Mike Klein Online

TCC Debate: Barnes, Deal Disagree About ObamaCare Exchanges

This week The Commerce Club hosted a debate between Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal and his Democratic opponent Roy Barnes.  This article primarily focuses on Medicaid and ObamaCare.  All questions on these two subjects came from the audience and they were not consecutive questions.

Georgia’s two gubernatorial candidates can easily disagree when they sit down to discuss health care.  Former Governor Barnes has good things to say about the federal health care law known as ObamaCare and he thinks federal courts will uphold the law.  Former Congressman Deal has almost nothing good to say and he supports lawsuits to stop the law.

But these two men, one of whom will become Georgia’s next governor, are not that far apart on other critically important issues.  They share concern about costs associated with Medicaid, overcrowded hospital emergency rooms and inadequate community care facilities, all of which impact Georgia.

ROY BARNES: “I agree that we have to get these (Medicaid) folks out of the emergency room.  It is killing these hospitals and, yes, we should use low cost providers wherever is necessary.   Unfortunately, the way it is set up, the easiest place for them to get the service is the emergency room.  Looking at lower costs of providing those services is something we ought to look at when we revamp Medicaid.

“(ObamaCare) is going to be upheld. They can require you to have automobile insurance.  They require you to have workers comp.  I think under general welfare provisions they can require you to do this.  I do have some great concerns about the financial effect.  I do know what will happen.  The National Governors Association, the governors are charged with responsibility to implement this.  A group of them will work together.  They’ll come up with a series of amendments and try to get them through.

“Several years ago, trying to get (insurance coverage) to those that were uninsured, I asked the General Assembly for authority … to allow (a small business) employer to use the pooling of the State Health Benefit Plan. The state wouldn’t supplement it but they could get coverage there.  The insurance companies fought it.  They did authorize to do a pilot plan but we had not done that by the time I left.

“I think the exchanges are going to be probably the most interesting part of this (federal health care reform) bill.  For the first time you’re going to have some wide-open competition that exists.  I think it should be structured carefully but overall, it’s going to be beneficial.”

NATHAN DEAL: “The big challenge we have in Medicaid is to fight ObamaCare in terms of the mandate of the expansion of it to 133% of the federal poverty level.  The state of Georgia and I don’t know of any state that can afford that expansion. That’s why the litigation is so important to challenge that.

“One of the big cost areas is unnecessary (visits to) emergency rooms for non-emergency reasons. It’s five times more expensive than doing it in a lower cost setting.  I tried at the federal level to be able to divert from the emergency room and couldn’t get 60 votes in the Senate to do it. The state of Georgia, in my opinion, needs to make sure we have low cost clinics accessible to and close to high volume emergency rooms.   That will take some pressure off the system.

“If we’re not real careful with this (federally mandated insurance) exchange and the way it’s being put in place, you’re going to see a tremendous negative effect on the insurance industry in this state.  The people who have been the insurance brokers, the ones who have gone the distance with individuals and put forth proposals as to how they can purchase insurance, I am afraid the exchange is going to make them irrelevant.

“Most of us know that we are currently in litigation about mental health facilities in our state.  The place that I hear the most complaint is from the sheriff’s departments.   People who are not being treated in the normal routine mental facilities ultimately are going to end up in the prison system and generally, in the jails first.  That puts a huge strain on county budgets and the sheriff’s offices.  That is an area where I think we have to give greater attention.”

Mike Klein writes about contemporary issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TCC Debate: Deal Supports Managed Lanes; Barnes Focused on Light Rail

This week The Commerce Club hosted a debate between Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal and his Democratic opponent Roy Barnes.  This article focuses on transportation.

Moderator Jeff Hullinger noted Georgia spends $100 million per year on road construction but “concerns of gridlock are mushrooming.  We’ve been talking about this for 25 years, how it gets worse and worse, yet we don’t seem to do much about it.  MARTA is certainly now in the midst of cuts where they are providing service to even fewer people. How can we change all this?”  Deal answered first, then Barnes.

NATHAN DEAL: “We have the opportunity to do something positive on the ballot this year.  I believe it is Proposition 3 that will change the accounting method from the cash to the accrual method so that (DOT) projects can begin without having all the money on hand before you start the project.  That is certainly something that needs to be done.  I hope that all of you will support that proposition.

