State senator says election repercussions huge for Georgia's economy

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District 14 State Senator Bruce Thompson (R, White), didn't mince words at Monday's Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce meeting: in his opinion, if Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams wins today's election, the end result won't just be legislative gridlock under the Gold Dome — "I think it will be chaos."

Indeed, Thompson conjectured the upcoming legislative special session scheduled to convene Nov. 13 is only superficially about the state's response to Hurricane Michael. 

"Could it be to strip away some of the power of the governorship in the event that happens?" he said. "So it might be that you restrict some of those powers and balance a little more and leave it at the foot of the governor that if it goes to a runoff and the result isn't what you want, you institute it. It goes the way you want it to, you veto it."

At the heart of the legislature's trepidations, Thompson said, is the subject of taxation.

"I have zero interest in bringing another software company to the state of Georgia if you're telling me that we're going to go up 13-14 percent on my corporate taxes — why would I do that?" he said. "We've got partners in other states that are more 'business-friendly,' let's just say that."

He asked attendees why they would "radically change" the state's policies after Georgia has been cited as one of the nation's best states to do business for several years. 

"If you do, that's going to cause a different kind of gridlock. It's going to slow things down because it just, by nature, will," he said. "If she gets elected, she, just like any governor, wants to make their mark … just taxes alone, are any of you so independently wealthy you want to pay more in taxes?"

Thompson said he fears an Abrams' governorship would also drastically alter the way the state attracts corporate investments. 

"If a certain party wins, the tax incentives for any development are probably going to go away because they've made it clear that they need to raise taxes so you can't really do incentives," he said. "We have a little over $2 billion in a rainy day fund, we have taxpayers' money right now that could be diligently used to help spur growth, it's a benefit of everyone. I'm not a believer in rewarding companies that are here. I am a believer in being able to bring industry to our state that might then be able to give us a much better return on investment."

On the subject of Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp's accusations that members of the Democratic Party of Georgia have attempted to hack the state's voter registration system, Thompson said such is absolutely possible. But as to whether such is probable, he couldn't say.

"The environment exists where they could be hacking — clearly, I had that legislation last year saying we need to be able to have paper ballots," he said. "Do I really know whether or not the Democrats have hacked in or whether there's been an alteration or not? The reality is, I don't think we know at this point."

If those accusations prove to be true, Thompson said he'll leave it to the courts to figure out the next course of action.

"The judicial system's the one that makes that decision, not me," he said.

Regardless of the political affiliation of Georgia's next governor, Thompson said the General Assembly will almost certainly weigh in on legislation seeking to overhaul the state's elections standards in the next session.

"Our machines and the sacred ability to be able to cast a vote and make sure that vote counts for who you chose is important," he said. "We couldn't get the House to agree, so I had to kill my own bill on the last day because of some things that happened. But I'm telling you, that's going to come back up."

Thompson said another of his failed bills from last year, Senate Bill 315, "should have passed." 

The bill, which would've created a new criminal category relating to unauthorized computer access, was vetoed on May 8. 

The Electronic Freedom Foundation was highly critical of SB 315, referring to it as "misguided" and likely to "severely chill independent researchers' ability to shine light on computer vulnerabilities."

Thompson responded to those in opposition to the bill. "Still, to this day, I have a few individuals who say 'We should be able to do this, we're the guys who find out and research it,' and you know what my answer to it is? Fine, become a nonprofit and do it for free."

He said that bill — in some incarnation — is almost certainly a lock to be reintroduced during the 2019 legislative session.

Thompson also touched upon a local economic development — the abandoned Avatron Park project, the property of which is now being pursued by Jacoby Development, Inc. as the potential site of a mixed-use complex that would include 2,000 residential units and as much as 1 million square feet of retail, commercial and entertainment developments.

"Certainly, the Jacoby [Group] and what they did at Atlantic Station is very interesting to this area. I think it's been no secret that they have a strong interest in here, and I think it's no secret your local officials have done everything that we can in a legal way to make it a cooperative effort if something can come to fruition," he said. "I do think that something will happen there, and I think that when it does, it's going to benefit not only the tax base but it will benefit all the residents and, really, the state of Georgia."

Thompson concluded his presentation by floating a proposal that he said could increase accountability in Georgia's General Assembly — expanding the term limits for state senators.

"Most states have gone to four years, at least, in their senate," he said. "That discussion's been going on for a long period of time, and you might want to at some point look at that. I'm not going to be the guy to introduce it … I'm saying from an investment standpoint of view, you've elected people to serve, do you think two years is your way to be able to check and balance?"