- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Oct. 9

The Dalton Daily Citizen on a proposed amendment to the state constitution:

A proposed amendment to the Georgia constitution that will appear on the November ballot promises to help fix some of the state’s worst-performing schools. But if it passes the state will actually take control of those schools away from local elected school boards and give it to unelected bureaucrats in Atlanta and, possibly, to private, for-profit companies.

Amendment 1 would allow the state to assume control of “failing schools” and place them in a statewide “opportunity school district.” Current law defines a failing school as one that doesn’t make minimum standards on the state College and Career Ready Performance Index for three years in a row. But that can be changed.

A law already passed by the Legislature says the superintendent of that school district would not be the state superintendent of schools, who is elected by the voters, but a person appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. That person would be answerable only to the governor, thus centralizing more power in the governor’s office.

That superintendent alone would be responsible for deciding whether to take over failing schools. And if the state does take over schools, that person alone would decide whether to close them or convert them to charter schools.

If that superintendent chose to make a school a charter, he or she would select the governing board, select any management, decide whether to retain staff and teachers. The superintendent would gain access to all of the school’s funding and decide how to spend it. And the superintendent alone would decide how much voice the local community would have in any of that.

That’s too much power to give to any one individual, much less a person who doesn’t answer to voters.

Online: https://www.daltondailycitizen.com/

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Oct. 11

The Savannah Morning News on Hurricane Matthew cleanup:

As awful as the past four or five days have been during Hurricane Matthew and the immediate aftermath - and it has been awful, not to mention tragic for at least three area residents who were killed in hurricane-related incidents, including a Savannah man on the Isle of Hope - the community should be thankful as it begins to clean up, rebuild and return to normal this week.

It’s safe to conclude that Savannah and Chatham County again dodged a bullet for Matthew appeared to only brush by this area late Friday and early Saturday and didn’t score a direct hit, as initially feared. Of course, a near miss is bad enough because Matthew’s winds were enough to topple thousands of trees and dislodge branches, blocking roads and highways, and knocking out electrical power for much of southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina. Although utility crews from throughout the Southeast are doing their best to restore service, it could be awhile before power is fully restored.

But it could have been worse. Had Matthew hit with a vengeance, accompanied by a huge storm surge, this hurricane could have been a catastrophe. Fortunately, the storm stayed far enough off the westwardly curving Georgia coast to spare this region of its full force.

Unfortunately, the hurricane-force winds that blew through here still packed a wallop, turning large pine trees and live oaks into kindling. Countless homes, roofs and carports were crushed. If your home was spared, count your blessings. But be aware that others are suffering and in mourning including the families of residents who perished during the storm - a Savannah man and two men in Bulloch County, about 70 miles inland. Authorities blamed all three deaths on falling trees.

That’s all the more reason to obey orders to evacuate before a hurricane arrives. Riding out a storm of Matthew’s strength entails considerable risk to one’s safety, not just from trees but also from rising water. Some of the worst flooding in this area, in fact, didn’t occur, as expected, at Tybee Island. Instead, it occurred far from the Atlantic in Pooler, where fire safety personnel used rescue boats to save residents trapped by quickly rising water. It proves how extensive flooding can be in this mostly low-lying county, and why people who live on or near water must be aware of their surroundings and be among the first to evacuate while they still have the chance.

As for the mandatory evacuation that local officials ordered last week, leaders said most people followed the recommendation. Many didn’t, perhaps out of complacency, stubbornness or the unwillingness to fight the heavy traffic out of town and the heavy traffic back. But a hurricane is one of those times when it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when staying put means being trapped in your homes without power. It’s no fun. And it can be pretty darn scary.

The thousands of evacuees who have been streaming back home since late Sunday will find neighborhoods and communities that look different from the ones they left. Public works crews and their utility company partners have done a fine job of clearing most primary roads of fallen trees and debris, making them passable enough to allow most people to return to their homes. But clearing secondary roads will take considerably more time and patience. The same goes for restoring power, the key ingredient required for the return to normalcy. We have become a modern society whose lifeline is connected to the power grid; we wither and suffer anxiety when it’s severed or interrupted. But help has been on the way and is here in the form of fleets of bucket-trucks and utility linemen, which have been deployed from one end of the community to the other. It should be only a matter of time before service is restored.

In that regard, the dusk-to-dawn curfew that many area communities and police departments have been enforcing has been a godsend. Most people appreciate knowing that they are being protected from predators that might see a hurricane-crippled community as easy prey. Besides, many residents have more important issues to worry about than burglars and looters.

Now is when many of them are conferring with insurance adjusters, negotiating with home repair contractors, or doing their own repair work, spending hundreds of dollars they weren’t planning to spend, and perhaps learning to use a chain saw for the first time or tossing out a mountain of spoiled food from refrigerators and freezers, and restocking.

