Cobb Chamber of Commerce

Advocacy

Federal Legislative Agenda

The Cobb Chamber’s 2014 Legislative Agenda represents our commitment to creating an improved business climate and quality of life for Cobb County, our region and state.

Our agenda addresses the key concerns of our 5,400 members from 2,500 firms as well as the feedback we received from more than 1,900 residents, business and community leaders during the research phase of Cobb’s Competitive EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy), the community’s public-private economic and community development strategy, led by the Chamber, to generate high-wage job growth in Cobb, Metro Atlanta, and Georgia’s Innovation Crescent regions.

Dobbins Air Reserve Base

We believe Dobbins, ARB is a key asset to our community, region and State as home to the 94th Airlift Wing and 22nd Air Force. With the Clay National Guard Center and Lockheed Martin’s Marietta operations co-located, Dobbins, ARB provides efficient and critical support to our national security interests.

In addition Dobbins, ARB serves as a triage center for disaster victims in the southeast (and beyond) utilizing one of the largest hospital networks in the U.S. The base also provides support to the CDC incident command and deployment of National Stockpile Network for medical counter measures. Recently was used to land specially equipped airplanes transferring Ebola patients from Africa to Emory Hospital.

Dobbins, ARB supports an estimated 20,000 jobs and $1 billion annual economic impact.

Dobbins, ARB quick facts:

  • DOD installation and joint defense facility with 21 tenants
  • Only military facility in Metro Atlanta, 11th largest Metro area in the U.S.
  • Strategically located (accessible to entire southeastern U.S. yet almost hurricane proof)
  • Serving as a “Disaster Planning and Recovery Center” for the southeastern U.S. (CDC, Georgia Department of Public Health, GEMA, FEMA, National Guard, etc.)
  • 10,000 foot runway that can land any aircraft in the world; secure landing site for Air Force One
  • Available hangar and ramp space for new missions and disaster support
  • Ample storage space to provide for permanent and temporary resources (e.g. FEMA)
  • One of the most efficient bases in DOD; privatized utilities on base (Lockheed provides bulk electricity, water, waste water treatment, etc.)
  • Modern Air Traffic Control Tower and supporting infrastructure

The Cobb Chamber and the entire metro region support retaining Dobbins, ARB through any potential or future Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) procedure. We look forward to sharing our story of excellence and seek opportunities to expand the missions at Dobbins.


Transportation

We believe that our future success as a county, region and state depend on our current and future transportation challenges being met and overcome.

  • The Cobb Chamber supports the Federal Government remaining an active partner with the States and local communities, in the investment of funds for highways and public transportation. We encourage Congress to take a lead role to ensure the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund in a manner that promotes economic growth.
  • We thank our Congressional Delegation for its securing increased federal funding of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Cobb is the third largest Metro Atlanta County in amount of cargo value moving through the Savannah port with more than $935 million in cargo value. Funding port expansion is vital to our county, region and state’s future growth. In order to remain competitive and to fully recognize the benefits of expanded free trade, we must also have an efficient surface transportation network to support the enlarged port, which will require significant investments in the Metro Atlanta region.
  • Support alternative modes of transportation to provide solutions for meeting our increasing capacity challenges as our county continues to grow and mature, including efforts that support regional transit connectivity. Further support efforts to ensure the solvency of federal funding mechanisms for transit projects, such as the New Starts program.


Healthcare

We believe healthcare providers’ mission to care for patients is being threatened by repeated ratcheting of Medicare and Medicaid payments for services they provide. Hospitals have already been subjected to more than $122 billion in reductions since 2010 and cannot continue to do more with less. We need your commitment to support the hospitals that serve as economic engines as well as healthcare providers in our community. Further cuts will only cost jobs and limit patients’ access to healthcare.

