Support for three local industries that together represent more than 64,000 area jobs tops the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce’s list of priorities for the upcoming session of the state legislature.
To no one’s surprise, the top priority outlined at the Chamber’s annual Eggs and Issues Breakfast Wednesday at the Marriott Savannah Riverfront was funding for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
Gov. Nathan Deal said last week he will seek an additional $50 million in bonds to deepen the harbor, a project green-lighted by the federal government last month. The $50 million would increase committed state funding for the $652 million undertaking to just over $231 million.
“The president’s proposals (for the federal budget) are expected in mid-February, so we’ll be watching that very carefully to see how much he allocates for this project,” said breakfast speaker Trip Tollison, former vice president and chief operating officer for the Chamber.
“You can be sure there will be lots of trips from Savannah and Atlanta to Washington between now and then.”
The Chamber’s second priority is removal of the sunset provision related to sales tax exemptions on general aviation parts.
“That exemption, which expires in July of next year, is a game-changer for Gulfstream Aerospace, which is home to the largest general aviation service center in the country,” said Tollison, who now serves as interim president and CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority.
“If a Gulfstream owner comes in, for example, to replace a $1 million engine or other piece of equipment and realizes the company has to tack a 7 percent sales tax onto the cost of that part, that puts Gulfstream at a disadvantage with the 22 other states that offer the exemption.”
Tourism, the third industry priority, needs more state support in the form of resources and marketing funds, he said.
“Tourism is a huge driver of our economy, yet Georgia ranks fairly low in marketing support,” Tollison said.
Legislators, including state Sen. Buddy Carter and local representatives Ron Stephens, Ann Purcell, Ben Watson and Bob Bryant listened, then offered their support with one major caveat – the budget.
“Our $19.3 million budget has a $400 million gap,” Carter said, noting that cuts are likely in every department.