The Georgia General Assembly is due to end its legislative session Thursday, March 29 — just in time for Passover and just in time for political races from the governorship to school boards to heat up, with the primaries set for May 22 and early voting beginning April 30.
That also means it will be time for Dentons senior partner Steve Labovitz to shift his focus from lobbying for legislation at the state Capitol to making sure that candidates for state offices don’t forget about transportation, housing affordability, water availability and other issues that can affect Georgia’s ability to maintain economic growth in a smart way.
Those matters are concerns for his clients, but they’re also the focus of the Council for Quality Growth, a 33-year-old trade organization that brings together developers, builders, engineers and others to advocate policies, legislation and plans supporting growth in metro Atlanta and across the state.
Labovitz was elected in December to a one-year term as the council’s chairman.
“As a longtime Council for Quality Growth leader and a leader in our region, Steve has been a tenacious and effective advocate for policies that balance continued growth and quality of life,” said Michael Paris, the president and CEO of the council. “We are fortunate that Steve will chair the council’s board at a critical juncture for mobility, affordability and other issues so important to the economic sustainability of metro Atlanta.”
Labovitz, whose extensive involvement in the Jewish community includes being the first board chairman of the independent Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, has been involved with the council for about seven years, largely as an offshoot of his work at the law firm, which often involves projects with significant economic development pieces.
“My being part of the council makes all the sense in the world,” he said in a mid-March interview.
He said his enjoyment in dealing with the details of economic development and good growth goes back at least to when he was the mayoral chief of staff and chief operating officer for the city of Atlanta in the 1990s. He learned about the many elements involved in making a project such as Atlantic Station work, and he also gained an appreciation for the regional impact of economic development projects.
The council’s work fascinates Labovitz, he said, both in advocating the needs of developers planning smart projects and in understanding what public officials need to make government work.
The failure to implement regional transportation solutions from the state government is an example of where the council can play a role. While working with legislators to help get a workable compromise through the General Assembly, the council also talks to city and county government officials to help them understand the value they could see from various proposals.
Labovitz maintained hope into the closing days of the session that the House and Senate would be able to work out a transportation compromise.
He said affordable housing and workforce housing — the idea that people should be able to live close to where they work — also have been important issues for the council this legislative session. Looking ahead, he said it’s important to speed up the permitting process and to develop a dedicated revenue source to support the BeltLine’s growth. “The tax allocation district never has generated the income expected.”
Meanwhile, the council wants the state to avoid the controversy that would arise from the passage of a religious liberty bill or perhaps an adoption bill that would allow private agencies to reject potential parents who violate certain religious beliefs — seen by many as a way to discriminate against would-be same-sex parents. That could hurt the business community and perhaps repel major economic development projects.
As chairman, Labovitz said he want to increase awareness of what the council does and expand its membership, which now totals 300 to 350. Born in Gwinnett County, the council now has a truly regional footprint encompassing more than 90 jurisdictions, and Labovitz said, “I want to make the council reflective of the regional community.”