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Thoughts headed into 2015 legislative session
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Representative Doug Holt did a wonderful job keeping you up to date, writing weekly letters during the legislative session.

I plan to do the same. As the session is about to begin, I’d like to discuss where we are today.

Everyone knows Washington is a mess. You can list a litany of woes as well as I can. But Georgia is in great shape.
Georgia is now the No. 1 state in which to do business. This is not a fluke: we were fourth last year and in the top 10 the last five years. Experts say we have “logistics advantages, cutting-edge workforce training programs, (like Quick Start) and proactive economic developers on the state and local levels who understand business.”

Georgia is fourth in the nation in jobs created. We also have an AAA Bond Rating, making it much less expensive for us to borrow money. Only nine states have that rating, a status that Washington infamously squandered. We also have a balanced budget, and we haven’t raised taxes in many years.

Georgia is growing. In the past few years we’ve passed North Carolina and Michigan to become the eighth most populous state. (The top seven are California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio)
Governor Nathan Deal has implemented sweeping Criminal Justice Reform, saving the state $25M a year. We’re keeping violent offenders and sexual predators in jail and re-educating others at a rapid pace. Taxes are better in Georgia; decreasing per capita burden from 5.9% thirty years ago to 4.7%. And our state government is far leaner after this horrible Recession: we have fewer state employees now than we did in 1999.

Then there’s the Port in Savannah. Already the fourth largest harbor in America, a whopping 352,000 jobs and $67B will be added once we complete our improvements. Many people say, “So what? That’s in Savannah.” But nearly half those jobs will be right here in Atlanta.

Which leads me to transportation.

One of the attractive advantages to Savannah is the two major railroads and two Interstates that bisect that city. The “busiest airport in the world” has made Atlanta a truly International City. But the Recession severely hurt our roads: we haven’t kept up with the population growth and the ones we have are ailing. This is the biggest issue we’ll face this year.

Of course, Georgia has other challenges. We’re sixth in the nation in people in poverty. Our free and reduced lunch rate jumped from 43% to 62% in 12 years. And even though we’ve added 300,000 jobs, the huge influx of people has made our unemployment rate higher than the nation.

But things are looking great for Newton, as we have the unbelievable opportunity of Baxter and others locating here. We also have four brick and mortar universities within our borders: Emory at Oxford, Georgia Piedmont, Troy University and Georgia Perimeter which just merged with Georgia State. With 54,000 students, it will be the largest university system in Georgia, even topping UGA. We also have a brilliant Newton College and Career Academy and the new Bioscience Training Center that is locating here. With Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia as bookends, Newton County is smack dab in the middle of an I-20 Biomed Corridor.

Which leads me to Education.

There is no poverty like ignorance, and in this new global market, Education IS Economic Development.
Georgia has had successes lately, especially in the AP and ACT where we do better than the nation. Our African-Americans do especially well on nationwide tests (we’re third in the nation in the AP.) Our SAT participation rate is ninth best in the nation.

But there is no question we need to be better. Businesses are begging for an educated workforce. In five years Georgia will need 60% of our workers to have post-high school education. Right now we’re at 42%. The good news is that 54% of the Georgia budget is dedicated to education, and Newton has fabulous opportunities that will attract businesses and educate our children.

My priority is Jobs.

We bring them to Newton by attracting quality businesses while protecting our farmers. But the key to all of that is Education. Without learned workers, nothing else follows.

Dave Belton is the newly elected District 112 Georgia Representative. The Morgan and Newton County representative is serving in his first term in Georgia’s House. He is a resident of Morgan County.