Scorched Earth Politics of 2014 Will Hurt Georgia Families for Years

The 2014 Georgia General Assembly is mercifully over now, but its legacy of lost opportunity will haunt Georgia families for a long time to come. Politics repeatedly trumped sound policy decisions this legislative session, as the governor and other state leaders blew an opportunity to put Georgia on a better path.

Let me start my review of the 2014 legislative session by putting important context to the oft-repeated, but misleading claim that lawmakers approved a record $900 million increase over last year for public schools in the 2015 budget.

The $900 million figure lawmakers are touting is mostly required to pay for student population growth and maintaining teacher retirement benefits, not improving opportunities for students. (Speaking of teacher benefits, that brings up a whole different can of worms state leaders opened this year.)

I made the case on the eve of the just-ended legislative session Georgia lawmakers should use the state funding formula to distribute any new money to K-12 education in a fair way. This would help ensure a standard 180-day calendar for students and stop teacher furloughs. About $314 million is set aside in the next school year to do that, but it’s still about $750 million short of what’s called for in the formula. Schools throughout Georgia will continue to face larger class sizes, fewer teachers, less money for supplies, materials, transportation and professional development.  Most teachers will not get a base salary increase, either.

It’s hard to pick which action by lawmakers this year was most self-defeating for the state, but the political grandstanding and over the top rhetoric in defiance of the federal health care law must be near the top of the list.

The state’s failure to take advantage of a golden opportunity to provide health care coverage to more than 500,000 uninsured Georgians is not a badge of honor, despite the contention of Georgia’s governor that it’s one of his top accomplishments.

Lawmakers also tried to show their anti-federal government bona fides with a bill that proposed to stop state and local government workers from advising consumers about their health coverage options. Instead of developing policies to cover the 1.8 million Georgians without health insurance, members of the General Assembly put all of their energy into putting up barriers to coverage.

Perhaps the most pernicious proposal approved by lawmakers this year may seem fairly innocuous to Georgia voters this fall when they consider cementing it into the constitution. Make no mistake, the resolution that calls for Georgia to cap its income tax threatens permanent damage to the state by limiting the options of future lawmakers when they need to respond to a financial emergency.

These are the some of the most egregious mistakes of the 2014 Legislature, but not all of them. For instance, instead of devising ways to help the 644,000 households with families that struggle with hunger, lawmakers pushed to require drug tests of food stamp applicants, despite the likelihood courts will find that unconstitutional.

Georgia needs strategic thinking to set a clear path forward that provides its people with access to health care. It needs a plan to deliver a quality education system. Georgia needs to invest in the building blocks of economic prosperity, including things like an efficient transportation system.

The tragic legacy of Georgia’s 2014 General Assembly won’t be quickly erased. We can recover. But state leaders wasted opportunities and time this year.

Georgia families will live with the fallout from this year’s political theater for a while.



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7 thoughts on “Scorched Earth Politics of 2014 Will Hurt Georgia Families for Years”

  1. Mr. Essig’s critique of the 2014 Georgia General Assembly’s performance is far too charitable. Once again, the mental midgets under the Gold Dome have outdone themselves in their pursuit of “sensible” state spending. They have crippled education in Georgia leaving the state to battle it out with Mississippi and Alabama, two intellectual powerhouse states, for the bottom of virtually every conceivable metric of educational success. And while we are at it be sure to teach the Biblical creation myth in every school, while teachers are packing heat. What a joke.

    Georgia legislatures are a remarkable testament to Forrest Gump’s admonition…”Stupid is, as stupid does.” Let’s try to save state funds by making those in need take a drug test, which they have to pay for, in order to qualify for food stamps. I wonder how many under the Gold Dome would have passed a field sobriety test upon departure from the closing night of the legislative session. What astonishing hypocrisy and disregard for those truly in need. Of course, this was an effort of prevent the abuse of state funds. Tell that to the legislators who fed at the hog trough and bar of the lobbying industry.

    Oh, and while we are saving the state’s money, let’s be sure that as few poor people as possible have health insurance. Isn’t it wonderful that they will continue to sit for hours in ERs across the state waiting for the most expensive health care that can be dispensed? But that is of little concern to legislators on a golf outing at Hilton Head, paid by the insurance lobby.

    On a final note, let’s be sure that our professional sports teams and associated business interests go to the head of the line in the state’s million dollar giveaways. What could be better for the state than new sports stadiums, lack of support for education, punishment those who need help the most, and rewards for the rich and stupid? If this is what a forward thinking “Christian” government is about, count me out. I’ll vote for a plain old secular humanist government every time. I freely admit, without shame, it is embarrassing to be live in such a backward, racist, intellectually bankrupt state.

  2. Though the outcomes from the 2014 Georgia General Assembly have been abysmal, I have found a certain peace in the scholarly and measured commentaries developed by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute and its capable staff. An understanding of the details and dimensions of what has – and has not – been done by a General Assembly that is supposed to serve the citizens of this state at least makes possible a coherent reaction and response. Thank you.

  3. Well said and THANK YOU. Georgia needs GPBI and other watchdog groups to put political grandstanding into real costs for taxpayers. There is no question that the burden of a half million uninsured residents will continue to drain our coffers and lower worker productivity making us less appealing as a place to do business. While so-called “conservatives” dole out 25 million in free-pass tax credits to the online gaming industry and squeak in an extra 35 million for NFL parking decks, without even blinking, they decry federal assistance for uninsured as “government takeover” and in the next breath cry foul when they don’t get federal money for port expansion.
    What is the meaning of “public safety” when guns are allowed everywhere and the police and clergy are dismissed? Where was courage of their convictions for legislators to submit an amendment to allow guns in the Georgia Dome? To submit themselves to drug testing. Absent.
    The next election will decide whether we become a wild-west-gun-toting- free-for-all-poor-people-be-damned, or get back on the path of moderation.

  4. I think you nailed it. As a lifelong, right leaning Republican, I am particularly embarrassed by this legislative season. I look at what passed, what failed and which funds have been set up for future raids and the only word that comes to mind is Taliban.

  5. Alan, Thank you for speaking reasonably on the farce that was this latest Legislative session! As long as our legislators continue to pander to the vocal minority that stand in the end zones, those us us who fall in the center will continue to be pushed aside and left behind!

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