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GEORGIA FARM BUREAU HOLDS 72nd ANNUAL CONVENTION
Gov.-elect Nathan Deal pledges to work cooperatively with state leaders for betterment of state
Special Council on Tax Reform & Fairness for Georgians Chairman A.D. Frazier says council realizes importance of agriculture to state’s economy, won’t recommend tax changes that would harm industry
MACON, Ga. – Change was a common theme of speeches given by Gov.-elect Nathan Deal, A.D. Frazier, chairman of the Special Council on Tax Reform & Fairness for Georgians and Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall during the organization’s 72nd annual convention on Jekyll Island.
Deal, who is set to become Georgia’s 82nd governor Jan. 10, gave the keynote address of the convention today, speaking to a crowd of about 1,400 farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state who are meeting on Jekyll Island Dec. 5-7. Deal, who represented Georgia’s 9th Congressional District in the U.S. Congress before resigning earlier this year to run for governor, pledged to work with the state constitutional officers and members of the Georgia General Assembly for the betterment of the state.
“I think we have the opportunity to show the public that even though we may be elected to different offices we are responsible to the same constituency and they expect us to work together for their betterment,” Deal said.
Deal, a fiscal conservative, said his transition team is evaluating state government in an effort to eliminate duplication of services and consolidate similar services to save money. Deal said this would be an ongoing process and encouraged those attending the convention to notify his office with their recommendations.
“I believe those of you who are on the ground working every day can give us the best advice as to how you would like to see the state government transition,” Deal said.
Deal said he would also work to eliminate state regulations that hinder new businesses from opening their doors in Georgia once recruited to the state. “It doesn’t do you a whole lot of good to recruit new businesses to your state if you have regulations that prevent them from opening their doors. This is a problem in our state and I want to harmonize economic growth with our regulation process.”
Operating the state on a balanced budget will be a priority, Deal said.
“I think the voters want us to ask the hard questions of government that they have to ask in their farms, in their small businesses and whatever enterprise they’re engaged in, and that is ‘How much revenue do we anticipate we’re going to receive and how do we balance it against the expectations of the outflow of that revenue in providing goods and services to our families and for businesses or our community?’”
Ensuring that children are able to read at an appropriate level by the time they turn eight will be his top priority in education, Deal said.
“Education is the number one expenditure of state government, but we spend an awful lot of money trying to rehabilitate children if they never reach adequate reading levels. I believe we should spend that money on the front end, making sure we make that foundation solid,” Deal said.
Once Georgia children are adequately educated, Deal said it is just as important that there are jobs available in Georgia to keep young people here.
“When we spend this money I think sometimes we loose sight of the fact that we don’t want to send our children to North Carolina or California for jobs because they can’t find jobs right here in Georgia. The number one issue that faces us in Georgia is jobs. I want to make sure when we educate our children that we are a state that will offer them a job opportunity to stay here.”
Deal said Georgia must be willing to adapt to change as the agriculture community has done through the years.
“I know the world is changing for you in the agriculture community whether it’s government policy that pertains to energy or the development of biofuels we anticipate will be a boom to the agriculture income of our state or whether it is other things we haven’t imagined yet, new uses for agriculture products that will make the lives of our citizens better.”
Deal praised Georgia Farm Bureau for the advocacy work the organization does to promote agriculture.
“Your work as an organization brings focus to issues. It causes people to think about what’s important for them and their future and then you bring those issues to the legislative and executive branches of government to try to make sure we work cooperatively with you,” Deal said. “I pledge to you that I intend to do that. I think we have a great future ahead of us.”
Frazier, who is chairing the 11-member tax council created by the Georgia General Assembly during its 2010 session for the purpose of studying Georgia’s tax revenue structure and making recommendations to make the state’s tax structure more modern, simple, fair and business-friendly, said the council realizes the importance of agriculture to Georgia’s economy and will not recommend changes to the state’s tax code that would hurt the industry.
“Of all the things you don’t want to do, you don’t want to ruin your largest industry,” Frazier said. “So, we’re going to try to avoid doing that.”
The council, created by House Bill 1405, was created in response to the state’s ongoing budget crisis. The council’s recommendations are expected to form the basis of legislation that could be offered by a special committee to the General Assembly next year. HB 1405 allows for such legislation to be passed without amendment by an up or down vote.
Citing that Georgia has 47,846 farms and 10 million acres of farmland, Frazier said, “The importance of agriculture in our state cannot be over estimated.”
