Tuesday saw the Georgia Chamber of Commerce play host at its annual Eggs and Issues breakfast. Chamber and Georgia leaders took to the stage to lay out their visions for the coming year and beyond. The event is another kick-off of sorts for the annual legislative session and it attracts over 2,000 people, including many of the state’s elected officials and business leaders.
The Georgia Chamber’s business being business, nearly every speaker touched on Georgia’s “best state to do business” ranking, presumably by Site Selection magazine but also some others rankers. Presumably the biggest news of the day was the announcement by House Speaker David Ralston (R – 7 Blue Ridge) that he will support legislation this session to create a new transit commission – the Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding – to study using state money for trains and buses and find ways to help make Georgia’s myriad current transit agencies more efficient and interoperable. Ralston notes that this is the time the state needs to be working on these investments. “We need to make hay while the sun is shining.”
Chamber President Chris Clark began the event by noting the Chamber’s plan on refocusing on the state’s rural areas. According to Clark, nearly half of the state’s 159 counties are likely to lose population over the next few years and rural hospitals are in crisis. The Chamber will be opening a new regional in Tifton and forming a committee specifically dedicated to rural issues. Clark also laid out the Chamber’s strategic plan to include combating poverty and improving cybersecurity. The Chamber will also be increasing its political activities, including candidate recruitment, as it gears up for the 2018 election cycle (no rest for the weary).
Governor Nathan Deal also spoke and gave perhaps a preview of the State of the State with a rundown on where Georgia is on many issues. Deal noted that with the economic growth seen these past several years, he will be calling for a 3.6% increase in the budget for FY2018. Deal pointed out however that 83% of the budget is mandated or required spending and, in a room full of wolves looking for their particular budgetary sheep, that only leaves 17% for discretionary spending. When Deal took office, the Rainy Day Fund stood at $116 million. As Deal heads into his final couple years at the helm, the reserve exceeds $2 billion. He hopes to see that number push past $2.5 billion by the time he leaves office.
Deal gave an update on the $11 billion, 10-year transportation plan that he had laid out last year, with several projects underway and others beginning earlier than anticipated. Deal announced construction will begin soon another project aimed at both security and economic development. The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center will be a state-owned facility designed to “promote modernization in cybersecurity technology for both private and public industries. In conjunction with the Department of Defense and NSA, this invaluable resource will put Georgia at the pinnacle of efforts to enhance American cybersecurity in the public and private arenas.”

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