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There Was Lots to Like About Deal’s State of the State Address

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal looked to the stars for guidance Tuesday evening as he delivered his second State of the State address before the General Assembly in Atlanta.  During a 42-minute address the Governor from Gainesville described his goal to achieve another world class medical college in Georgia, announced millions of new dollars for public education, threw a lifeline to former state commission charter schools, and he put his stamp firmly onto corrections reform.  Before doing that, Deal turned to the stars.

“Georgians have charged us to set a course for our state and they have defined the stars that we must follow to expand opportunity; the star of education – we must provide great schools that will cultivate the minds of our young people – the star of transportation – we must provide safe roads and avenues of commerce – the star of security – we must give every Georgian the ability to live in a safe community – and the guiding star in our constellation, jobs – we must create a business climate that provides Georgians with their best shot at a good job!  These are the stars on which our eyes must be focused as we chart the course for our great state!”

Deal said revenue stabilization – Georgia has 19 consecutive months of improved state revenue – will enable his Fiscal 2013 budget to increase K-12 schools funds by $146 million, increase technical schools and colleges funds by $11.3 million, increase school nurses funds by $3.7 million, and increase teacher salaries by $55.8 million based on training and experience.

As expected, Governor Deal also announced an increase in the number of pre-K school year days next year to 170 days, a ten-day improvement over this year.  Deal said there would be no reductions to the QBE funding formula, equalization grants or other enrollment driven programs.

He announced a new reading program for young pupils.  “Students must learn to read in order to be able to read to learn and when we fail to invest in our youngest students, we are forced to spend money on remediation for the remainder of their academic careers,” the Governor said.  “To this end, my budget includes $1.6 million for a reading mentors program.”

Governor Nathan Deal (File Photo)

Deal answered a big question about fall 2012 funding for charter schools that were affected by last spring’s Supreme Court decision that overturned the state charter schools commission.  He will ask for $8.7 million in supplemental grants to help those schools stay open next year.

The Governor added, “This is not the long-term solution, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that charter schools can thrive in Georgia. We can do this and with your help we will.”  The General Assembly is expected to consider ideas that would enable the state to become an alternate authorizer of schools that do not seek or cannot obtain a local school system charter.

On higher education, Deal came out firmly in support of a proposed consolidation of several state colleges.  The Governor described consolidation as “doing more with less.”  About medical education, he said, “Georgians deserve a world-class, public medical university and it will be a priority of this administration to have a medical college among the top 50 nationally.”

Deal said Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta will seek to become the state’s second National Cancer Institute designated Cancer Center, alongside the Winship Cancer Center at Emory University.  “Georgia’s annual death rate from cancer exceeds the national average,” Deal said “but I believe we have all of the ingredients necessary to be a destination for cancer research and a resource for every family battling this disease.”  Georgia will invest $5 million toward that goal.

“In order to address the need for additional health professionals in Georgia, we have been investing in the expansion of undergraduate medical education for several years,” Deal said.  “We must now take the next step in this process by increasing the number of graduate residency slots.”  The Governor said his budget will fund 400 new residency positions.

Deal announced “Go Build Georgia” to assist workforce development.  Deal said 13 million people are unemployed nationally but employers cannot find qualified personnel for some 1.3 million positions.  “Right here in metro Atlanta, Siemens has been unable to fill approximately 200 skilled-trade positions in the fields of manufacturing automation, health care technology, transportation systems and technical services.  It is time we begin work to boost our pipeline.”

On transportation, Deal said new southbound lanes will be added to Georgia 400 to alleviate congestion.  The Governor said he supports ideas to alleviate Northwest corridor congestion along I-75 and I-575, but not the ideas in a recently abandoned plan.  “I was, am and will be opposed to contracting away Georgia’s sovereignty for a period of 60 to 70 years over a transportation corridor that is so vital to our future,” Deal said.

The need to reform the state corrections system was a dominant theme when Deal addressed the General Assembly last year, and he returned to that theme with several announcements: $1.4 million to fund additional parole officers, $32.5 million for new prison beds, and three pre-release centers would be converted to residential substance abuse treatment centers at an initial cost of $5.7 million.

“We must make this investment,” Deal said.  “If we fail to treat the addict’s drug addiction, we haven’t taken the first in breaking the cycle of crime – a cycle that destroys lives and wastes taxpayer resources.  This is something we can do and with your help we will.”

Deal proposed $10 million in next year’s budget for new drug, DUI, mental health and veterans’ courts.  Expanding accountability courts was a key recommendation made by this past year’s special council on criminal justice reform. With a focus on rehabilitating people and closing the revolving door back into prison, Deal asked that the religious community, non-profits and other charitable organizations help former prisoners transition back into the general population.

“Let me be clear so there is no misinterpretation.  This is not a get out of jail free card,” Deal said.  “These reforms do not in any way diminish the seriousness of the seven deadly sins.  If you commit one of these, you will spend time in our prisons.  In fact, this transformation of our corrections efforts will ensure that we have the space and resources to incarcerate high-risk and violent offenders going forward.”

The Governor concluded his address by returning to the economic agenda that he discussed during his speech to 2,500 at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce “Eggs and Issues” breakfast.

Deal’s agenda includes repeal of the sales tax on energy, new sales and use tax exemptions for construction materials used in “projects of regional significance,” and updating two jobs tax credit programs.  “We will modernize our job tax credits to better incentivize small business growth and to help every Georgia community compete with their regional peers,” Deal said.

