I want to thank Kevin for introducing me. It sounds so much cooler with that really cool accent.
I want to thank you for the kind introduction. I really want to thank you for the leadership of the Atlanta International School. Your school really does speak to why I believe the future of Atlanta is so bright. What you have done since you have opened the school in 1985 is phenomenal, having more than 70 young people from 70 countries in the immersion programs that you have there are really a blessing to the city, and I just want to thank you for your leadership. You have really been an exemplar. He really deserves a big round of applause.
What I want to today really is to speak as quickly as I can because I always find that when I’m at Rotary, I get as much out of the questions as I do from the talk. So what I am going to do really is to kind of tell you where I think we’ve been. I’ve been Mayor for the City of Atlanta now for about 26 months, so I’m at the two-year mark. And I am really delighted to be here with you today.
I will start candidly from the moment that I was inaugurated as Mayor of the city was a high day for me. I am a public school kid from Southwest Atlanta. My whole life has been in this town.
And I grew up aware of exemplary leaders like Mayor Sam Massell, who happens to be here today. But Atlanta has been blessed with the leaders that our city has produced in both politics and in business. And Mayor Sam Massell is one of them. Thank you, Mayor Massell, for your friendship.
He is a part of the tapestry that really keeps our city together and strong. And I always want to tell you how much I value you.
I was inaugurated at the Atlanta Civic Center and some folks may have heard me say this, but you know I decided I was going to take public transportation on the day of my inauguration. I thought it would send a good message to folks. I decided to take MARTA.
So after my mom and dad held the Bible that I was sworn in on as Mayor. It as a high day, and I took off out of the civic center, marching to City Hall if you will, on the Marta train that’s right near the civic center station.
So I walked into the Civic Center station, Mayor Massell. And they had bomb-sniffing dogs there and a very robust security presence. So you know I’m walking there thinking this mayor thing will be pretty cool. We get on the train, and we take it. I get off at Underground Atlanta and then I walk into City Hall.
And when I sat down in my seat at City Hall, literally the first thing that happened … the first official duty that I had … were a group of bankers walked into my office with a lot of documents with a lot of tabs for me to sign.
And what they had for me to sign was a tax anticipation note loans so that the payroll of the City of Atlanta could be met and the employees’ checks did not bounce.
So it really wasn’t about me. It was just whoever was mayor signing this dadgum loans to make sure that we made payroll.
It was a powerful moment. It was kind of funny but very serious. I will tell you that.. at that moment… I decided that on my watch the city of Atlanta was never going to be in that posture again.
And I certainly understand that we’ve been going through the toughest economic times that our city and our state and our nation has been through in more than 80 years, but I also believe that you get elected to deliver concrete results, and you get elected to win for the people who give you the blessing of being able to serve in office.
So as I stand here 26 months in, the City of Atlanta has had two balanced budgets, we finished the first year $10 million under. We finished the second year $2 million under our budget, and we will pass the third budget this year once again balanced without any tax increases, and we will do the same thing for all four years.
So we will have balanced budgets with declining revenues and no tax increases and at the exact same time, we’ve grown the cash reserves in the City of Atlanta from $7.4 million from where they were when I walked in that office to more than $94 million today. And they will be more than $100 million when I pass the budget.
When you keep putting $27 million in a rainy day fund, and I look up at my accountants, and I said, “If this isn’t rainy days, I don’t know what is.” But we’re doing it, and we’re doing it the same way you’re doing it.
We’re making very tough decisions. We’re focusing on core services. And really providing things that folks need that are essential to the prosperity of the city.
To give you some context, in 2008 the budget for Mayor Franklin was about $1.6 billion total, but the general fund budget was $640 million. The budget that I will submit to council and the general fund will be about $1.5 billion, but it will be about $525 million in the general fund.
So what we’ve been experiencing in the City of Atlanta is about $100 million contraction in the part of the government that you fund through your property taxes. But we’re actually doing quite well.
We’ve added 400 police officers to the City of Atlanta. When I was running, I was saying I was going to hire 750 police officers, and people thought I was crazy. But as I stand here today, we have an authorized police force in the City of Atlanta with 1,951 police officers.
And our Unified Crime Reporting statistics are as low as they have been since the 1960s overall.
Last year, we had less than a hundred people murdered in our city, which you know is a very important crime statistics because violent crime is particularly damaging to an overall sense of safety and security in the city. We were less than 90 people murdered. So that has happened only six times since Lyndon Baines Johnson was president in the City of Atlanta.