Local governments and agencies did an admirable job coordinating emergency preparations in advance of Matthew and cleaning up in its aftermath. Credit the many non-governmental agencies that assisted, including the Salvation Army, which seemed to be everywhere with its food and canteen trucks. This is routine procedure for the Salvation Army, for it knows that all armies, including those made up of safety and recovery workers, travel on their stomachs. Finally, let’s hope the same spirit of cooperation, of neighbors helping neighbors, of the entire community acting for the good of all, can sustain itself after Matthew and be applied to other long-term issues in our community, such as homelessness, poverty and economic development.

Effective leaders, from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on down, didn’t wait until the last minute to act. They resolved problems before they become emergencies - before they are forced to adopt flawed or ineffective policies that are shaped by less-than-ideal circumstances. Hurricane Matthew showed we can do this. Though Matthew bent us, it didn’t break us. We should build on these lessons as we rebuild and recover.

Online: https://savannahnow.com/

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Oct. 11

The Newnan Times-Herald on Gov. Nathan Deal and the expansion of Medicaid:

Gov. Nathan Deal deserves some credit now that other states are beginning to wish they had followed his lead in not jumping into the expansion of Medicaid.

They took the bait dangled by Obamacare that promised the majority of the costs of adding newly eligible enrollees would be covered by federal taxpayers. It sounded tempting and risk free.

To hear some advocates wax on its virtues, it seemed like a windfall with no downside that only a fool would turn down. Indeed, some advocates argued that the states would actually gain economic benefit by importing federal funds.

Of course, Georgians pay federal taxes, too. So, some of that money came from here after the federal bureaucracy skimmed its share. A greater portion, though, comes from China and other investors in the treasuries that fund the federal debt.

Even if you’re not bothered by rising federal debt, there is another reason for caution. Deal, an 18-year veteran of Congress, doesn’t trust his former colleagues to continue the generous federal largess anyway. Ask physicians and hospitals how it feels to be burned by broken congressional promises.

But the biggest reason Deal has rejected the expansion of Medicaid so far is because of the expenses Congress doesn’t even pretend to absorb, the so-called woodwork effect. That’s what happens when eligibility expands and people “come out of the woodwork” to enroll.

It’s a phenomenon that state officials have seen when other benefit programs have expanded. The “woodwork” people actually are already eligible under current rules, but the publicity about an expansion makes them finally decide to enroll themselves. So, while the newly eligible may be covered with federal dollars paying 90 percent of the costs, those from the woodwork require the state to come up with nearly 40 percent of the cost.

Another factor that Deal foresaw was that utilization would be higher than forecast. It’s common sense, really, to expect people to take advantage of new services when their cost is practically nothing. People who had been putting off treatment for high blood pressure, diabetes, back pain and other chronic conditions will naturally seek relief when given the chance.

As a former chairman of a healthcare subcommittee, he recognized the fallacy Obamacare was founded on, the notion that universal coverage would reduce medical costs through preventive care. Those savings haven’t materialized because it ignored the experience of other programs that showed new enrollees don’t make the lifestyle changes or comply with doctors’ orders needed to improve their own health.

Political graybeards like Deal recognize that biased policy analysts usually produce low-ball estimates of cost, partly consciously to overcome political opposition and partly unconsciously because they simply don’t recognize implications that conflict with their worldview. Their overly optimistic projections serve as fuel for advocates wanting to portray opponents like Deal as mean-spirited and foolishly stingy.

Well, the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak. The Associated Press has been reporting the news.

“Far more people than projected are signing up under the new, more relaxed eligibility requirements, and their health care costs are running higher than anticipated, in part because the new enrollees are apparently sicker than expected,” wire-service reporter Christina Cassidy wrote last week. “Rising drug prices may also be a factor.”

Three states that expanded Medicaid want to begin charging the newly enrolled premiums, Arkansas, Kentucky and Ohio.

In Arkansas, 23 percent more people signed up under the new eligibility than projected, severely cramping the state budget.

“The facts are, it is what every other (Medicaid) program has been - a fiscal failure,” said Arkansas state Sen. Bart Hester, a Republican.

In Kentucky, twice the number enrolled, forcing the state to budget nearly 2 ½ times its share.

The AP found last year than more than a dozen of the states that expanded Medicaid saw enrollment and costs exceed estimates. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told Congress the cost of expansion in 2015 was about 49 percent higher than anticipated.

The people who have been castigating Georgia’s governor need to apologize. He’s looking a lot smarter today.

And he needs to remain vigilant as a new coalition of hospitals and business groups led by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is applying renewed pressure on him to expand Medicaid eligibility. No one wants people to suffer needlessly, but there must be a financially sustainable plan in place before moving forward.

Online: https://times-herald.com/

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