  • HR 1920, the DSH Reduction Relief Act introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), would eliminate the first two years of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospitals (DSH) programs to allow expansion of health coverage to become more fully realized. Federal DSH payments were designed to help providers who treat a disproportionate number of indigent patients whose numbers will continue to increase in Georgia despite passage of the ACA.
  • Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) working on behalf of the federal government are creating a financial burden on law-abiding healthcare providers. While designed to achieve cost savings in Medicare billing by investigating cases of fraud, RAC investigations instead are being abused. No one questions the need for auditors to identify billing mistakes; however, many of these contractors – paid on a contingency basis - conduct redundant audits that drain time, funding and attention that could more effectively be focused on patient care. We support legislation to allow for legitimate ways to prevent Medicare fraud while limiting frivolous medical record requests and holding RACs responsible when they fail to comply with reasonable program requirements.
  • We appreciate the House passing HR 2575 earlier this year. In order to ease the administrative burden to businesses with 50 or more employees, we support the amendment contained in this legislation redefining the work week back to 40 hours per week. This ACA change will reduce costs to employers and ultimately allow for more jobs to be retained or created.

Energy

We believe an aggressive and coherent energy policy is essential in order for the United States to remain globally competitive, produce quality jobs here at home and improve our energy security. Maintaining a reliable and affordable energy supply in our rapidly growing state is critical to future growth and a high quality of life for residents.

EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan:
President Barack Obama instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year to begin the process of developing greenhouse gas emission-reduction guidelines, and the agency plans to finalize the standards next June. Final guidelines will be considered by states as they develop implementation plans. The proposed guidelines would require those state plans be submitted starting as early as June 2016.

There are significant concerns about the proposed EPA Clean Power Plan and potential impact to utility customers.

The guidelines unfairly penalize the state of Georgia for taking early action in constructing new nuclear power.

  • The proposed plan ignores the significant investment Georgia Power and others are making in Vogtle 3&4 in assessing costs of the rule, yet relies on the CO2 emissions reductions from the new nuclear units in setting Georgia’s limit. As a result, EPA’s proposal forces Georgians to take on significant additional cost to further reduce CO2 emissions rather than recognizing the significant investment the state is already making.
  • If the guidelines are approved as proposed, EPA will succeed in discouraging utilities from pushing to advance technology innovation and development. The message will be clear – it does not pay to plan ahead.

The unreasonably aggressive requirements will prevent Georgia utilities from operating in a manner that minimizes costs to Georgia customers.

  • The assumptions behind each of EPA’s four building blocks are all far too aggressive, evidence that the EPA began with an end in mind rather than following the process mandated by the Clean Air Act. Demand-side energy efficiency is just one example.
  • EPA’s application of cumulative energy efficiency that is 14 times the 2012 levels in Georgia, as proposed in the guidelines, would impose an excessive level of costs on Georgia customers.
  • The demand side energy efficiency levels proposed in the rule could cost Georgia customers $4-5 billion dollars in higher rates, costs that are not factored in to the rule.
  • EPA is effectively making critical resource decisions without undergoing the rigor and verification that occurs through our state integrated resource planning and without regard to the economic impact.
EPA’s guidelines significantly overstep the Agency’s authority in three main ways.
  • EPA must define the best system of emission reduction based on measures that can be taken at the power plant unit, not outside of the power plant fence or inside customers’ homes.
  • State environmental agencies, not EPA, have the authority to set existing source performance standards under the Clean Air Act Section 111(d).
  • Perhaps most importantly, EPA has no authority to set national or state energy policy. Energy regulatory authority rightfully resides with states and public service commissions. These agencies are dedicated to energy planning, understand local customer and economic sensitivities, and are best positioned to make decisions that affect the reliability and affordability of electric service.

We ask for your help influencing the EPA to withdraw and re-propose guidelines that are consistent with the Clean Air Act.

Nuclear:
The state of Georgia is committed to nuclear energy. The four existing units have benefitted Georgia for decades and the completion of the two new units at Plant Vogtle will be an integral part of planning for Georgia’s growth.

  • The construction of Vogtle 3 and 4 is the largest job-producing project in Georgia, employing approximately 5000 people during peak construction and creating 800 full-time, highly skilled and highly paid careers when the plant begins operating. Once complete, the new units will produce enough electricity to power 500,000 Georgia homes and businesses.
Diverse Generation Mix:
Georgia supports a diverse, cost-effective fuel mix for all of our customers. This diversity will benefits the state and is still the best model moving forward. The diverse fuel mix consists of:
  • Nuclear
  • Coal
  • Natural Gas
  • Renewables where cost effective and
  • Energy Efficiency

Solar:

  • Solar needs to be cost competitive when compared to other generation mixes. Additionally, it should be at or below cost of other sources to avoid other customers subsidizing other solar customers.
  • Georgia Power now has one of the largest voluntary solar programs in the country. Combined with solar initiatives of EMCs and cities, Georgia is one of the most aggressive solar states in the country outside RPS states.

