Georgia governor addresses tax exemptions, Savannah River deepening



ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal proposed Tuesday to expand tax breaks to small businesses and large developments to spur job growth.

He also announced he will recommend another $47 million in bond borrowing for the deepening of the shipping channel in the Savannah River while continuing to lobby Washington for federal funding. The new money would bring $136 million in state funding toward the $600 million project.

“A completed harbor expansion means a more competitive Georgia, offering customers greater value,” he said in a speech at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast. “I can assure you that we are doing everything in our power to see this project through to completion.”

He also announced the ideas he is taking from the Competitiveness Initiative he launched at last year’s chamber breakfast. That was a yearlong series of hearings around the state to gather ideas from businesspeople.

He is proposing the elimination of the sales tax on energy used by factories, an idea that has been discussed in recent years.

Two other proposals are new. One would exempt large developments from sales tax on construction materials. He also wants to extend to small businesses a tax credit for the creation of 50 jobs. He’ll lower that threshold to just 15 new hires.

“This will reshape the landscape in Georgia for small-business owners,” he said. “Most companies now listed in the S&P 500 began with 50 or fewer employees.”

He also said he is asking for $46 million in bond funding to help local communities build reservoirs to augment their supply of drinking water.

Reaction to Deal’s proposals was mixed. House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams said she had no opposition to the tax breaks he proposed so long as they didn’t require an increase on individuals or drastic budget cuts.

“The question isn’t, ‘Should we do it?’ but, ‘How do we pay for it?’ So we’re looking forward to seeing the governor’s proposal, understanding the numbers and making certain that, in order to help manufacturing, we don’t put a heavier burden on families,” said Abrams, D-Atlanta.

Her Senate counterpart, Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, said Deal should have focused more on health care and education in his speech.

“I was disappointed that he didn’t bring up more that affects strong families,” he said.

On the other hand, Republican leaders were uniformly enthusiastic.

Rep. Ron Stephens, the chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, said cutting the energy tax for factories would make the state more competitive with its neighbors in seeking industry.

“That’s probably the biggest step we could possibly take to not only bring jobs but keep our manufacturing jobs,” said Stephens, R-Savannah.