With Gov. Nathan Deal set to release his budget recommendations and give his final state of the state speech on Thursday, the Georgia General Assembly’s 2018 legislative session agenda is taking shape this week.
After seven years in office, Deal took a victory lap during the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues Breakfast on Wednesday, touting the state’s growth as a business hub and its escape from the recession.
The state’s 4.3 percent unemployment rate, its designation by trade magazine Site Selection as the nation’s top state for business, a growing state savings account and 650,000 new jobs since 2011 — Deal rolled through a list of accomplishments before issuing a challenge to the gubernatorial candidates running this year to replace him.
“To those trying to use our record for their gain, and to those insinuating that our economic potential is not as great as it is, if you begin firing shots, just remember that we have the ammunition,” Deal said. “We have the facts, we have the truth, and we aren’t afraid to use them.”
Along with talking up his own record, Deal talked to the chamber audience about issues and decisions facing lawmakers this year.
Right out of the gate: Amazon.
The internet retail giant owned by Jeff Bezos — now branching out to groceries and media with the purchase of Whole Foods and The Washington Post — announced its plans to open a second headquarters.
The announcement prompted a rush from states and cities lining up to offer tax breaks and incentives to land a piece of the digital age and thousands of highly trained tech workers.
“Rest assured that we have made a strong, highly competitive offer that highlights all that makes us unique and truly the best place for any company to do business — our skilled workforce, our strengthening infrastructure, our business-friendly policies and our connection to the global market,” Deal said.
But the announcement has also prompted hand-wringing from lawmakers and lobbyists worried about laws (especially those dealing with social issues and taxes) that might push Amazon away from their state.
“Until such a time as we are given notice that we are on the short list of candidates, it would be very unwise for this session of the General Assembly to consume valuable time trying to guess what Amazon is going to do,” Deal said. “Such speculation may in fact do us more harm than good.”
Metro Atlanta is among 238 cities and regions in the U.S., Canada and Mexico that submitted proposals last fall for Amazon’s second headquarters and the promise of 50,000 new jobs.
“Let me assure you that if Georgia makes the list of final three contenders for HQ2, I will call a special session so that we can make whatever statutory changes are required to accommodate a business opportunity of this magnitude,” Deal said.
Deal also name-checked criminal justice reform in his Wednesday speech and talked about expansion of rural airports — a transportation piece of a general rural economic development push among lawmakers this year.
Hall lawmakers told The Times before the start of the session that they expected Deal to close his final year in office with a few of his original campaign promises, especially criminal justice, education and economic development.
On Wednesday, Deal asked the chamber audience to get their lawmakers on board with constitutional changes to the court system that would create a business court open to “provide an efficient and dependable forum to litigants in every corner of the state for the resolution of complex matters,” Deal said.
A business court would resolve complex legal questions affecting businesses and corporations in Georgia, but the constitutional amendment requires supermajority support from the General Assembly and popular support through a ballot measure.
Deal ended by checking off his original platform when running for governor — tax relief, education, transportation funding reform, criminal justice reform and the economy — and declared that he would be active in his final session — a period when many executives see their influence wane.
“In short, there is nothin’ lame ’bout this duck,” Deal said.
Deal will deliver his final state of the state speech to lawmakers at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Capitol.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.