July | August 2017

Finding Balance

by Stacey Abrams
The core obligation of state legislative bodies is the adoption of a budget—a blueprint for the vision and aspirations of the people we serve. Within its line items and the tax policies that fund its revenue streams are clear markers for paths to economic mobility, long-term investments in our business model and real inclusion. While disagreement is par for the course, Democrats and Republicans in Georgia’s legislature have forged a necessary partnership that has sustained an AAA bond rating and improved our ability to steward the state’s economy.
To know what a state values, you need only look at how it collects and spends its residents’ dollars. I grew up in a family with parents who experienced a deeper poverty in their childhoods than I could ever imagine, in a community where families–including ours–often struggled to make ends meet. I know that a few cents extra in sales tax can mean less food on the table or the inability to pay for car repairs, which may mean a day of missed work and possibly a lost job. We have a moral obligation as leaders to leverage smart, thoughtful tax policy to end–rather than perpetuate–generational poverty and economic insecurity.
As the co-founder of NOW Corp., a financial services firm that provides capital to small businesses, I have had the opportunity to help business owners across the country minimize the risk they face when taking on large projects, allowing them to grow fearlessly. Before I became an entrepreneur, I practiced as a tax attorney, steeping myself in the intricacies of public finance and tax policy. In both government and private sectors, I learned first-hand how a state’s economic framework can lift up a business or dash its hopes.
The political right is often chided for a singular focus on the welfare of companies, and the left faces derision for giving primacy to families. Neither position is mutually exclusive, and when legislators refuse to work in partnership to support both business and workers, they risk hurting the entire state.
Successful partnership, however, requires real leadership, commitment and hard work.
Whether for families or the places they work, my philosophy on fiscal and tax policy is straightforward: sensible, broad-based and moderate. With colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I have stood in favor of modernizing our ad valorem tax policy on cars and fought against increasing our sales tax to provide income tax cuts to the wealthy. On every issue, my fundamental obligation is to lead with my values and the numbers.
Anyone who has made a payroll understands the importance of predictability in the state’s fiscal policies, and anyone who has worked in a job knows how much of a difference a change in your taxes can make. Here are a few tips that can help lawmakers find balance, and success, as they pursue both missions.
1. Work Across the Aisle to Find a Mutual Path Forward
The balancing act of creating space for families to thrive and helping businesses increase their bottom line demands vigorous debate. As the minority leader in the Georgia House, our body is first to consider both the budget and tax policies. During my tenure, I have been privileged to work in concert with both Democratic and Republican colleagues to pass thoughtful budgets that have expanded our investments in education, human services and transit. Likewise, we have collaborated on incentive packages to attract new jobs, investment pools to incubate start-ups and changes to the tax code to rein in give-aways.
2. Ask Tough Questions and Listen Earnestly to Find Solutions
To promote good policy or to stymie decisions that would hurt our constituents, I make it my business to ask thoughtful questions of those with whom I may disagree. The best policy is born when you engage the other side, taking time to understand their beliefs and the origin of their values, and authentically respect the validity of their ideals. And I listen—for areas of agreement or spaces for compromise. When I disagree, I must bring to the table more than a rejection of their proposals. Leaders offer alternatives, and most importantly, they invite the public to the conversation.
Tax policy is not simply an ideological or academic issue. For those we serve, it is a matter of survival. Therefore, leaders must work in concert to achieve the delicate interplay between taxation and spending, as both are crucial to achieving our common goals of a financially healthy state.
3. Seek Outside Partnerships
More importantly, economic empowerment of citizens and business cannot be the provenance of only government. Instead, a robust partnership between the nonprofit, government and business sectors is essential to true economic mobility.
No single policy, project or sector can break the cycles of economic uncertainty that beset most of our states. And no tax cut is a silver bullet to drive businesses forward. However, a willingness to find partners and allies in unexpected places, an ability to connect policy to the real impact it will have on daily life, and a fervent commitment to providing creative actors with the tools they need to create jobs, these levers can put communities nationwide on the path to sustained growth and security—our best policy.
About the Author
Stacey Abrams is the House minority leader for the Georgia General Assembly and state representative for the 89th House District. She is the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly and is the first African-American to lead in the House of Representatives. Stacey serves on the Appropriations, Ethics, Judiciary Non-Civil, Rules, and Ways & Means committees.