So anybody who says that having a large police force isn’t essential to turning around crime, just simply is incorrect. And anybody who says that we can’t afford it is also flat-out not telling the truth. Because we have $100 million less, we have the largest police force in the history of the city of Atlanta and we are able to turn away from these tired-old arguments of whether people in Buckhead are being protected better than people in Cascade or people in East Atlanta or people on Ponce.
I believe that the healthier direction for the overall city is to grow the overall pie so that all of our communities can be appropriately protected. Because every single citizen in the City of Atlanta deserves to be as safe as I can possibly make it. And I will tell you I wake up every single day with no more important task than the safety and security of this community and of the City of Atlanta.
But we’re also doing better in terms of our business practices. If you look at the Atlanta Business Chronicle magazine that was printed within the last two weeks – I don’t know if it was last week or the week before, I don’t want to be PolitiFact-ed. They Politifact me all the time – but they had 10 real estate deals in the Atlanta Business Chronicle and the City of Atlanta was key to three of them.
One of the real estate transactions was us selling City Hall East to Jamestown Development. We’re creating a project that is going to be transformational for the Ponce de Leon corridor. It’s probably a $300 million development in a space that the city should never been in. The city never should have been in a business where we owned and were responsible for a two-million-square feet building.
We didn’t know what we were doing. We have gotten out of that business. We’ve put that building in the hands of the private sector.
We also have a high-rise that’s going to be built in Midtown. It’s called the Sky Apartments. It’s a Novare Group that we helped with additional funding and tax credits from Invest Atlanta. One of the deals of the year was Porsche North America being located at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport so now when you go to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in the future, there will be a $100 million headquarters for Porsche North America with a Porsche test track where you can fly into Hartsfield-Jackson, pick out all of the core colors for your Porsche, test drive, get on a plane and go back home.
But look at these things. I suggest that we were able to do them because we were getting our house in order. And when you talk to the leaders of Porsche and these other businesses that we’ve had interactions with, they say we are certainly focused on creating a more business-friendly environment.
For more than 20 years, folks complained about getting a permit or a license in the City of Atlanta. Well, I got 15 leaders from the private sector to serve for one year. David Bennett worked on the effort with them. And they completely restructured the permitting process for the City of Atlanta. We passed three pieces of legislation. And back in the bad old days when you purchased a permit in the City of Atlanta, the revenue went to the general fund of government. We’ve now created a process where every dime of the permitting process stays with the permitting process so businesses have a more friendly relationship with the city.
And then we didn’t stop there. You know you can often pass legislation, and the legislation is supposed to be terrific. But if you don’t have competent people to administer it, the good legislation can turn out to be as bad as the bad legislation. We hired a guy named Don Rosenthal, who was selected 15-0 … unanimously by the same group of business leaders to run that department. And I will tell you that since he’s been leading, I’ve gotten more positive letters regarding the City of Atlanta permit process than almost any other matter.
The point I’m making is, while we have a great deal to do, we are moving this city in the right direction. And I really do believe that we are getting stronger. Your capital city enjoys an unprecedented relationship between the city of Atlanta and the State of Georgia.
You know it’s really about 200 steps from my office to the governor’s office. But you before I came into office, you would have thought it was 100 miles or something.
I have been working with Governor Nathan Deal on a variety of matters, including the deepening of the Savannah Port, which might not seem like it’s a big deal to the Buckhead Rotary, but let me tell you it absolutely is.
On Friday of last week, when the leaders of Caterpillar were out in Oconee and Athens relocating 1,400 jobs ... and some of the folks who get those 1,400 jobs will come to a restaurant or a ball game or a ball park, spend some time in the City of Atlanta. Go power our economy. They said that without a doubt that the location of the Savannah Port and the progress we were making on it played a fundamental role in their decision-making.
I would also submit this. My job as the leader of this city is to guarantee and to do everything I can to assure that we remain the center of economic activity in the South and having the fastest growing seaport on the East Coast and one of the five fastest-growing ports in the United States of America, I believe that is central to our continued dominance. If you partner a deepened port ... if we get this seven additional feet that we need, and I think that we will get it. And you have a port that is ready by 2014 or 2015 for the ships that come from the Panama Canal, you will attract huge investment from Savannah.
Those ships that will be three times larger than what we service today will off load at Savannah and all of that merchandise will be distributed … guess where ... through the City of Atlanta to all points North , West, East and South.
So the port is invaluable to us.
We will open the Hartsfield-Jackson International Terminal on time and on budget on May 16 of this year. And we will begin serving 75 international destinations. Delta will open 12 new gates. We will once again have the busiest passenger airport on the Planet Earth. And air cargo at Hartsfield-Jackson is up more than 15 percent year over year. And guess what, when you have an international flight, you won’t have to check your bags twice.