Banking and Financial Services

We have taken the time to listen to our banking and financial services professionals and have found they are concerned with the level of regulation, the perceived pace of “regulatory creep”, and the ability of smaller financial institutions to compete with their larger counterparts. Concerns were most pronounced with regard to federal regulation. In particular, the body regulations known collectively as “Dodd Frank”, is seen as imposing a regulatory burden that undermines profitability in the industry. Bankers are also worried that this regulatory burden has reduce their ability to “get capital to the market”, that is, to extend credit to individuals and businesses as needed to support economic activity.

  • The body of regulation that is being drawn from the “Dodd-Frank” bill and the “US Patriot Act” is too burdensome on banks. “Dodd Frank” is a common moniker for the “Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010”.• The development of consumer compliance regulations, including those developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB), are making lending, particularly in the retail arena, less attractive than before. In general, there is concern that the scope of the CFPB, has become too broad.
  • Anti-money laundering regulations, such as the “Know Your Customer” program, are imposing a costly burden upon banks. While executives acknowledge the importance of combating criminal activity, they are concerned that the burden has been shifted disproportionately from law enforcement agencies onto financial institutions.
  • The regulatory burden on the issuance and maintenance of mortgages is making this traditionally important banking activity less desirable. Access to mortgages has traditionally been important to advance both homeownership and the health of the homebuilding industry. Recent regulation of the mortgage process, including financial penalties for technical violations, have made many financial institutions reluctant to offer mortgage products or reluctant to retain mortgages on their balance sheet. Executives encourage federal legislators to support actions that enhance mortgage availability through removing disincentives for banks to create mortgages.
  • The Durbin amendment to Dodd Frank, which restricted swipe fees on credit cards, is equivalent to rent controls in housing markets. It has created distortions in the consumer credit arena.
  • The Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantee program should be altered to allow greater flexibility in its application to lower the administrative cost burden of banks. Executives are generally supportive of the program, but some are concerned about its long-term viability.
  • The rise of the “shadow banking” industry is allowing nonbank financial entities a competitive advantage over their more heavily regulated commercial bank counterparts. These shadow banking entities, once defined as “a diverse set of institutions and markets that, collectively, carry out traditional banking functions - but do so outside, or in ways only loosely linked to, the traditional system of regulated depository institutions”, are generally not bound by the same level of federal regulation as FDIC insured institutions. Examples of such include securitization vehicles, asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) conduits, money market mutual funds, markets for repurchase agreements (repos), investment banks, and mortgage companies. In this vein, there is also concern that the Farm Credit System has been given an unfair competitive advantage over commercial banks with regard to tax treatment and regulatory oversight.
  • Federal regulations need to reflect diversities among financial institutions, particularly with regard to the institution size. Executives argue that “community banks”, typically identified as those with assets below $10 billion, are disproportionately burdened by regulatory oversight as regulatory cost may be spread over a greater number of customers by large banks. In the language of economics, a fixed regulatory burden may give an economy of scale, and thus a competitive advantage, to larger institutions. As such, executives would encourage federal regulators to differentiate compliance burden by institution size.
  • Some executives believe that federal regulators are relying too much upon “guidance”, rather than upon statutory provisions, during examinations. Executives believe that too much reliance upon guidance makes oversight inconsistent and unpredictable, neither of which, are desirable aspects of a regulatory system.
  • Over the past year, there have been discussions about a broad-based tax reform at the federal level. Executives encourage that such efforts should support individual retirement programs (IRA, Roth IRA) that incent private capital accumulation. Such reform efforts should also consider implications for subchapter S financial institutions and their stockholders.

Water Resources

We believe Metro Atlanta and Georgia’s economic future are dependent upon ready access to existing and future water resources.

  • The Cobb Chamber appreciates the work that went into passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Those continued investments in our water infrastructure, are vital to our economy.
  • We believe investments in reservoir construction should be encouraged as well as improvements in water conservation. Neither conservation nor reservoir construction alone can meet the increased water supply needs for northwest Georgia. Investments in water supply and water treatment should receive the appropriate regulatory and financial clearances needed, in a timely manner, to be made economically viable.