• Tax breaks, fast internet proposed to bolster rural Georgia

    Updated:
    MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. (AP) - A group of state lawmakers have approved sweeping proposals aimed at encouraging people and businesses to move to rural Georgia.

    The group recently voted to support income tax breaks worth up to $6,000 a year, high-speed internet lines in unconnected areas and better health care access, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported .

    High-speed internet is a critical step toward growth in rural areas because without it, businesses and residents might move elsewhere, said state Rep. Patty Bentley, D-Butler.

    "You need access to broadband to make all of it work," Bentley said. "Having access to internet is very critical to attracting industry into your communities."

    Among the key goals is to upgrade the state's sparsely populated regions so that more jobs will be available. It is hoped that this will lessen the economic need for local residents to move to cities.

    Lawmakers say they also want to encourage businesses to relocate to rural areas, and improving internet service, education and health will help accomplish that.

    The recommendations approved by the Georgia House of Representatives Rural Development Council could become a reality if enacted by the General Assembly next year.

    House Speaker David Ralston said the council's initiatives are a high priority as lawmakers try to bolster rural areas of Georgia.

    The efforts are focused on counties losing population and jobs to cities. Of Georgia's 159 counties, 124 of them had less than 5 percent population growth for five straight years.

    "The problems of rural Georgia won't wait. We've got to get to work on them," Ralston said recently, after addressing the council at Georgia's Old Capitol Building in Milledgeville.

    Among the council's recommendations:

    - An income tax deduction worth up to $3,000 a year for anyone who moves to a rural area. The tax break would double in counties that also give real estate property tax discounts for new residents.

    - State funding for internet companies to offer high-speed service in underserved areas. About 16 percent of Georgians lack access to broadband internet.

    - Establishing a Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations, possibly at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, to assist communities in recruiting businesses and identifying growth areas.

    - Eliminating Georgia's Certificate of Need regulation for hospitals in populated areas with many health care options, while keeping rules in effect for rural areas, where hospitals are struggling to survive.

    ___

    Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com

    Next Up: