The title of James Salzer's article in Sunday's ajc
"GOP dresses up Legislature in a business suit
" pretty much sums up the legislative session to date.
The following two quotes are from Mr. Salzer's article:
• "New Republican legislatures in the South tend to pass two categories of bills above all: pro-business legislation
, including anti-trial lawyer tort reform, and social issue legislation
," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. "The first category solidifies the GOP-business alliance, and the second pleases social conservatives, who form a third or more of the Republican base today. Georgia has followed this Southern pattern almost perfectly."
• "It used to be that lobbyists had hospitality suites for lawmakers," said Rep. Tom Bordeaux (D-Savannah). "Now it's the other way around."
Mr. Salzer's article also notes that while "[t]he Georgia General Assembly was a low-tax, pro-business body under more than a century of Democratic rule, and many Democrats remain solidly pro-business, . . . Perdue and the Republicans have stepped up the pace . . . ."
Despite the legislation considered or passed to date being pro-business legislation reflecting the GOP-business alliance, there is one piece of legislation for which I feel the GOP I think is taking more than its share of heat.
This is HB 218.
I venture to say that if state House was still under the control of Speaker Tom Murphy as it was from 1974 to 2002, he would support HB 218 just as I support it.
It is a far different bill from the now dead S.B. 5 that deserved its recent public burial.
I stand behind the title of my 2-7-05 post
"HB 218 is not GOP legislation. Rather it is legislation for all Georgians and for economic development in all of Georgia.
In that post I note:
As far as the Other Georgia is concerned, the thrust of HR 218 is that it allows economic development authorities to go into executive session to discuss prospects and the status of negotiations concerning potential prospects so long as such action is part of a "program of economic development."
A "program of economic development
is one established by an agency for the purpose of maintaining, supporting, or expanding the economic or employment base
of the jurisdiction that establishes the program."
It does this by exempting from the Open Meetings Law and the Open Records Law meetings, records and documents that would "[i]dentify or reveal private persons, businesses, any other agency or entities contacted or being solicited by the agency in carrying out the [economic] development functions of the agency."
These exemptions from the sunshine laws are no longer applicable "once the agency, person, business, or entity publicly announces that the entity or business that is the subject of negotiations will be retained, expanded, or located in the jurisdiction or that negotiations to do so have been terminated or abandoned."
The above quotes are from the proposed legislation.
This legislation is not only important to the Other Georgia (as well as Georgia), it is critical.
Have you ever heard of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD)? It recruits businesses, trade partners and tourists to Georgia.
You may still know it as the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism.
I have been the attorney for the Douglas-Coffee County Industrial Authority for many years, and recently, we followed the lead of GDEcD and changed our name to the Douglas-Coffee County Economic Development Authority.
Economic development is a tough game when you live in the Other Georgia. In Douglas and Coffee County we pride ourselves with all of the good fortune we have enjoyed. Such success led Tom Perdue (yeah, that one, as in former Gov. Joe Frank Harris' Chief of Staff, Mac Barber and Sen. Saxby Chambliss) to dub us the "Oasis in the dessert."
Where I am going with this? Recruiting businesses and industry is both an art and a science, and at a minimum it requires patience and discretion.
I once heard the attorney for the development authority is a neighboring city relate has one evening the authority was discussing a prospect. The authority chairman asked that the reporter from the local paper to put his notepad down -- something customary for us in the Other Georgia -- and the authority proceeded to discuss how a large tire factory was considering locating to the area.
The next morning on the front page of the local paper was the headline: "XYZ Tire Co. considering [the Georgia town] for new plant."
That afternoon the authority received the call. All discussions about the company's possible plant location in the area were off.
I urge you to contact your local representative and senator and strongly encourage their support of this needed legislation. As noted above, not only is this legislation important to all of Georgia, for the Other Georgia, it is critical.
(End of above-noted post.)
As you probably know, HB 218 passed overwhelmingly in the House.
And then the onslaught began from the press, the ivory towers and the talking heads of this state. All of this notwithstanding, HB 218 easily was approved by the Senate Economic Development Committee last week, and now is in the Senate Rules Committee.
All of the ink and talk by the press and political pundits about million dollar giveaways by development authorities to industry reminds me of a story that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran last year. Before I share the story, let me make a confession on behalf of my community and authority -- we don't have millions to give away. The same can safely be said about most authorities in the Other Georgia.
The story was in the 5-24-04 edition of the ajc. The headline read: "$19 million in public money spent on Wal-Mart in Georgia
The following are quotes from the article:
"Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer with over $256 billion in sales last year, has received more than $19 million from Georgia governments to build [three retail] stores and [five] distribution centers [in the state] since 1987 . . . .
"Incentives included free land, sewer and water lines, tax rebates, industrial revenue bonds and cash.
"Wal-Mart's biggest Georgia subsidy, $10 million, came in 1987 for building a distribution center in Douglas, in southeast Georgia . . . . The center employs about 1,600 workers."
