Israel sounds alarm on Ga.’s future business challenges

George Israel painted a picture Wednesday of some of the challenges facing Georgia businesses within the next few years, and it wasn’t rosy.

Israel, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, was in Macon to address the Downtown Rotary Club’s meeting.

In addition to the nation’s current economic woes, Georgia is facing challenges at the state, regional and federal levels, said Israel, who served as Macon’s mayor from 1979-87.

“The economy has had an impact on almost every company, every business in the state,” he told the crowd.

Among the elements hitting Georgia businesses and industries now:

Ÿ Reduced consumer buying power.

Ÿ A tighter credit market.

Ÿ The rising costs of employee health care.

Ÿ A rising tax burden.

Ÿ Rising costs of materials and energy.

The state also was hurt last week when a judge ruled against Georgia in its water disputes with Florida and Alabama about Lake Lanier, a major source of drinking water for Atlanta, Israel said.

“Any withdrawals from Lake Lanier must stop in three years,” he said. “It’s going to have a Draconian effect.”

Israel said the chamber, as well as Georgia lawmakers, are hard at work trying to appeal the decision. They are looking at border issues with Alabama that date back to 1859 that may force Alabama Gov. Bob Riley back to the negotiating table, he said.

Also, depending on the number of communities in all three states affected by the ruling, lawmakers may get Congress to intervene on the matter.

However, Congress is mulling bills right now that Israel believes will be harmful to business in the state.

One example is enacting the Clean Energy and Security Act that will impose California’s building policies on the rest of the nation, in order to have an impact on the environment.

By doing so, Israel said Wednesday, housing costs will rise 20 percent in the near future and as much as 60 percent by the year 2050.

“It will impose taxes on anything that has (a high) carbon footprint,” he said. “We’ll have higher electric bills, higher gas.”

The bill is designed to induce states to use alternative forms of energy, but Israel said solar and wind power are unavailable in most parts of the state, and the bill doesn’t allow for nuclear power to be considered “alternative.”

Other environmental elements in the bill also will handcuff American businesses, Israel said, carrying restrictions that countries such as India and China won’t face.

Israel also was critical of President Obama’s health-care plan now working its way through Congress.

“It’s not just concerns, but what they are advocating,” said Israel, who penned an editorial on the subject that appeared in The Telegraph and other publications across the state in recent days.

Israel said he favors free-market solutions such as health-care savings accounts.

“Congress doesn’t like it because they won’t have enough control of your life,” Israel told the audience.

Israel recounted the story of his wife’s uncle, who lived in England, who was having stomach issues. Rather than have colonoscopy in the U.S., the man returned to England where he had to wait months for the same exam.

By the time he got the test, he had colon cancer, and by the time he was able to get surgery for that, it had spread to his liver.

He died on the operating table.

Israel said he’s concerned that Congress is voting on bills so quickly that no one has an opportunity to research them.

“We can’t get copies of the bills to get analysis,” Israel said. “(Congressmen) are voting on stuff without reading the whole thing. I’ve never seen it this out of control.”

In addition to the federal issues, Georgia also must contend with its own budget issues, Israel said, alluding to the state’s $1.6 billion deficit. Israel told the crowd that Gov. Sonny Perdue has worked out cuts of about $900 million, but Israel didn’t know what the cuts were.

Israel also told the crowd of some of the successes the state chamber has had during the past couple of years, such as class action lawsuit reform and a fight with the National Rifle Association about the right to carry guns in parking lots.

“I think an employer needs to have control over his own premises,” Israel said.

The state chamber currently is working with the state’s higher education institutions to improve the preparedness of Georgia’s work force, he said.

Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission who attended Wednesday’s speech, credited Israel and the Georgia chamber with helping businesses across the state.

“They’ve stopped a lot of legislation that would make us not competitive from a business standpoint,” Topping said.

“Georgia has one of the most conducive climates for business among most states. That makes us competitive.”