The economy was the common theme at Thursday morning's Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues breakfast where participants discussed balancing the state budget and creating jobs.
After a brief welcome from Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and announcement that Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell is switching to the Republican Party, Hall County's state legislative delegation turned to the ongoing economic upheaval at hand.
"There is no question that these are very challenging times," said Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. "This great challenge affords us an opportunity ... and I believe without a doubt that greatness is in store if we stay focused on the fundamentals and allow the engines to get cranking and moving at a fast pace."
Echoing remarks he made to the South Hall Rotary Club on Wednesday, Cagle pointed to tax incentives for businesses as the secret ingredient, noting that education, transportation and water issues will also be part of improving the economy.
Chamber President Kit Dunlap presented questions from the audience to Sen. Butch Miller, and Reps. James Mills, Carl Rogers, Doug Collins and Tommy Benton.
After the breakfast, the group of five spent the day at Lanier Technical College, hearing from 16 area groups during the annual pre-legislative conference.
Representatives of Northeast Georgia Health Systems, Hall County Schools, Gainesville City Schools, the chamber, Hall County Board of Commissioners, Gainesville City Council, the courts, Tax Assessor's Office and colleges expressed their concerns about ongoing budget cuts.
"The budget is bad, bad, bad, but I believe we're getting better," Collins said at the breakfast meeting. "Georgia has to have a balanced budget ... and economic times are coming along with the sales tax, but is it still going to be easy? No."
As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Mills noted that 25 of 27 months between May 2008 to March 2010 were negative for state revenue. In the past five months, the state has seen a small uptick.
"The governor's economic advisers are seeing a 5 or 6 percent growth, and if that continues on a regular basis, that will fill a little bit of the hole but not all," he said. "We're still $1.5 billion off, so we have tough decision to make. Seven agencies make up 90 percent of the budget, and education is 50 percent. So as much as we want to support it, it's tough when one chunk takes up 50 percent."
In terms of job creation, the state must create tax incentives for small business, Mills said.
"About 70 percent of job creation comes from small business," he said. "Texas just eliminated the income tax, which created half of its jobs in the past year, and we have a very similar economy ... We have great assets we can incentivize, and we ought to go down that road quickly."