“We also have to recognize that it is a multi-faceted issue whether it be congestion in the metropolitan area.  I think managed lanes, we are moving in that direction with managed lanes, I think it’s going to require because governments, the state of Georgia being no exception, lacks capital resources to produce projects that are in a timely fashion.  I think we have to look at more public – private partnerships in funding those major projects.

“We also have to recognize we have two different kinds of transportation issues.  One relates to the transfer of cargo.  We’re all hopeful that we’re going to have the deepening of the Savannah port and the cargo that will increase as the result of that deepening and the larger vessels that coming in there in the 2014 – 2015 time-frame.  It’s going to create a burden on how do we transport (incoming ship cargo) across our state.

“We have very poor east – west connectivity here.  We can do it below Atlanta a lot easier than we can do anything north of Atlanta.  Having that connectivity to make sure that those transfer trucks don’t already add to the 100,000 we have on our interstate system around Atlanta is a critical thing.  I believe that we can connect into our corridors on the western side, Highway 27, a four-lane corridor we already have and, of course, the expansion and four laning of Highway 17 on the eastern side of our state.

“With regard to the metro area, short line rapid rail is certainly something that has to be considered.  Then once you become entrenched in rapid rail and other mass transit measures then you can begin to expand it out into outlying areas.  Here again, it is a combination of a lot of different things.”

ROY BARNES: “(When I was governor) We planned a northwest rail line that was going from the Cobb – Cherokee line.  It was going to be elevated over 75.  There was going to be a hub at Galleria, then come on down.  It was going to split over to Woodruff Arts Center and it was going to terminate where MARTA would come up to meet it at Atlantic Station.  The state bought a parcel of land in there so it could be done.  That would be the exercise of an elevated light rail system that would go up 85.  Of course, that got canceled after I left.  They didn’t even draw the federal money down that was available to them.

“If you don’t do this you’re not going to be prosperous.  Would you come here?  Most of the jobs in the Atlanta region are between 75 and 85 on the 285 corridor across on the north side.  You look at the concentration of jobs, that’s where they are.  Would you locate there right now where you don’t know whether your employees will get there or not depending on whether there was a wreck on 285 or 75?

“There has been this great fear that we have of mass transit.  We have to build mass transit all the way through the Atlanta region.  Now next year we have this sales tax vote on that region.  When I was governor I wanted to do the 75 line so that people could see, touch, ride and see what they were getting and then call the referendum.

“Now we don’t have time for that.  We have to pass that referendum and then we have to unclog some roads and bridges that we have in that same area …. 285 and 20 … 400 and more flyaways to Gwinnett and the spaghetti junction and the mass transit system is what you have to do to free that up.

“Now statewide, the two routes that we ought to concentrate on are 17 on the east and 27 on the west.  Yes, we do need some east – west connectivity.  I tried to do that, didn’t go over too well but you do have to have some east – west connectivity or you’re not going to be able to move a lot of goods and products from the ports and from other parts of the state without that.

“I think you consider a west bypass this time, somewhere north in Bartow County hook on 75, come through Paulding, across (Interstate) 20, down through Coweta, hook into 85, then run a connector over to 75 to do that.”

Mike Klein writes about Georgia policy issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

TCC Debate: Deal Pushes STEM; Barnes Criticizes “Shorting Education”

This week The Commerce Club hosted a debate between Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal and his Democratic opponent Roy Barnes.  This article focuses on education.

When moderator Jeff Hullinger opened Wednesday’s discussion with a question about how to get the Georgia economy rolling.  Barnes jumped on the question to emphasize education.  And when Hullinger asked how to solve Georgia’s 10% unemployment crisis, Deal jumped on the question to emphasize education.

NATHAN DEAL: “If you’re a male and you do not have a high school diploma, one out of every ten (statewide) is in our prison system.  We incarcerate more people, by far, than any other state by virtue of comparison.  How do you reverse that process?  First of all, I believe you have to set them on a track to be employable.

“We have relegated the vocational training track too far into the distant future for most of these young people. That’s why I believe we need to begin to expose them early on to vocational opportunities, have a dual track for a high school diploma to keep them engaged.  We also have to recognize we have a deficiency in what the education community calls STEM education.”

STEM is education speak for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  These subjects that are critical to sustained economic success are also where we find our students have their biggest challenges.

The nine-term former congressman outlined a three-tiered approach to increase the number of teachers and other private industry professionals who specialize in STEM curriculum.

