As the 2015 legislative session comes to an end so does my time in Georgia. After 25 years in Georgia, the last 11 as executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, I move to Michigan in a few weeks. It certainly has been a long, strange trip.
It’s hard to believe how far GBPI has come from the beginning 11 years ago. From a core staff of four our first year to the current staff of ten, GBPI grew into the most respected public policy think tank in the state.
I am very proud of the GBPI staff and very thankful to board members for their strong support all these years. The success of GBPI is truly a team effort.
Working to support rational public policy in a highly partisan and ideological world can be very frustrating. What kept me going is the example set by the tireless work of our many partner organizations who, without the benefit of well-heeled Political Action Committees and big expense accounts, advocate for the interests of the most vulnerable Georgians.
A few salient observations before the General Assembly gavels to a close with “Sine Die” and I head north:
- Math is an important skill, one that is a struggle for many legislators. You cannot cut 50 percent of state revenue by slashing Georgia’s income tax without significantly increasing other taxes or significantly cutting funds for education, health care and public safety. And yet that is the premise of pending legislation. If we are going to once again have this conversation, let’s base it on real data and not wishful thinking.
- Georgia will eventually join the 29 states that closed the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid, it’s just a question of when. Expansion could give coverage to adults who earn less than $27,700 for a family of three. As ten states with Republican governors decided, it’s a boon both economically and to people’s health. Georgia shouldn’t wait to be the last state to take advantage of this opportunity to make dramatic gains in health insurance coverage. Georgia needs a plan to bring critical new investment to the state’s health care system, while ensuring that more Georgians don’t needlessly suffer physically and financially.
- The recently passed transportation bill (HB 170) is an example of what a bipartisan majority of the General Assembly can accomplish when they set out to tackle a problem putting ideology and partisanship aside. Though far from perfect (no legislation ever is) HB 170 represents compromises among members of both major parties and both legislative chambers. It represents a significant step to solve a major problem facing the state and happened only after a politically sticky debate about a need for new revenue. Much can be accomplished if future sessions of Georgia’s General Assembly can build on this spirit of compromise and bipartisanship to solve our education and health care problems.
As frustrating and ugly as the sausage-making process of creating public policy can be, it is incredibly important to participate in it. I am proud of the part I played these past 25 years and wish the best of luck to people who will continue to fight the good fight.
I leave Georgia with fond memories. I feel good that I leave GBPI with an amazing staff and a strong and visionary leader in Taifa Butler. They will continue to produce the outstanding work that you expect of GBPI. Facts do matter. And with the work of GBPI bringing facts to the public debate, I am confident that better days are ahead for Georgia.
Alan Essig’s last day as GBPI’s executive director was March 31, 2015. He is the new executive director for Michigan Consumers for Healthcare. Prior to GBPI he was a senior research associate with the Fiscal Research Center at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. His state government experience includes several roles as a fiscal analyst, including the most recent as deputy policy director for the Georgia Governor’s office.