It’s a thin gruel. Yet it is far better than the starvation implied in the recent past by others who seemed willing to wait for manna falling from heaven. Let’s be plain: Everything Deal has specifically brought before the General Assembly as his “to do” list regarding improving this state’s economic climate should be approved. This includes:
* Eliminating the state sales tax paid by manufacturers for the energy they use (electricity, natural gas primarily). Realistically, that is only modest encouragement for manufacturers to increase output and/or workers. Moreover, important as it is, manufacturing (like textiles) actually only employs about 10 percent of the state’s workforce. Far more important: Every adjoining state doesn’t have such a levy, meaning the playing field in wooing and winning newcomers simply will be made more equal.
* Erasing the sales tax for construction materials used for “regionally significant” projects.
* Changing the state’s existing tax credits for job creation ($3,500 per position) so they are granted to those adding 15 or more jobs instead of the minimum of 50 now existing.
These “cost nothing” but will take away revenues now flowing into the state treasury to use for all general purposes. Since the state must balance its budget, that means the loss will have to be made up from an unspecified somewhere ... probably about $200 million a year ... or an equal amount in new cuts found (close 20 percent of the prisons?).
The governor has mumbled unofficially about a few taxation things, legislators have blabbered about a lot of possibilities with many of them not likely to create good feelings among the “little people” in what will be a major election year. Nonetheless, none of these Deal proposals can do anything but help.
Also clearly falling into the job-creation realm — or the hope for jobs, anyway — are such Deal proposals as adding $20 million to the “giveaway” fund for large employers promising new or expanded facilities and a continued flow of bonded debt to help deepen the Savannah port.
Similarly Deal has announced a “Go Build Georgia” program (an idea stolen from Alabama) to find/develop skilled tradesmen. Deal is correct that there’s a good living to be had in such fields — electricians, welders, plumbers, machinists and so forth — with many retirements looming (just as with nurses). The governor projects 16,500 such openings in the state this year alone.
It’s also a smoke-and-mirrors effort at present, relying on jawboning instead of any funding.
Appearing to do a little something is far better than doing nothing, of course. However, it is important to recognize that this may do more to increase hope than jobs. In a sense, the ship may have ceased taking on more water and stopped sinking lower but pumping out the bilges and getting it back on an even keel will be a long and slow operation.
Recently the federal bean counters found that of the nation’s more than 300 metropolitan statistical areas, only 23 saw employment rise last year. The projection is that perhaps another 25 will show a gain this year. That’s hardly a “Wow!” outlook.
Speaking in Macon recently, shortly after all Deal’s proposals were launched, the state’s official economic forecaster — Dean Robert Sumichrast of University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business — cautioned: “We might see continued slow growth or technically, we might see patches of recession. Either way, unemployment will remain high.”
In this fiscal year (ending June 30) he said the whole state might see an increase of 20,000 jobs or about 5 percent of the number (about 400,000) it has lost in the past four years. Unless that pace really accelerates it could take 20 years for Georgia to get back to where it recently was. In the interim, of course, hundreds of thousands of today’s children will have been added to a workforce that needs to accommodate them as well. One can’t entirely rely, as Deal partly does, on retirements.
There’s little doubt but that this state has been particularly hard-hit by the downturn. It’s plain that not only is Deal’s cook pot of economic porridge necessary but somebody needs to roll out a whole kettle of the stuff by way on new ideas and proposals.
At the same, it is necessary to avoid the real possibility that the energy tax could go away and, a few months later, Georgia left with this sales pitch: “We’ve just taxed groceries and haircuts, and voters have refused to improve the highway network. Y’all come!”
Whether filling bowls to overflowing with porridge involve the preferred federal model of pump-priming, or the politically favored notion (in this state, at least) of having government get out of the way and let capitalists do their thing, is yet to be determined. It should be determined by all Georgians, of all political persuasions, working together in finding the “best bets” and not opposing anything the others might suggest.
The only thing that can be said for sure is that the many, many who now feel a kinship with Oliver Twist in this state, or even who are more like Mr. Brownlow in the same novel — Oliver’s well-off benefactor who showed compassion and common sense — have a shared interest in the state’s leaders responding to a necessary request:
“I’d like some more, please.”