First, create five STEM curriculum charter schools.  Second, create a loan forgiveness program for up to 400 college students who would obtain their degrees in STEM subjects and then agree to teach those subjects in Georgia schools.   Third, Deal would expand that program to 400 additional students if they agreed to work for Georgia companies after graduation.

ROY BARNES: “I will tell you that when you are attracting or dealing with companies about coming to locate here …  the first thing they ask you about is, tell me about your educational level and the skills levels of your workers. That is what blows the opportunities we have and if we talk about creating jobs, we have to get serious about supporting education and raising the skills levels.

Barnes addressed the question about Georgia’s 10% unemployment this way:   “If you don’t put folks back to work you’re not going to have a prosperous state. Let me give you the statistics on a national basis and I’ll bet this is true on a state basis.   Of the 10% unemployment, only 3.5% are those that have a post-secondary degree of some sort, either a technical college or university system.

“Six and a half percent are the ones who have a high school diploma or less.  It goes back to the education levels and skills levels that you are creating. So the long term is, you have to continue to raise education.  You cannot do what’s been done in the last few years, shorting education.”

Barnes said the state should expand an existing Department of Labor program that provides a stipend to employers to train unemployed persons.  “Over 80% that participate in that program get kept, that is, they get hired on.  That’s a program that we should expand.”

Mike Klein writes about Georgia policy issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tri-State Water War: Deal Dings Florida, Barnes Suggests Down Under

Not surprisingly, business themes dominated the conversation when gubernatorial candidates Roy Barnes and Nathan Deal addressed a sold-out luncheon audience Wednesday at The Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta.  This article will focus on discussion of the tri-state water wars.  Later articles will discuss their comments on education, transportation and health care.

There was also a touch of humor Wednesday when moderator Jeff Hullinger asked the candidates how to help Georgia Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt.  But more on that later.

Georgia, Alabama and Florida are at odds over water that flows through Georgia to the two other states.  The issue has been in litigation for several years and in dispute for decades.  Currently, the three states are under a federal court order to resolve their water war within two years or the issue will be settled in Congress.  A federal judge has ruled that Atlanta cannot use Lake Lanier as its water supply and that is the central part of what this argument is all about.

Deal, who served nine terms as a Republican congressman, said Georgia’s water crisis is not likely to be favorably solved in Washington until governors in the three states demonstrate they can create the solution.  With an eye on Florida participation in water talks, Deal said, “Quite frankly, I don’t think they have been very engaged in the process.”

Deal has proposed construction of four or perhaps five new reservoirs across north Georgia,  dredging Lake Lanier which has lost about 18% capacity due to silt, new investment to repair aging water systems, continuation of new conservation measures and returning more treated water to river basins.

“In the short term Georgia needs to do everything we can,” Deal said.  “The starting point was conservation legislation the General Assembly passed this year.  If we’ve done these things and time runs out on us, and we have to go back to the court and ask for either an extension or an alternative ruling on the original issue, we’ve at least shown clean hands, we’ve done what we can do in the time frame we’ve been given.  It is a multiple approach that we have to take.”

Barnes, the former Democratic governor who wants his old job back,  said, “We don’t have anything to negotiate with.  What are we going to give up?  We’ve lost the case.  This idea that, you know, all the governors  are going to hold hands and sing kumbayah and its going to be settled, it’s fantasy.   We have to show, before this matter is ever resolved, we have to show that we can solve it ourselves without having to beg Florida or Alabama.”

During his first administration that ended in January 2003 Barnes proposed creation and funding for 17 reservoirs positioned across north and west Georgia.  That plan did not go forward under Governor Sonny Perdue.   Barnes said aging water systems lose between 15% and 40% due to leaks.  Rebuilding local water systems will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and process will be lengthy, many years.  He believes it is partially, a state responsibility and Barnes says this project is too large for communities to go it alone.

Like Deal, Barnes proposed expansion of existing reservoirs.  The former governor described himself as “intrigued” by underground water storage, similar to how Florida stores fresh water.  He said expanding aquifers likely would not require the same federal approval process that is associated with new reservoir construction.

On a lighter note, moderator Jeff Hullinger closed the luncheon by asking both candidates if they had any advice for UGA football coach Mark Richt.  Only Barnes answered, and with his own question:  “Is Vince Dooley still alive?”

Mike Klein writes about contemporary issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment