Local News

6/6/2012

Business backers push new sales tax

By GORDON JACKSON

The Brunswick News

The president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce says his organization typically opposes new taxes, but that's not the case with the Transportation Investment Act that will go before voters statewide July 31.

Chris Clark, guest speaker at a regional Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday at King and Prince Golf & Beach Resort on St. Simons Island, explained the role his organization has played in helping state lawmakers create legislation he says will position the state to compete for new businesses.

He urged the audience to support the 1 percent sales tax for transportation programs as crucial to the state's economy. Clark said approval of the tax is important because the state ranks 49th in money spent on roads.

"We're out there. We're supporting it," he said. "Quite frankly, there is no Plan B. This is what we have to do for economic development."

Glynn County is grouped into a region with nine other coastal counties - McIntosh, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Bulloch, Bryan, Liberty, Long and Screven - for voting and projects. A simple majority in all 10 coastal counties is needed to pass the tax for the entire region.

No county can opt out of paying the tax, if it is approved in its region, even if its residents vote against it.

Supporters of the tax estimate it would annually generate $3.15 million for Glynn County and $650,000 for Brunswick for 10 years.

Any of the 12 regions in the state that reject the referendum will be at a competitive disadvantage with other areas of Georgia, Clark said.

Funds generated will go to develop and maintain transportation projects. "You've got to have these roads," Clark said. "Those who don't will be struggling to compete with other regions that pass (the tax)."

Clark said good roads are especially important in the region because of the ports in Brunswick and Savannah. If roads are not in good condition, it could jeopardize business at the ports.

"Practically every major road in this region has an improvement (if the tax passes)," he said.

Clark said he is confident the referendum will be approved across the state if voters are motivated to turn out at the polls. "I'm going to be optimistic about it the next 62 days," he said. "It will all come down to turnout. We've got to get the message out."

"We know we can be a better partner with the General Assembly by providing good data to address problems," he said.

State Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, joined Sen. William Ligon, R-Waverly, in May in questioning the constitutionality of the act that created the tax vote. But after the chamber event, he said he was impressed with Clark's speech.

"I think they get it now," he said. "I did find it reassuring."

Ron Sadowski, chairman of Glynn County Republican Party, said none of the party members was notified Clark would be in town to urge support for the tax. "We're opposed to it," he said. "We will be actively campaigning against it."

Clark also discussed the chamber's role in helping state legislators draft tax law changes, remove an energy tax on businesses over the next four years, revive a state sales tax holiday and create a court to resolve tax disputes.

Chamber officials also convinced the state to offer incentives so Georgia can compete with other states to lure new business and reduce the time-consuming permit process for businesses.

A new emphasis on technical education will help create a trained workforce that will encourage new businesses to move to the state, Clark said.