I get some letters about that.
But also from a message standpoint, when you go out and look at the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson, you will find like it represents Atlanta, like it’s world class, like it’s best in class. Which I really think that each and every one of you deserve.
So I think that overall the direction we are going in is a favorable direction. Working hand in hand with Governor Perdue prior to his leaving office, we extended the toll on the Georgia 400 toll road. Guess what? For the first time ever since the Georgia 400 toll road has been created, half of the revenue generated has been given to the exit to Buckhead that we’ve been for 20 years. We’re finally building it using money from the Georgia 400 toll road and we’ll have the Sidney Marcus that we’ve been working on.
The bottom line is, is we are working on things that deliver concrete results for this community. We’ve also changed the nature of the federal relationship between the City of Atlanta and Washington. As I stand here today, the City of Atlanta has secured more than $165 million of direct support from the federal government. And it means a great deal to us because it reduces the burden that we have to come to taxpayers with. And it was essential in getting the clearances we needed around the Savannah Port and on so many other matters.
You know, we’ve got a long way to go.
But I think in very tough times, we are taking on very hard problems. Governor Deal has done an exemplary job at managing the water wars with Alabama. We got a very favorable decision reversing Judge Magnuson’s order which would have limited our access to water from Lake Lanier, which would have been devastating for Metropolitan Atlanta region.
He and I are working on transportation. We secured a $270 million TIFIA loan. And on July, we will have a vote on the Transportation Investment Act, which I believe is the most important initiative that we will have in our region for the next 10 years.
I just want to spend maybe two minutes on that.
You know folks remember the Olympics and the $3.5billionthat we invested in the Olympics that yielded about $60 billion in investment through the year 2007. I just want you to imagine with me if you will if we pass the Transportation Investment Act, the matched amount will be about $9 billion total. That will mean, we will be spending about $900 million in the metro Atlanta region every single year for 10 years.
We’ve never had anything like that before. It’s needed, and we’re going to need you to lend your voices to it. And I hope you will.
But I will tell you. There is really no Plan B. The economy and the challenges that are coming out right now involve wage contraction and unemployment particularly among individuals who used to be involved in vertical construction. And solving Atlanta’s problem around traffic is the appropriate way to guarantee our future for 10, 20 and 30 years but also to power our economy and to help hard-working folks who are still feeling the very worst part of this recession.
But this is also an effort that is worthy of us.
Because I say all of the time that Atlanta is a very intentional city. And so many people in this room at critical times made the right decision which is why we are what we are in the Southeast. They made the right decision.
When Mayor Sam Massell championed MARTA, MARTA only passed by 1,000 votes. Ambassador Young and Michael Lomax championed Georgia 400. People criticized Ambassador Young around Georgia 400, and when Georgia 400 opened, people made jokes about it. Nobody is even using it. Can anybody even imagine this city without Georgia 400 today.
When Billy Payne and Andrew Young were flying around the world talking about Atlanta being an Olympic city in the year that we were competing against Athens, Greece. Once again, folks laughed at Atlanta until the third or fourth round of voting, when we won.
So part of my job is in tough times, when we are going through so much is to remind us that at moments like this, we have historically made the right long-term decision for this region. And I believe that folks in my generation who have benefited from your work and from your sacrifice have a job to do right now. And it is to face these things.
When I walked into office, the City of Atlanta owed its retirees and current employees, $1.5 billion and had no plan to pay for it. And if we had done the exact same thing for 10 years, we would have had a budget problem of $4 billion pension liability problem and guess who they would have tried to come to pay it. They would have come to the taxpayers.
We did it a different way. We implemented the most sweeping pension reform of any major city in the United States of America. Our employees have gone from paying 8 percent of their pension costs to 13 percent. Just to give you some contrast, Gov. Chris Christie, who’s a real tough guy, took on pension reform in New Jersey, they are going from 51/2 percent to 71/2 percent phased in over four years.
Because we made the right decision right now, while other governments are facing significant shortfalls in raising taxes, the City of Atlanta is not.
When I ran for office, I told you again and again and I want to make it clear today that I do not view Buckhead as bank. I never have, and I never will. I value the contributions that this community makes, and I appreciate everything you do. And I certainly appreciate what the Buckhead Rotary does.
But it’s not time for us to sit down right now. It’s time for you to lend your voices to what we are trying to do.
Because we are doing three or four very complicated things that will guarantee that this City for you, for your children and your grandchildren will continue to be a better place than the one that you will have already helped to build.
So thank you for giving me a moment.
God bless you.