Pleas to pass a transportation sales tax were incorporated into discussions about promoting economic development in Georgia during a Thursday breakfast meeting for area business executives.
Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey and state Rep. Ben Harbin both characterized the T-SPLOST as an engine to drive development during the meeting sponsored by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
With the Port of Savannah and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Cummiskey called Georgia the “logistical hub of the Southeast.”
Though Georgia currently leads the Southeast in economic development, Cummiskey warned that other states are closing the gap.
Through tax exemptions and other economic incentives, states like South Carolina and Tennessee are attracting more attention from industries considering expansions.
While more state funding for economic incentives will help, Cummiskey said Georgia also can fend off challenges to its dominance by building upon existing infrastructure such as the port.
“The transportation initiative is completely about jobs. ... If we don’t pass that, we’re going to lose jobs to the states around us,” Cummiskey said.
When a widening project to the Panama Canal concludes next year, Harbin said the Savannah port, the second largest on the East Coast, needs to be ready. That includes better roads to transport goods received from the port.
A regional initiative, the T-SPLOST would impose a penny sales tax for road improvements. The referendum goes to voters next year.
In addition to the T-SPLOST, Harbin said lawmakers can help grow the economy by offering manufacturers tax breaks on energy use and likely will consider such legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January.
By not having to pay taxes on electricity, Harbin said more money can be devoted to expansion and job creation.
“We’re going to have to have this in place to be competitive,” he said.
Cummiskey noted that about 60 percent of his department’s resources are devoted to helping existing industries in Georgia expand operations.
It’s hard to sell Georgia, Cummiskey said, if current employers are looking for cheaper alternatives in other states.