Reach across the aisle to compete nationally and globally, officials recently advised.
Using the success of a $1 billion annual transportation funding bill as an example, Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed recently gave advice for U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue to take back to the Beltway.
“You’re always going to be accused of raising taxes, and that scares everybody, no matter what party they’re in. You don’t want to be accused of that,” Deal said.
As an example, the governor pointed to the success of a recent transportation bill providing up to $1 billion annually for road construction and improvement.
“It took a lot of education as to what was going to be achieved, what the results would be, to be able to get the votes,” Deal said about the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, which passed the state Senate 42-12 and the House of Representatives 129-41, with bipartisan approval.
He spoke at the Delta Flight Museum near Hapeville, during the Feb. 27 Atlanta stop on the U.S. chamber’s five-city Let’s Grow tour promoting business growth at local, state and federal levels.
Its purpose, according to a news release, was listening to business owners and policy leaders discuss the ingredients needed for driving growth at the local, state, and federal level.
There is an “ugly gorilla in the corner,” Donohue said, as Congress talks about the federal budget.
“Interest on the debt, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security – that’s 70 percent of the budget. Nobody touches it or watches it. Another four years, maybe five, that’s going to be 80 percent,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons this growth thing has to really be pushed. It will give us at least a chance to deal with our problem.”
Reed said to tell everybody it was OK if efforts take two approaches, as a regional transportation special purpose local option sales tax fell flat the first time around by a two-to-one margin.
“We got whooped. We didn’t complain about it. We went back to the drawing board but fortunately we had a governor who was willing to lead,” he said. “I think that vote around (House Bill) 170 with the governor’s leadership on it is going to be one of the most consequential things to happen in the life of the state.”
Reed said the benefits of bipartisanship include business.
“I think business is rewarding us by voting with their feet,” he said. “Atlanta, in the last 17 months, we’ve had 17 regional U.S. headquarters move into our city.”
He pointed out the nearby Porsche Cars North America site with its Porsche Driver Experience Center, which attracted 40,000 visitors in 2016, calling it the company’s largest investment outside its native Germany.
Reed also cited the recent Renew Atlanta bond for infrastructure and a half-cent MARTA expansion tax, “another thing that would have been impossible without the governor agreeing to allowing us to at least have a vote.”
The mayor said such matters are taking on a life of their own.
“The business community is now determining what the conversation is around transit, as opposed to politicians,” Reed said about the importance of MARTA stops. “That’s not about being Democrat or Republican. That’s about future business.”
Deal also asked Donohue to take a message back to Capitol Hill.
“As Congress and the president consider infrastructure improvement, I don’t want them to come up with a formula that punishes the city of Atlanta for its TSPLOST, that punishes the state of Georgia for our House Bill 170, of putting our money into these improvements,” he said. “‘Oh, there’s a bunch of states that need the money more than Georgia’ – you don’t punish people who do the right thing. That’s the battle we’re going to fight.”
Reed’s message to Washington tracked alongside Deal’s.
“Local governments, state government and county that did the right thing, showed courage and made critical investments should be rewarded under whatever new federal initiative there is,” Reed said. “Georgia should be rewarded.”
Donohue said Georgia gets it right.
“I’m very excited about what you’ve done in the state,” he said. “You guys are all about growth. I’m very impressed with what I’ve learned, beyond what I knew.”
Donohue said earlier in the program that Georgia has confused other states when it came to job numbers.
“They think those jobs went overseas,” he said. “Those jobs didn’t go overseas. They went to Georgia.”
Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia chamber, moderated the discussion, praising Deal and Reed for working together for business.
The other Let’s Grow stops were Phoenix, Arizona; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Chicago, Illinois and Detroit, Michigan.