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Where are all the jobs bills?

ATLANTA --- Throughout the campaign in the fall and leading to the current legislative session, politicians from both major parties repeated what voters had told them, that stimulating job creation was the top government priority. So, where are all the jobs bills in the Legislature?

Now that the current session has eclipsed the Crossover Day deadline, no general bills that haven't already passed one chamber can be considered. That means the bills must already be in the pipeline.

There are two exceptions to the deadline, local bills and an uncommon piece of legislation pending in a joint House-Senate committee dealing with tax reform. The tax-reform package is the product of recommendations made by an 11-member council after months of work designed to revamp the tax code into one that encourages job creation.

While the council was working, the legislative leaders took a hands-off approach. The result was a package of recommendations that contain some unpopular proposals. Reinstating the tax on groceries was the most controversial, but it was included to be able to lower personal and corporate income taxes to entice employers to locate in Georgia and add workers.

The grocery tax draws enough protests, but the council also recommended broadening what's subject to sales taxes. That includes veterinary services, Girl Scout cookies and popcorn sold by the Boy Scouts of America, all groups that have bombarded legislators and the public with protests.

Since the recommendations became public, legislative leaders have kept their distance from them. Lately, they've said whatever passes will be minus the most inflammatory proposals, without being specific.

Still, House Ways and Means Chairman Mickey Channell is halting consideration of most tax bills until the reform package is acted on. The House did pass extensions of sales-tax exemptions for Delta Air Lines, Gulfstream Aerospace and Standard-Aero, but just 14 of the 89 bills and seven constitutional amendments assigned to the committee have passed the House.

The leading sponsor is Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, who authored 21 of the tax bills, ranging from exemptions on fuel for cooling refrigerated shipping containers to credits for corporate research. All of them are designed to spark economic development but for one industry at a time.

Stephens' own committee has passed all six of the bills assigned to it, with just one introduced too late for action. None of these bills were the blockbuster jobs creators the politicians promised at the start of the session.

Ironically, delay in acting on the tax-reform recommendations is having a negative effect on job creation. Recently, representatives of the motion-picture industry testified before Stephens' committee that studios have stopped considering Georgia as a site for filming. As long as the reform recommendations are pending, the availability of tax credits they depend on are in doubt.

Even the politicians aren't bragging of job-creation ideas. A review of the headlines on press releases issued by representatives and senators mention issues like the illegal immigration, early voting and zero-based budgeting but no crowing about jobs bills. Gov. Nathan Deal's press releases make no mention of either the introduction or the passage of jobs-solution legislation.

Deal said during the gubernatorial campaign that he had a plan to reduce the corporate income tax as a way to stimulate the economy. The tax reform council included the idea in the package of recommendations, but now that the recommendations are stalled, so is a central plank of Deal's platform.

The governor did announce in January the creation of the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative in which his office, the Department of Economic Development and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce would find the state's best business minds to come up with job-creation ideas. Nothing has been heard about the initiative since.

In his inaugural address, Deal was near the end when he mentioned jobs, and then in terms of the eventual deepening the port of Savannah and as a benefit of a generally well-run state.

Considering how much was said about job creation during the campaign, it's surprising that so little focus has been put on it now.

Walter Jones is the bureau chief for the Morris News Service. He can be reached at, (404) 589-8424 on Twitter at MorrisNews.

Web posted on Thursday, March 24, 2011

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