I couldn't believe what I was reading. The newspaper was saying that my authority gave Wal-Mart a subsidy of $10 million. What was the actual amount? Would you believe $-0-, zip, not one red cent.
I immediately wrote a polite but firm e-mail to the story's author noting:
"This is one of the most inaccurate statements I have read in my 25 years of being involved in industrial development. Wal-Mart did not get any $10 million subsidy from Douglas, Coffee County, or the state of Georgia for locating its distribution center here in Douglas.
"Douglas' competition for this distribution center was Lake City, Florida, and Lake City offered Wal-Mart $1 million in cash and free land. Not only did our industrial authority not give Wal-Mart any $10 million as your story reports or any other amount, it sold Wal-Mart its land. Wal-Mart got income-tax exempt financing through the industrial authority, also known as conduit financing, which Wal-Mart alone is responsible for repaying to the bondholders.
"I am the attorney for the Douglas-Coffee County Industrial Authority, but I am writing this e-mail out of shock and as a private but informed citizen, and not on behalf of the authority. I just happened to see it tonight after a long day at the office, and was aghast at such an inaccurate statement."
By the next morning my authority people were on me like white on rice complaining about the story and requesting that I contact its author. I informed them that I had already done so the prior evening.
The embarrassed reporter e-mailed me back apologizing, and promised to do a follow up story noting the error (a story that was never done).
Our authority in Douglas has never given away land to attract industry, but this is not to say those authorities in Georgia that have done so have have done something sinister. The reason our authority has not is that it has not had to do. If it ever becomes necessary to cinch a big deal providing valuable jobs, I do not think it would hesitate.
The irony of the ajc's story is that while my authority never offered Wal-Mart any land or cash incentives to locate its distribution center here in Douglas, our competition (as noted in my e-mail to the reporter) Lake City, Florida, offered both, free land and $1 million in cash, if it would locate the distribution center near the intersection of I-10 and I-75.
And also as noted, we sold Wal-Mart the 150 acres on which it put its distribution center. Although I did not elaborate in my e-mail to the ajc reporter, actually we sold the land to Wal-Mart for a $75,000 profit, and with the profit from such sale put in a deceleration lane, something the authority did on its own and not as a requirement of getting Wal-Mart.
When we first sought to have Wal-Mart put its distribution center in Douglas (this was its first in the southeastern United States), Wal-Mart told our authority that it need not apply if our community was not located on an interstate.
Undeterred, we applied anyway, informing Wal-Mart officials that while Douglas is not on an interstate, it is within an hour's striking distance of four interstates: I-16 to the north; I-95 to the east; I-10 to the south; and I-75 to the west.
Did Wal-Mart get any incentives from locating in Douglas and Coffee County? Besides tax-exempt financing (meaning the bondholders pay no income taxes on the interest from the Wal-Mart bonds they purchased), the only other thing Wal-Mart received in the way of incentives was that it did not have to pay property taxes on its distribution center for a number of years.
Did this tax abatement cost my city, county and school board money?
It depends on whether you are an optimist and see the doughnut or a pessimist and see the hole.
Prior to the distribution center locating on the 150 acres of land on which it built its distribution, the total city and county taxes on such land were $2,465.09.
Shortly after Wal-Mart Distribution Center arrived, our county began receiving some $300,000 a year in tag sales for Wal-Mart tractors and trailers until the Congress changed the law to allow Wal-Mart to purchase its tags in Arkansas.
And a couple of years after building the original part of the distribution center, Wal-Mart needed to do a major expansion, and because of federal tax law, this expansion could not be done with income tax-exempt bonds. Since the expansion did not get authority conduit financing, the expansion immediately went on the tax rolls.
Since such expansion until now Wal-Mart has been one of our county's large taxpayers, paying around $750,000 in property taxes each and every year for our city, county and schools.
And the foregoing two factors do not include the benefit to this area from all of the good jobs that the distribution center brought to our community, resulting in many homes being constructed that changed land from being taxed as unimproved to improved with nice residences that its well paid drivers built.
I have contacted many of our state senators asking that they please consider the importance of HB 218 to the ability of our development authorities in the Other Georgia to be able to continue competing in our never ceasing attempts to attract industry.
Based on negative publicity that the press has written about this bill, many of our senators are under a lot of public scrunity on this bill. They are receiving e-mails and letters from folks who are writing the senators as their local editor has suggested, insisting that they vote "no" to this legislation that has as its sole mission attacting jobs.
And on the flip side, their local chambers of commerce and development authorities have quietly made and continue to make the case that this legislation is important, very important.
And to further complicate matters, this pending legislation is unfairly being portrayed as GOP legislation. The Georgia Department of Economic Development people who have been testifying for passage are not doing so as Republicans or as any part of a GOP agenda.
I know these people. I work with them on a monthly basis. They see this bill as I do, as being legislation needed to continue bringing jobs and economic development to Georgia that benefits all Georgians.