Taxing farm inputs would significantly affect the bottom line of every farm in Georgia and put many farms in jeopardy, Georgia Farm Bureau members testified during a series of 11 public meetings the tax council held across the state this fall to get public input on Georgia’s tax code. A Georgia State University study shows that in 2006 agriculture sales tax exemptions were less than $58 million. That’s roughly one-half of one percent of all sales tax exemptions in Georgia, which totaled $10.9 billion that year.
“One of the things Georgia has done in the past is to exempt inputs to agriculture production. The message I heard all over the state was don’t mess it up, so we’re not,” Frazier said. “Gov.-elect Deal can speak for himself, but on the plane ride down here we decided we’d recommend to exempt the cost of energy because that was the one thing that we [the tax council] had heard every where that is still missing that we need to correct. We’re not going to give out all of our recommendations here today, but I just wanted to let you know that we heard agriculture’s concerns.”
Under HB 1405, the council must present its recommendations to the Georgia General Assembly by January.
Seven of the council’s 11 positions were designated by statute: one seat is occupied by Gov. Sonny Perdue, a second seat was allocated for Suzanne Sitherwood, the 2010 chairperson of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and a third seat was designated for Gerry Harkins, the 2010 Georgia chairperson of the National Federation of Independent Business. The other seats on the council are held by economists Dr. David Sjoquist of Georgia State University, Dr. Jeffrey Humphreys of the University of Georgia, Dr. Roger Tutterow of Mercer University and Dr. Christine Ries of Georgia Tech. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston appointed Frazier and Macon real estate developer Roy Fickling. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle appointed tax expert Bradford Dickson of Sandy Springs and D.E. “Skeetter” McCorkle of McDuffie County. McCorkle, who is president and CEO of McCorkle Nurseries, which serves more than 1,800 customers in Southeast and Mid-Atlantic States, serves as vice president of the McDuffie County Farm Bureau.
Frazier, who has experience as a commercial banker, board member, lawyer and chief executive, currently serves on the boards of directors of Apache Corp. and MHM Services, Inc. Past board memberships include: chairman and CEO of The Chicago Stock Exchange, chairman of Gold Kist, Inc., and director of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. From 1991 to 1996, Frazier was senior executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. After a 40-year career in executive management of for-profit, not-for-profit and government entities, he is now a partner in Affiance, LLC, a Georgia-based bank consulting firm. He and his wife, Clair, are residents of Mineral Bluff, Ga., and own WACF-FM in Young Harris, Ga.
While delivering his annual address to Georgia Farm Bureau members, GFB President Zippy Duvall acknowledged the reality of change Georgia and its number one industry, agriculture, are set to experience as new state leaders and agency heads take office in the coming year.
“There will be significant changes in Georgia’s government. We will have a new governor, many new agency heads and many new state senators and representatives,” Duvall said. “Since the beginning of our organization, our mission has been to be the voice of Georgia farmers. Georgia Farm Bureau will continue to work to develop relationships with our state leaders so that the concerns of Georgia’s farmers are heard. We must continue to be aggressive in promoting agriculture and addressing issues by contacting legislators and expressing our concerns. No matter what legislative issue Farm Bureau works on, the key to our success is our member involvement. Nobody can speak for a farmer better than a farmer. Farm Bureau is the vehicle that gets you there to speak your concerns.”
Georgia Agriculture Commissioner-elect Gary Black delivered the invocation to open the general session of the Dec. 6 proceedings. Black began his career with Georgia Farm Bureau before serving as president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council for 21 years before stepping down earlier this year to run for office.
Duvall welcomed Black to his new position and thanked Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin for his 42 years of service and for never missing a GFB convention during his years in office.
“While we are saying farewell to Commissioner Irvin, we are pleased to be able to Call Commissioner-elect Gary Black a true friend,” Duvall said. “Gary is certainly no stranger to Farm Bureau. He was the Georgia Farm Bureau Young Farmer coordinator in the early 1980s. We look forward to working with Gary in the days ahead to ensure the future of Georgia agriculture.”
Founded in 1937, the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization. The organization has 158 county chapters. Its volunteer members actively participate in local, district and state activities that promote agriculture awareness to their non-farming neighbors. GFB also has 20 commodity advisory committees that give the organization input on issues pertinent to the major commodities grown in Georgia.