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Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 12:13pm

D.C. Impasse Hits Georgia Hard

As long as Washington’s government shutdown continues, three key pieces of legislation affecting Georgia are stalled. And observers in Georgia worry how those bills will fare even once lawmakers move past the impasse.

The farm bill. Immigration reform. And a bill that would lift a spending cap on the Savannah harbor deepening project.

Georgia is waiting for action on all three bills. And unlike other states, Georgia’s top two economic sectors – agriculture and tourism – depend on all three.

But a week into the shutdown, lawmakers have no plans to vote on any of those bills.

University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock says the outlook isn’t good.

“The partisan conflict, which we’re witnessing over the issue of the budget, with the debt crisis just over the horizon, that’s poisoned the entire well,” he says. “So I think a lot of people would anticipate even once when we get to whatever resolution we’re going to get to over the budget for the coming year, we still may not get things like the immigration bill addressed.”

Industry figures say that bill would provide critical labor for Georgia farms, restaurants and high-tech businesses. The farm bill governs key crop loans and subsidies that Georgia farmers rely on to survive.

And the bill affecting the Savannah port would lift the final legal hurdle for the deepening project.

Bryan Tolar is with the Georgia Agribusiness Council. He also sits on the board of the Essential Economy, which advocates for immigration reform. He says it’s hard to pick which issue is the most important for Georgia.

“In the short-term, the farm bill is the key issue for our industry,” he says. “But in the long-term, there is no more important issue than to get the immigration reform taken care of. If we don’t produce, we don’t need a labor force. But if we don’t have a labor force, we won’t produce the quantities needed to put on these tremendous vessels to send across the world.”

The harbor deepening project would allow the Savannah port to accommodate larger ships that will be coming from the Panama Canal in 2015.

Of the three, it’s the likeliest to come up for a vote in the U.S. House this month. The Senate has already passed it.

The shutdown is causing a wide variety of problems in Georgia. For example, Federal Aviation Administration employees in Georgia are working without.

It’s also hit Georgia farmers just as many of them are harvesting their crops. Some say they’re missing critical loans and direct payments from the government when they need the money the most.

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