven candidates running so far. Most of them have low-name identification. It is an opportunity for each of them to describe who they are, why they are running, what their vision for the state is and what sets them apart.
Though I have only interviewed three so far (Brian Kemp, Michael Williams, and Hunter Hill), they, along with the public statements of several of the other candidates, offer up a fairly unified line on a major issue: Amazon. It is interesting to see these candidates running for governor, mostly as Republicans, critical of the position taken by the Republican leaders in the state.
The general consensus is that Georgia should do better to make itself friendly to all business, not just providing special incentives to one business. AsWilliams, a state senator, pointed out, he can tell me what Illinois offered Amazon. He can tell me what New Jersey offered. But he, a sitting member of the state legislature, has no idea what Georgia offered Amazon because there is no transparency.
Hill, also a state senator, points out that states with better, more favorable economic climates have not had to come up with elaborate packages for Amazon. They have sold themselves on their pre-existing business friendly environments. Texas’s proposal amounts to “we’re Texas” with a few extras thrown in to make the People’s Republic of Austin acceptable. Hill also noted that we must boost academics in the state to remain attractive to businesses in the long term.
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On our borders, Tennessee and Florida both have no income tax. South Carolina is lowering its tax rate to become more economically competitive. Georgia is still in the business of setting up special deals for special businesses. Kemp, the Georgia secretary of state, has raised an often ignored aspect to the Amazon deal. Bank of America Plaza is the largest building in Atlanta. It’s the tall brown one that lights up its top pyramid at night. Amazon is asking for enough office space to fill nine of those buildings and they want it in one location.
Should Amazon drop into Atlanta, the city will have a host of infrastructure problems from traffic to water. Other parts of the state will no doubt be asked to fork over taxpayer dollars to help prop up the Amazon deal. When the state ignores the economic development of the rest of the state, it becomes a harder and harder ask to get rural legislators to agree.
Georgia uses taxpayer dollars and breaks on property taxes to lure new businesses to Georgia thinking that once they get here they will stay. The state does nothing in terms of deregulation or tax reform to help existing businesses already here.
The gubernatorial candidates of both parties are raising concerns about Georgia’s competitiveness long term. They are raising concerns about the amounts of money Georgia is willing to hand over to out of state companies while ignoring the needs of existing companies. They are raising concerns about the costs of infrastructure, traffic, and education within the state as these companies do come.
But looking at the current legislative session in Atlanta, there seem to be few serious proposals to address the concerns. Georgia is expected to get a significant increase in tax revenue due to the tax reforms in Washington. Perhaps the state should use that money to cushion the transition to new tax and regulatory policies.
Erick Erickson is host of Atlanta’s Evening News on WSB Radio, Atlanta.