Transportation and attracting industry and jobs were among the topics discussed by State Senator John Kennedy and State Representative Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. at the Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Luncheon. The luncheon was held on August 26 in the Upson Regional Medical Center Community Room and was sponsored by SouthCrest Bank.
Georgia Senator David Perdue had planned to send a representative of his office to the luncheon, but the representative had to cancel at the last minute, leaving Kennedy and Caldwell to answer questions at the luncheon. After each gave an update of what went on during the last General Assembly, moderator Ryan Tucker of United Bank asked them several questions.
The first question dealt with the Clean Water Act, which was scheduled to take effect on August 28. Sen. Kenney called it “one of the biggest power grabs by the federal government” of anything seen in a while.
“This stems from the 1972 Clean Water Act,” Kennedy said. “Its language said the EPA controlled the ‘navigable’ waterways, meaning bodies of water big enough to allow boat traffic. With the present administration and EPA wanting to broaden its authority, they proposed different language which would allow the EPA to control just about everything, including a little ditch or pond.
“This is a great concern to farmers and those in the agricultural community,” the senator added, “and that is a big factor in our state’s economy. It gets down to not only what farmers would need to do on a daily basis, but it will also affect the price of land.”
Rep. Caldwell used his own property as an example of what the Clean Water Act will cover.
“We have a little pond on our property that, if there is enough water, flows into a little creek that eventually flows into Potato Creek. My little pond is covered. EPA can come in a regulate it,” Caldwell said. “Where we are currently living, we’ve got a little ditch running across the front of our yard. The only water that goes into that ditch is rain water. That eventually will run down the road to a little culvert and eventually will go into the Flint River. If it eventually flows into a stream, regardless of the size, it is covered. We need to do everything we can to get this thing stopped, and hopefully it will be.”
The second question dealt with House Bill 170, the Transportation Funding Act, and wanted the elected officials best guesses on how the funds will be dispersed among the 159 counties.
Sen. Kennedy said that the funds will be dispersed in two ways.
“How it will be spent is based on two processes,” he said. “First, state law requires the Georgia Department of Transportation to implement a process to balance the transportation funding expenditures by Congressional districts, so there is supposed to be a fair allocation around the state. The other way money comes down the pipe is through the LMIG grant funds, which are distributed by a formula which includes population and road miles.”
Rep. Caldwell added that counties can now join together to do TSPLOSTs.
“This bill also allows your local governments, if they want to, to join with another county and do their own SPLOST. Several years ago they had the statewide TSPLOST, and it just got killed everywhere except in Upson County. In this bill, it was put back in so if Upson and Pike and Lamar decided we wanted to do something on Highway 36 or Highway 74, if they got together as a two or three-county group and said they wanted to fund it themselves, and put it out to let their citizens vote for a ¾-cent or ½-cent tax to fund this, they can do that under this bill. Before, it had to all come from the state.”
The next final question dealt with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and asked what assurances Americans will have that middle class jobs will be protected if this trade agreement is approved.
Sen. Kennedy said the agreement is part of the current administration’s overreaching into areas it doesn’t belong.
“Congress has taken some actions recently to limit some of the effects of that trade agreement, but I think the heart of the question goes more to issues with regard to what do those type trade agreements means to those of us in this district? What are we going to do to try to ensure continued economic activity?” asked Kennedy.
“I think we do have to be vigilant and reach out to our Congressmen and our Senators and let them know that is a continued concern. We hear about a lot of great economic boom and things have turned around significantly, but we’ve still got folks right here in our district that are hurting. We have folks in areas that need the help of economic stimulus, and we don’t need to be hampered by trade agreements that will be a problem for that.”
Rep. Caldwell noted that a good thing that could come out of the agreement is the port of Savannah.
“The agreement is good in some respects and bad in others,” he said. “I’ve talked to our senators. One of the concerns is the suppression of wages in this country for both union and non-union workers. A good thing though with it, and particularly with us, is the port in Savannah. Savannah is now the third largest port in the United States and the second largest on the east coast. It imports a great deal of goods. But it is also the largest exporter port in America. So that trade agreement will also have something to do with our exports, not just our imports. So there is some good and some bad, as with most federal issues.”
Scott Blackstock, a member of the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority, asked what the state needs to do to be able to attract some of the high-paying manufacturing jobs that seem to be going to South Carolina with the announcement of Volvo building a new plant there, and Tennessee.
Rep. Caldwell said he disagreed that all the jobs are going to the other Southern states.
“Georgia, by every trade magazine in the United States, for three years was No. 1 in jobs and a place to do business,” Caldwell said. “This year we were No. 2, and finally dropped to No. 3 behind Texas. So I disagree somewhat with the statement that they’re ahead of us.”
He added that South Carolina put itself into a big hole financially with everything it gave to attract Volvo.
“You saw Volvo go to South Carolina. All of that dealt with credits, basically what are you going to give them. Are you going to give them property, or are you going to give them money – in some places they actually give cash – or how much of a tax credit are you going to give them to build here? The plan that we gave to Volvo was huge, folks. It was phenomenal. South Carolina doesn’t have any of these plants and they upped the ante. How they upped the ante was that their governor, without the permission of their state legislature, did it on her own. That’s a fact. They also have not been able to sell their bonds. They right now have a $400 million hole in their budget, most of that having to do with Volvo,” said Caldwell.
“But in trying to answer your question, Scott, most of it comes from two things, in my opinion, and I’ve harped this all my life, depending on what office I’ve held. One, education, and particularly having to do with the technical colleges – where folks learn how to make a living, have a good job and do something. The second thing is these credits that are given, and how are you going to give them.
“Look at what’s being done now in the film industry. Georgia is No. 2 in the film industry in the United States. There are three of these huge sound stages being built in Georgia, and that has to do with tax credits, based on the number of employees they have, and how money they have guaranteed for employee salaries every year. We are now No. 2 in the nation, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the next three or four years if Georgia was No. 1 in the nation, not only for films you see on movies, but we’re already No. 1 in manufacturing these video games you see your children play all the time.”
Sen. Kennedy agreed that competition for manufacturing jobs is intense.
“A little known fact is that the Governor and Economic Development put together the team to get the Volvo plant we’ve been hearing about,” Kennedy said. “They were making weekly trips to Europe to meet with the Volvo folks to try to put it together. They did that for a long time. Fast forward and as Johnnie said, South Carolina just basically promised them the farm to get that site. Our Governor’s Office worked very hard the last few days of that deal. We were disappointed we didn’t get it, but if you look at what South Carolina gave away to get that project, it turned out to be, from an economic development standpoint of the cost to the state versus the long term benefits, it ain’t a great deal.
“Here was the punchline, which nobody knew was coming,” he added. “They told everybody this was a plant that would employ 4,000 people. As soon as the selection was made, the first thing they told South Carolina was that it is going to be 2,000 people. So when they were running all the numbers of the economic benefits that would come to South Carolina, and we were too for Georgia, you’re thinking 4,000 really good paying jobs. Well, it turns out to be 2,000. Then if you look at the site where they’re going to put the plant, and the work they have to do on that site, they have a big hole in their budget. So at some point the competition gets so intense that it doesn’t make sense to give away the farm to get it. But we do have to remain competitive.”
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.