Job creation is the top priority for the upcoming legislative session, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told the South Hall Rotary Club on Wednesday afternoon.
"This is a challenging time for us, and Gov.-elect (Nathan) Deal is going to face a tough budget cycle," he said to a room of 30 educators and business people.
"Candidly, people are looking for certainty, and I think November was a pathway to end policies that were impeding the process for the state to move forward."
Cagle cracked a few jokes with familiar faces, calling this his "home week" as he visited the South Hall Rotary Club Wednesday and speaks at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues breakfast this morning.
But when the economy and talk about taxes came to the table, Cagle changed his tone to strict seriousness.
"With the runaway costs associated with health care, corporations are holding back capital. There is money on the sidelines, but the circumstances have to change," he said.
"We need to be a business-friendly state and convince businesses that Georgia is the best place to locate."
Tax incentives are the big key for both big and small businesses to get back into gear, Cagle said.
"Government doesn't create jobs, but it sets the right circumstances and environment," he added.
"The corporations who want to locate here and put their capital at risk lead to job creation."
Though the state government has cut back expenses, investment is the true avenue to pulling the economy back on track, he said.
"You cannot cut your way to prosperity. Think about that," he said. "Business is what I know, and in the businesses I've been involved in, you have to grow your way to prosperity. That's the real secret."
With another $1 billion budget hole looming in 2012, Deal's office will also need to address education cuts, the tri-state water issue and transportation with less money than ever before.
"A big aspect there is the HOPE scholarship, where we're going to start hitting our triggers. First, only half of books will be covered, then books will be removed completely and then fees," Cagle said.
"We need to restructure HOPE in a way that it will always be merit-based, which was the original intent. It cannot be an entitlement program, and we can't allow this entitlement mentality to continue to exist in this country."
Despite the change in his job role through the Republican Senate Caucus creation of the Committee on Assignments, Cagle is eager to get started with the legislative session.
"All I can say is, I was elected by a good margin, and our priorities are not going to be stopped," he said.
"I've always felt that greatness is not in a title or position. People come and go, as do egos and motivations. But if we stay focused on serving, that will benefit us all."
Following Tuesday's announcement that his longtime chief of staff Bart Gobeil will now become Deal's deputy chief operating officer, Cagle is hopeful about the relationship between the lieutenant governor and governor offices.
"We're excited about the opportunity Bart brings with institutional knowledge. As Gov.-elect Deal and I travel across the state, people joke that we're going to move the Capitol to Gainesville," he said.
"I thought it would create more of a stir, and I usually tell people he's closer to White County, and I'm closer to Gwinnett County, so we're OK."
As most statewide offices are transitioning around him, Cagle is also enjoying his calm moment as an incumbent.
"It's nice not to have to deal with the complete transition," he said with a laugh.
"We've been able to aid Deal in the process, and I think we're in a good position to help him get the legislative agenda going as he comes into a challenging time with the budget and getting up to full speed."