Politics aside for the moment, if that’s possible, the governor made some good points in support of his declaration. For starters, he said, since he took office in January, 2010, “we have eliminated certain programs and consolidated others in order to achieve greater efficiency in the use of taxpayer dollars.” Government payrolls have been cut. He said, “We have reduced the number of state employees by 12,750 from five years ago, which is a drop of 16.5 percent.”
Deal also said, “We have implemented real tax reform, such as eliminating sales tax on energy for manufacturing; we have essentially removed the marriage tax penalty on working Georgia couples; and we have abolished the annual birthday tax on vehicles.” The energy sales tax won’t qualify as real tax reform for some folks, nor will the new vehicle tax, but three cheers for the downtrend in the marriage tax penalty. Likewise, it’s worth noting Georgia’s ranking as one of the “most friendly states” for retirees, by NBC News Today Money, as follows:
“The largest state east of the Mississippi, known for peaches and the Masters Golf Tournament, spares none of its Southern charm on retired residents. In 2012, the exemption on most retirement income jumped to $65,000 per spouse for those 65 and older. Social Security benefits are not taxed at all. Neither are estates or inherited property. Toss in the comfortable climate, access to culture (Atlanta, Savannah), and low state sales tax and Georgia easily maintains its position as a perennial hot spot for aging adults.”
Another good move was proposed by the governor in the wake of tougher academic requirements for HOPE grants in 2011 that knocked more than 11,000 students out of Georgia technical colleges. He wants a “new Zell Miller HOPE Grant” for top students in the technical college system. The grant would “cover 100 percent of tuition for those who maintain a 3.5 grade point average,” Deal said. He also proposed providing $10 million for a one percent interest loan program solely for technical college students. And he recommended the HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant be awarded at 103 percent of last year’s amount. Those would be a shot in the arm for the colleges that turn out Georgia workers.
Also a plus is the repriming of the state’s rainy day fund. It stood at $1.4 billion when the Great Recession hit in 2008 but was about used up when Deal took office in January, 2011, standing at $116 million. By the end of fiscal 2013, the fund totaled more than $717 million. And Deal makes a strong point that rebuilding the reserve must be a priority in every budget “so that we are prepared should Georgia ever again face a sudden downturn.” In addition the fund is key to maintaining the state’s AAA credit rating.
Thus, the governor has proposed. Now, the legislature will dispose.