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Belton: Georgia is in good plans
Belton Dave---WEB

I periodically like to update you on where we are as a state. While our federal politics are largely a mess, Georgia is in a very good place compared to our sister states.

For the fourth year in a row, Georgia was named the "Best State in the Nation to do Business In" and Atlanta was just ranked the "Best City in the Nation to Start a Business." We've recently added 600 thousand jobs, nearly doubling the nation in overall job growth and averaging about 100 thousand new jobs every year. (When Governor Kasich of Ohio ran for the Presidency, he bragged about adding 400K jobs.) We've moved from 10th to the eighth largest population in the U.S., meaning we’ll probably gain another Congressional seat in 2020. Our AAA Bond Rating (for 20 years in a row) is second best in the nation, and we were one of only five states to keep a AAA status during the Recession.

Your state government got 20 percent smaller during the past few years. We have very few state workers, 39th lowest in the nation. We're second lowest in the nation in per capita spending, third best in state debt, and fourth lowest in collections per capita. Florida’s and Texas’ budget are four times larger than Georgia’s with only twice as many people.

Unlike many of our sister states (nine are facing shortfalls and 13 are barely treading water) Georgia's revenue is actually growing (4.5 percent this year alone). Fifteen states can’t balance their budget this year, including many with massive deficits like Illinois at $3 billion, California at $2.4 billion, Oregon at $1.8 billion, Massachusetts at $1 billion and Wisconsin at $1 billion. Many other states like Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are shutting down their governments because they’re “suffering chronic mismanagement” as a business reporter recently observed. Georgia, on the other hand, balances its budget every year and has recently saved a “rainy day” fund of almost $2.4 billion.

Georgia’s Lotto is one of the best in the nation, providing $18 billion to education so far. Ranked No. 2 in total per capita sales, 10th lowest administration fees, and 10th lowest advertising costs of any state-run lottery, it provides over $1 billion a year to education. And instead of promising to spend the money on education and then spending it on something else (which is what almost every other state does), Georgia’s Lottery still spends its money exclusively on the HOPE scholarship and Pre-K education.

Agriculture is still our biggest industry at $75 billion a year impact. Georgia is #1 in the nation in blueberries, poultry, peanuts, rye and onions; No. 2 in cotton, cucumbers and watermelon; and No. 3 in bell peppers, peaches and corn. It is simply amazing, but even though farmers only account for 1 percent of our population, their crops support one in every seven jobs. Tourism in Georgia grew 3 percent this year to reach $60 billion a year, and Manufacturing rose 12 percent to $55 billion. The Military is next at $20 billion a year, which is why I am working so hard to protect our bases. But the quickest growing sector is our burgeoning Film Industry at $10 billion. Georgia is now the No. 1 location in the world to make movies: 17 of the last 20 topping grossing films were made here. As the “Hollywood of the South,” Covington and her new Tree Rings Studios are especially well-placed to thrive.

Georgia is spending more money on roads than any other state. This is vital as Atlanta’s biggest strength is its role as a hub of transportation. Savannah is the forth busiest port in the U.S., the ATL is the busiest airport in the world, and Atlanta has the eighth largest economy in the U.S. Atlanta recently grew 26 percent to 5.6 million people because of its ample jobs, low cost of living, and appeal to Millennials. Yet despite that growth, Atlanta's air is cleaner than it was in 2000 and she's using 10 percent less water. Atlanta hosts the third most conferences in America, and Georgia’s energy sources are getting a lot cleaner: natural gas has eclipsed coal has our number one energy source (coal fell from 50 percent to 33 percent), and renewables have risen from 9 to 13 percent.

Despite our flaws, Georgians are blessed to be living in the very best state in the very best nation the world has ever known.