Moderated by Rick Badie
With the 2014 session of the General Assembly opening on Monday, the House majority leader and its minority leader offer their pre-session assessments of issues facing lawmakers. The economy, job creation and a government that works for all appear to be major issues. To comment, go to: http://blogs.ajc.com/atlanta-forward/
Grow the economy
By Larry O’Neal
Last year, I traveled all across the state to visit with members of the Georgia House of Representatives and meet with thousands of Georgians. I heard the same message over and over again: People want their Legislature to focus on creating jobs and doing whatever possible to grow the economy. While the government does not create jobs, as state policymakers, we have a responsibility to foster an economic environment conducive to job growth.
Through the historic difficulties of the recent global economic downturn, Georgia did just that. The economy is steadily improving. State revenue collections are up. The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since the height of the Great Recession, and 2013 was a banner year for private sector jobs creation.
We are also one of only nine states in the nation to maintain our AAA bond ratings from all three credit rating agencies throughout the economic downturn. This sends a signal of exemplary stability to help attract business interest and undergird the confidence of existing Georgia businesses. In fact, Georgia was recently named the No. 1 state in the nation for business by Site Selection Magazine.
We adopted tax-reform measures in the General Assembly that made Georgia more economically competitive and family focused for rapid recovery. We removed the sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, which helped bring companies like Baxter International and Caterpillar to Georgia. In 2013, we saw 389 company expansions or location announcements, resulting in 31,656 new jobs and more than $6 billion in investments.
We also substantially removed the “marriage penalty” in our tax code, so the state now treats married people equally with all citizens. Our tax policy is taking this state in the right direction. We’ll continue to adopt and implement policies like these in the coming years that keep our economy growing.
As we head into the 2014 legislative session, House Republicans are focused on the one responsibility the state Constitution binds the General Assembly to fulfill each year. Unlike Congress, we are required to balance the budget every legislative session. That is something we will do again this year and without raising taxes on Georgians.
Our record in the General Assembly and, particularly, in the Georgia House of Representatives is built on stable, conservative leadership. We are laser-focused again this year on job creation and measures that positively impact the lives of our citizens, particularly our young people. Our tried-and-true policies are working. Recent success is evidence of that.
In 2014, we will work to build on these achievements and do everything we can to ensure Georgia remains a great state to raise families and build businesses.
Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, is House Majority Leader for the Georgia Legislature.
Government must work for all
By Stacey Y. Abrams
The House Democratic Caucus approaches each legislative session with the mission to increase economic security, educational opportunity and shared responsibility for Georgians. Our 2014 legislative agenda will continue to push for common-sense solutions that are straightforward and can change the lives of families.
In 2013, several of our ideas either passed on their own or were incorporated into other bills, including the successful change to the HOPE grant for technical colleges and the return of more local control to rural areas to support tourism.
In 2014, we will highlight making technical college more affordable, protecting taxpayer investment, helping the unemployed get back on their feet and fixing government so it works for everyone, from the ballot box to the Capitol.
Economic security demands that we give working families the tools to rebuild their lives. With the Self-Employment Act, we will ask the state to allow those who receive unemployment benefits to start new businesses without immediately losing support. Entrepreneurs transitioning from unemployment to job creation will be required to meet high criteria and learn how to start their companies. Several other states have done the same; Georgia should join them.
The Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda, a non-partisan demand for transparency and accountability, targets how the government spends money to outsource jobs. Among these initiatives, we will seek to expand open records and meetings obligations to require any company being paid with tax dollars to be subject to the same rules as the governmental entity they replace, and to require cost savings before we pay more for less service.
Educational opportunity must be available for every child and every person seeking a better path forward. Rep. Stacey Evans has led our charge to support technical college students. This year, we will ask the General Assembly to recognize how critical the HOPE grant is to students by giving full tuition coverage. Also, we will continue to seek laws to protect our most vulnerable children from the dangers of cyberbullying, protections that must extend beyond campuses.
Shared responsibility means government must work for everyone, beginning with fundamental voting rights. As part of a national objective to make democracy more accessible, we are asking Georgia to adopt Permanent Portable Registration and Online Voter Registration.
With Permanent Portable Registration, as long as you are a Georgia voter who has proven both identification and citizenship, there is no reason that moving from Gwinnett County to Newton should disqualify you from voting in local elections. States across the country have solved this problem, and Georgia should be on the list. Likewise, areas as conservative as Maricopa County, Ariz., have allowed online voter registration.
The House Democratic Caucus believes we should cooperate where we can, compete where we should and always hold public officials accountable. If we can do that, Georgia will be a better place.
Stacey Y. Abrams, D-Atlanta, is House Minority Leader for the Georgia Legislature.