Joblessness in Georgia last month fell to its lowest level since May 2009, but don’t expect a drop-off in job-creation proposals under the Gold Dome. There’s little to celebrate about an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.
Tax reform and attracting venture capital to the state are among the efforts to boost employment that have gotten the most ink. If Speaker David Ralston gets his way, another item is about to join them atop the agenda.
“One of the things I’ve heard a lot over the past year,” Ralston told me in an interview Thursday, “is small-business owners who tell me they’re struggling under some of the rules and regulations state government puts on them, and that that is a hindrance to attracting jobs and keeping jobs. …
“I know some of them [regulations] are reasonable and are in the public interest, but some of them are pretty far afield.”
As an example of a reason to keep some regulations, he cited the fish kill last May in the Ogeechee River. A textile mill in Screven County was fined $1 million for violations, including the release of prohibited chemicals into the river, (albeit not without controversy over whether King American Finishing Inc. got off too lightly).
“We’ve got some legislative things that are important to protect us from repeat performances of that kind of tragedy,” Ralston said. “But I want to know if our regulatory system is unduly burdening small businesses.”
Ralston said he personally had heard of several regulations that might warrant scrutiny, affecting efforts ranging from “a guy in North Georgia trying to make yogurt” to “people trying to open bed-and-breakfasts in the mountains.”
But he wants the House’s special committee on small business development to cast a broader net than the anecdotes he’s heard while traveling the state, inviting small-business owners and industry reps to make their cases. The goal will be to recommend not only the repeal of some rules — as soon as this session if possible — but a new “way of testing [prospective regulations] going forward.”
Do not, however, take Ralston’s lack of specificity as a sign this effort takes a low priority. The speaker recalls attending just two committee meetings in the two-plus years since he took the gavel; he intends to be present for this week’s first hearing about regulatory reform.
Listening to Ralston speak, I was struck with a memory from a previous life.
While I was living in Brussels, the Belgian government undertook a de-cluttering of red tape that drew thousands of suggestions from citizens. In four years, the “Kafka committee” — named for the Czech author who wrote powerfully of the powerlessness of the individual against impenetrable bureaucracy — eliminated or simplified more than 200 unnecessarily burdensome laws.
The administrative costs to businesses alone were cut by an estimated 25 percent, some $2.2 billion.
Belgium has a somewhat larger population and economy than Georgia, and I expect the red tape was (and likely remains) much worse over there. Still, if lawmakers could save our businesses even half as much through a similar exercise, it would be one of the largest — and most cost effective — economic development plans they could pass.
So, to Georgia’s lawmakers, let me say something that, with the exceptions of making beer and chocolate, I don’t get to say very often: Do as the Belgians do. Go Kafka.
– By Kyle Wingfield