- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Jan. 14

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the challenges facing Georgia:

Success can be seen as successfully managing the intersection of challenges, opportunities and action. Each affects the other.

That insight seems especially clear heading into this year. And it carries implications for both this nation and Georgia.

A hard-fought, divisive clash of an election year yielded decisive results and substantive changes in elected leadership across the country. The message delivered was quite clear.

Voters demand a strong shift in how government operates. At the core of that desire is a cry for increased prosperity, especially among those at risk of being left further behind as the American economy continues to morph as only free-enterprise systems can do.

That sentiment is felt just as strongly in Georgia. And there are encouraging signs that the state’s elected and business leaders both seem attuned to shortcomings that demand corrective work. That was evident during last week’s rounds of speechifying that traditionally serve as a debut for what the Georgia General Assembly’s annual agenda will revolve around.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues breakfast usually begins this process of table-setting for the big issues. Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark wisely pointed out the need to improve economic conditions across Georgia, especially in struggling rural areas. “We can’t have a healthy economy if half of our counties lose population and rural hospitals close,” he told the audience.

Clark raises an excellent point for Georgia, one which deserves concerted, swift action by state lawmakers on the economic-impact levers that government controls. Improving sub-par K-12 schools and addressing the state’s health care shortcomings top that list, in our view.

Lawmakers should quickly begin work toward reinforcing the financial situation of struggling rural hospitals. Dawdling will only continue to leave these areas overtaxed when it comes to luring investment that creates jobs and bolsters tax bases - or enhancing the health of citizens by reducing unnecessary suffering from inadequate health care.

In his Eggs & Issues remarks, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle noted that, “for those who do have health insurance, the choices are too few and the costs are too high.” True. In addition, it should be unacceptable that more than 500,000 Georgians lack any form of health insurance. Creating the attractive environment for business and investment that state officials constantly claim as Job 1 demands much more than that.

Fixing Georgia’s failing schools is also vital to maximizing our human potential. Doing so will also increase our economic performance. The two are tightly intertwined.

With that recognition broadly shared by lawmakers of both parties, we eagerly await legislative proposals this year to address entrenched problems in the state’s worst public schools. Given the defeat of the Opportunity School District in November, devising and enacting new fixes is critical.

Ultimately, Georgia stands the best chance at solving its public policy problems creatively, efficiently and effectively if empathy is part of our toolkit. More than one Eggs & Issues speaker mentioned the need to address poverty and the corrosive effects it spills over onto opportunity and potential.

Lt. Gov. Cagle told attendees that, “as a child of a single mom, I know what it’s like to live in a trailer, I know what it’s like to live in an apartment and I know what it’s like to live in a house.”

His experience is one that is distressingly common, even in today’s Georgia that has come a long way in a relatively short time.

This year’s legislative session should see decisive new solutions that will push us further toward greater economic opportunity for all who’re willing to jump in and do their part.

Online:

http://www.myajc.com/

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Jan. 12

The Newnan Times-Herald on the state’s education system:

Licking his wounds after a stinging defeat at the polls last fall for his school takeover plan, Gov. Nathan Deal may be hoping to win some support for his 2017 education proposals by promising pay raises to teachers.

In Wednesday’s State of the State Address, the son and husband of former public educators announced teachers would be getting 5 percent pay raises, the 3 percent all state workers get and an extra 2 percent for good measure. Of course, these are on top of the step increases teachers automatically get every other year based on seniority plus boosts with every college degree they add.

Consider that most private companies are forecasting 3 percent raises, according to Sandra McLellan, the North American compensation-practice leader for consulting firm Willis Towers Watson.

Teacher organizations, groups of other educators and Democrats banded together to convince voters last fall to turn down Deal’s idea of having the state take over schools that fail three years in a row to achieve state standards. They argued instead the governor should allot more money to the schools.

Indeed, moments after Wednesday’s speech, DuBose Porter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, renewed the argument, noting Georgia ranks 38th in per-student spending.

“All this talk about failing schools and still no real discussion about the causes that led to their struggles,” he said. “Where is the proposal for universal Pre-K? Smaller classrooms? More spending for additional teachers and professionals in the classrooms?”

Deal, a Republican, anticipated the pushback.

“For those who will contend that the real issue is lack of resources, let me remind them that we have increased K-12 spending by $2.017 billion over the last four years, which includes my fiscal year ‘18 proposal. That translates into roughly 50 percent of all new growth in state revenue being dedicated to K-12 public education,” he said. “It is not enough to pour more and more money on a problem in hopes that it will go away.”

Online:

http://times-herald.com/

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Jan. 11

The Telegraph of Macon on Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2018 budget:

Gov. Nathan Deal plopped his 350-plus page fiscal 2018 budget on lawmakers’ desks Wednesday, and to say it is ambitious would be an understatement. We’ve already known since last September that he wanted to up state law enforcement personnel salaries by 20 percent and up their training as well. Add to that a 19 percent raise for child welfare workers and a 2 percent raise for teachers and other state employees.

Deal outlined his budget priorities in his State of the State address, but first, he took his audience back a bit to the bad old days when he first took office. The year was 2011. “Our state was still in the grip of the Great Recession,” Deal said. “Businesses were going bankrupt, homes were being foreclosed upon, jobs were being lost, our unemployment rate was 10.4 percent. Our rainy day fund was dangerously low at roughly $116 million - hardly enough to operate state government for two days.”

But, he said at the start of his address that the state followed the advice of a 1944 Johnny Mercer song, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ Latch on to the affirmative/ Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”

“The result: that 10.4 percent unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3 percent. Our Rainy Day Fund has increased to approximately $2.033 billion. With prudent budgeting, we have maintained a AAA bond rating. We have set new records in trade, film production and tourism.”

Deal spoke of the state’s success at working with those with addiction or behavioral disabilities using accountability courts instead of jail cells. “We have reduced the rate of recidivism and saved the taxpayers of Georgia millions of dollars, a great example of eliminating the negative. New private sector jobs have reached more than 575,000 and for four consecutive years, Georgia has been named the best state for business.”

“Why did this happen?” Deal asked. “Because we had faith and we accentuated the positive.” Now, he wants to take his foot off the brakes.

Deal wants to build a new state courthouse on the old state archives site at a cost of $105 million and $73 million for a new technical school he’ll be able to attend when he retires in his home county of Hall. All of the infrastructure projects would be paid for with a bond package. Deal wants to capitalize on a rather novel idea by building a $50 million cyberwarfare center (Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center), in partnership with state and federal agencies and the private sector, that according to the governor’s website will, “create a secure environment for cybersecurity education programs, testing and training.” While it may seem sort of Star Warsish, such a center would put Georgia on the crest of a wave that could eventually lead to a qualified workforce in a field that is only becoming more vital as our lives inevitably become more digitally oriented. The center will work in tandem with the U.S. Army’s new $2 billion cyber command headquarters at Fort Gordon.

The state has gone all in with the Georgia National Guard, Department of Defense, Georgia Technology Authority, the Technical College and University systems, the Department of Economic Development and Georgia Bureau of Investigation participating. Deal said this effort “will solidify Georgia’s reputation as the Silicon Valley of the South.”

Now that the ingredients of the governor’s budget sausage have been laid on the table, the lawmakers will get to work hacking it up. Lawmakers will be looking for a little spice for their constituents. Cyber Innovation Training Center is already slated for state-owned land in Augusta. The new technical college site has already been identified and purchased, so has the site of the state courthouse. Still there are plenty of trump cards in the governor’s hand. He will have the ability to play those cards to get the votes he needs for his budget priorities to pass.

Online:

http://www.macon.com/

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