Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Georgia State Assembly will convene on Tuesday Nov. 13 in a special called session.
Governor Nathan Deal called this session to address the state’s role and responsibility in aiding those affected in Southwest Georgia by Hurricane Michael.
Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston held a special press conference in Blue Ridge on Friday Nov. 9 to address this upcoming session.
“This is a very important session,” Ralston said of the reason for the called session. “I know that we have all been preoccupied with the elections that have been going on, but now that they are over, I think it’s important that we get around in a very concentrated way to helping Southwestern Georgia recover from the almost complete devastation resulting from Hurricane Michael.”
According to the most recent data, state agencies have reported $22 million in damages to state owned properties. These damage estimates have been reported as far north as Cobb County and as far east as Chatham County.
Ralston, who has himself been in person to visit some of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael said of the devastation, “I can tell you it will bring tears to your eyes to see all the houses that have been damaged and destroyed and the damage to our agriculture sector of our economy is just beyond belief.”
As of Oct. 31 it is estimated that $2.461 billion has been lost in the Georgia agricultural sector. This estimate includes crops such as pecans, cotton, and peanuts, as well as general loss in vegetables, poultry, dairy, and timber.
Ralston cited Seminole County, Georgia as having lost 100 percent of their pecan trees. Pecan trees take on average 10 years to fully mature for harvest upon being planted.
In the Seminole County case Ralston said that “generations of work have been set back”.
“I want to commend Governor Deal for making this a priority sooner rather than later,” Ralston said of the urgency in aiding these areas.
Governor Nathan Deal has put out a figure of $270 million in relief efforts. Ralston stressed that this would just be a beginning and by no means a final number.
“It’s going to be way more than that,” Ralston addressed the overall cost. “The total damage is going to be multiple billions, more than any state can do. The federal government and us will partner on many of these programs.”
Currently local governments have been bearing the financial burden of debris removal and clean up. Ralston feels that the money being appropriated will go partially for reimbursement to these local agencies.
The state will focus mainly on fixing infrastructure in the area and help continue the debris removal. They will also look at repairing state assets.
“I’m not expecting that it would have an effect on the mid year budget,” Ralston said speaking of the financial impact on the state. “We’re doing well as a state so we don’t have to touch the rainy day fund.”
Ralston does expect some relief money to be worked into the 2020 Budget when the regualr General Session takes place.
Also being addressed at this special called session is Georgia’s Jet Fuel Tax break. This tax exemption was signed into executive order by Governor Deal after it caused much controversy in the house and senate.
“Under the law the suspension of the jet fuel tax has to be taken up because the suspension was reinstated by executive order,” Ralston explained why this matter would be discussed at the special session, “which means that it must be reviewed at the next regular or special session.”
As for whether this tax break will continue, it remains unknown. “Anytime that we do preferential tax treatment for any entity, then I think the burden is on that entity to make the case for why it is necessary, why it’s good for the overall economy in this state.”
Ralston added, “To be candid with you, I haven’t heard that case made yet.”
***All photos courtesy of www.house.ga.gov***
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