It has almost been six months since the General Assembly adjourned from the 2018 Legislative Session, and so many new pieces of legislation are in the making. There is a lot to look forward to in the months to come, as we gear up for another successful session. That being said, I want to reflect on some of the major highlights in Georgia over the past eight years. We are continuing on an upward path of building a greater, stronger Georgia, but I want to remind you of the great and strong Georgia that we have already worked so hard to become.
This year, Georgia was named the number one state in which to do business for the fifth consecutive year. We have seen growth across the board in many different industries, especially the film industry. More and more companies are relocating to Georgia every day, and our native Georgia companies are continuing to expand and thrive in our state.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, our unemployment rate has dropped from 4.6 to 3.9 percent just from July of 2017 to July of 2018. But if we look even further back, from January 2010, the United States Department of Labor reported Georgia’s unemployment rate at 10.5 percent. There is no question that we have a strong economy, but these statistics really put into perspective just how far Georgia has come.
Coinciding with our healthy economy, the State of Georgia has just over $2.7 billion in our rainy-day fund, which is a contributing factor to our AAA bond rating. Over these past eight years, the General Assembly has maintained its mission of being fiscally responsible, divvying payments to priorities, and saving in the areas it sees fit. For example, this year, the Assembly was able to fully fund the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula for the first time since the austerity cuts in 2002. This will give our public schools the money they need to ensure that children are receiving the education and attention in the classroom that they need and deserve as well as allocating money to support school safety initiatives.
Another initiative that has been making positive advancements is our criminal justice reform. Georgia’s courts have made significant progress in allowing our criminal justice system to be more efficient and effective. The creation of the state’s Accountability Court System has decreased the number of individuals behind bars while offering alternative sentencing guidelines for at-risk youth and those struggling with mental illness and drug abuse.
Breaking down this year’s budget showed just how strong our systems are across the board in Georgia. With no deficits in our areas of highest interest and concern, receiving enough money to either get them back on their feet, or building on something that has been working thus far, we can ensure security in these systems to continue moving forward and improving upon their status. With such a balanced budget, there is also room for Georgia to help taxpayers. The State’s historic income tax cut (House Bill 918) decreases income tax rates for individuals and businesses from six to 5.75 percent by January 1, 2019, with provisions to cut these rates further to 5.5 percent by 2020.
As I travel to policy conferences around the nation, my counterparts ask how we do it in Georgia. I always respond by referencing these successes. With that being said, I want to commend everyone who played a part over these past several years to get us where we are today. I believe that Georgia is not only the greatest state in which to do business, but also the greatest state in which to live, work, and build community.