Thursday, February 25, 2010

By: Brian D. Anderson Sr.
President & CEO
Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce

A Day at the Capitol

Last week the Leadership Dalton-Whitfield Class of 2010 visited the Capitol for its legislative session. Through the hard work of Steve Pound (VP – Human Resources, Hamilton Medical Center) and Phyllis Stephens (VP – Leadership Development, Dalton-Whitfield Chamber), a very productive and informative day was enjoyed by all. And due to the efforts of our hosts, Senator Don Thomas, Rep. Roger Williams, and Tom Dickson who all contributed in making this special visit to the Capitol possible.

Soon after arriving at the Capitol, our local delegation had arranged for briefings from Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, Speaker of the House David Ralston, Senator Jeff Mullis (Chairman, Senate Transportation Committee), and many others. These briefings included individual insight into what each elected official expected the legislature to focus on during the session among other topics. Each allowed the group to ask questions and attempted to answer them candidly and with adequate detail.

Interestingly what captured my attention after hearing from three or four different elected officials was not the legislative topic or issue; it was the tone and tenor of the discord. I am happy to report that the in previous visits under different leadership, you could visibly see the rancor or the divisiveness that permeated the three different branches of state government. Although I am hesitant to laud too much credit on the new speaker, he is the only thing that has changed since the last session. After hearing the Speaker discuss so openly about the goals of the House for this session and his plans for working collaboratively with the Senate and Governor, I came away encouraged that much can be accomplished.

This year’s visit was extra special in that we had a very special guest with us. Carlos Anliker from El Salvador, an exchange student studying at North Georgia College and University and a participant of the Georgia Rotary Student Program, joined the Leadership Dalton-Whitfield delegation. The Dalton Rotary Club sponsors Carlos. After discovering that he has political aspirations in his home country, it seemed appropriate to invite him to join us for such a wonderful VIP visit to our State’s Capitol.

I want to thank this year’s LDW class and the LDW Leadership for allowing Carlos to join us and for welcoming him so graciously. We were even able to get his picture taken with many of our State’s leaders.

I must tell you that it was refreshing to visit this year with someone who was innocent of cynicism and approached the visit with such respect for the process and the freedom that our system represents. As one who visits the Capitol often and gets frustrated by the partisanship, the political gamesmanship, and the basic inability of our elected officials to solve our problems, it was truly refreshing to be with someone who appreciated so much what many of us take for granted. After such a good day at our State’s Capitol, it would not surprise me to one day learn of Carlos’ entry into the political process in El Salvador.

As write this column, our Legislature is on recess working for two solid weeks on the 2010-2011 budget. I do not envy the daunting task before our state elected representatives. Every month, since the beginning of the current fiscal year, has seen a decline in state revenues. At the end of January the state had collected $1.6 billion less this year vs last year. The FY10A budget only assumes a $1.35 billion shortfall. Unless revenue collections grow throughout the balance of the remaining months in the 2010 budget year, the state will end the year with a $235 million deficit.

Given that Medicaid spending and Education drive so much of the state’s budget, the task before our elected officials is extremely difficult. And given that the current budget and the 2010-2011 budget includes Stimulus funding, balancing the state’s budget once those resources are gone will be even more difficult.

One member of the LDW delegation asked Senator Chip Rogers about the possibility of eliminating the corporate income tax (Ohio recently did just that). Surprisingly Sen. Rogers answered that Georgia received very little actual revenues from the Corporate Income Tax in 2009-2010, he was still hesitant to consider that option as a valid possibility for spurring economic development / recruitment of new business for Georgia. It would seem that if revenues are minimal during these times, the elimination of this tax could be the right tool for recruiting new corporate investment in Georgia.

All in all, we had a good “Day at the Capitol.” Once again, Phyllis and her volunteer leaders organized and executed a productive day for this year’s class. Having Carlos from El Salvador certainly added a bonus for me and our group. Again, a big THANK YOU to Sen. Thomas, Rep. Williams, and Rep. Dickson for all of their efforts in coordinating this visit. We wish all of our elected state officials all the best as they work hard for the betterment of Georgia.

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