Spending will shrink, Deal tells farm group

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JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. --- Gov.-elect Nathan Deal told farmers Monday that state spending must be trimmed because of weak tax collections, although an advisory commission will recommend keeping tax exemptions considered critical by agriculture.

Deal was the keynote speaker at the 72nd annual convention of the Georgia Farm Bureau, a powerful lobbying group in a state where agriculture is the largest economic sector.

The appearance demonstrated some of the economic challenges Deal's administration could face as it balances efforts to cut spending against interest groups' demands.

During his speech, Deal said that government spending needs to shrink to reflect an economy that has left nearly 10 percent of residents unemployed and driven down tax revenue.

"Republican rhetoric has a great opportunity to be put into practice," Deal said. "We believe in smaller government and less spending. Guess what? We got lower revenue, there's going to be smaller spending. And when you have less spending, you're going to have smaller government. "

The Republican said his transition team was looking to eliminate duplicated state government functions and other waste.

He said the examination would not be complete by the time he takes office next month and would continue during his new administration.

Deal did not announce any specific budget plans during his remarks. He would not take questions from reporters before leaving.

Some farmers in the crowd nodded in agreement as Deal described his support for spending cuts -- but they don't want their funding cut.

"I'm always for less spending," said Stanley London, who raises cows. "I think government spending is way too big."

The agriculture sector -- like many economic interests across Georgia -- benefits from its own slice of government support. For example, London said he wanted the state government to continue supporting 4-H programs for future farmers, even if it had to be done with a smaller staff, and cut taxes on diesel fuel.

The farmers won a victory Monday when the head of a commission tasked with overhauling Georgia's tax code promised it would recommend keeping tax breaks for agriculture.

Commission Chairman A.D. Frazier said the panel's final report, due before lawmakers return in January, will support keeping sales tax exemptions on livestock feed, seed, fertilizer, chemicals and farm equipment. He also said it would recommend exempting energy costs. He did not offer additional details. Some farming energy uses are not taxed, while others are.

"Of all the things you don't want to do, it's to ruin your largest industry," Frazier told the farmers, who applauded his remarks.

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