As mentioned above, Georgia finances have steadily improved since mid-2009 but the state is far from leaving the forest.  Georgia now has a $328 million reserve fund, an increase of 183 percent, but well below more than $1 billion on hand several years ago.  With an eye to change how the state manages money, Deal said 10 percent of all programs will begin zero-based budgeting, a process that requires justification for every line item in a budget before it is funded.  This idea was considered but never enacted during Governor Sonny Perdue’s administration.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

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January 10, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal Asked, Is Transportation Sales Tax In Trouble?

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal did not hesitate Wednesday when was asked whether the state regional transportation sales tax referendum scheduled for next year is in trouble, as some believe.  If the measure passes the sales tax would be imposed for ten years and it would fund projects that voters would know about before they approve the money.

“I don’t necessarily think that it is,” Governor Deal replied during a news conference at the State Capitol.  “Obviously, anytime in an economy like we have now getting people to understand that an additional one penny is going to be asked of them is a very significant undertaking.

“But by the same token, I think this is a unique opportunity for Georgians to have a say in the transportation and transit projects that they think are important in their part of the state.”

T-SPLOST – the penny-per-dollar transportation special local option sales tax – is scheduled for a July 2012 primary election vote.  Deal will ask the General Assembly to move the vote to next year’s November 8 general election.  Look for the change to become official when the General Assembly is in town starting next week for the once every ten years redistricting special session.

Governor Nathan Deal

“This is a long way away and we are proposing the date be changed to give more time for more Georgians to participate,” Deal said.  “We believe that moving the actual vote to the general election will, in fact, do that.”

Almost 2.6 million Georgians voted in the November 2010 general election, but fewer than 1.1 million voted in the summer primary.  The move is a gamble that more voters who are inclined to support the measure will be vote in the general election.

Now to the business of redistricting.  Legislators and mapmakers have been working for months on new maps that will add one U.S. House district in north Georgia, giving the state 14 Congress members.  Population growth and shifts will increase north Georgia representation in the state Senate and House, with the byproduct being reduced representation from southern sections.

State House district proposed maps will be released online this Friday.  Georgia voting district maps face certification by the U.S. Justice Department before they can become official.  Legislators will also be asked to extend the gasoline tax rate freeze that Deal imposed in July.

Some very big issues that are not part of the Special Session remain in play.  Work continues on tax reform that was left incomplete in April when legislators lost confidence in fiscal data.  A K-12 education finance reform committee is at work on ideas to rewrite the state’s 26-year-old public education funding formula.  A corrections reform effort is underway, and last week Governor Deal appointed a commission to work on improving higher education graduation rates.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia School Choice Advocates Are Not Going Down Without a Fight

Mike Klein

Georgia school choice advocates are not going down without a fight.  Some are going back to the legislative table and some are taking to the streets.  On the other side of the coin, there are those who believe the Georgia Supreme Court got it right in Monday’s split decision opinion that sidelined the state charter schools commission.

Late Monday afternoon we learned a Senate sub-committee will be named to study the Supreme Court decision and propose fixes, perhaps this summer.  “The thing we are counting on is the special session,” said Tony Roberts, executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Association.  “That comes up in August.”

The year’s second General Assembly session could become hyper-hectic when lawmakers return to Atlanta to redraw legislative district lines, possibly try tax reform again, and now, just perhaps, an attempt to address charter schools questions created by the Supreme Court ruling.

And there are several questions, including how to keep funds flowing to existing schools and the impact on new schools that were scheduled to open this fall.  The state commission planned to have 17 schools operating with as many as 16,500 students starting in August.  Notably, the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein contains no effective date.

Supporters predict thousands will descend on the Washington Street side of the State Capitol on Tuesday morning to protest Monday’s 4-3 decision.  Governor Nathan Deal is in Europe on a trade mission and the General Assembly is out of town but protestors, no doubt, will be easily heard at the Supreme Court which is just across the street from the Capitol.

Earlier, Roberts at GCSA described the decision as “bad news for thousands of children and parents in Georgia who hoped for a brighter future with their children in a Commission charter school.  This is a case where the majority is NOT right.  The minority opinion of the Supreme Court contained in the 75 pages of dissenting opinion is the one that is right.”

Schools are asking, what to do next?  “That’s the $64,000 question,” said Matt Arkin, head of school at Georgia Cyber Academy which has 6,500 online learning students.  GCA was approved to become a state commission charter school this fall.  “Until we hear otherwise we’re going to continue with our plans. The ruling today certainly has not changed that commitment.”

Monday’s opinion – filed seven months after oral arguments – said the General Assembly overstepped its bounds when it passed a 2008 state charter schools commission bill that was signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue.  The Supreme Court decision means state charters would not receive funding this fall, and perhaps sooner.

Mark Peevy, executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission said his office is coordinating with the offices of Governor Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens, along with the State Board of Education, to understand the ruling and mitigate negative impacts.

“We will be working on a solution to help our current schools bridge the gap until we have that fix in place.”  Peevy estimated that could cost $30 million-to-$40 million.  Peevy admitted he does not have a great answer for parents who wonder what’s next.  “The parent has to take a look at what they want to see happen with their child and move forward with those options.”

While crestfallen school choice and charter school supporters re-group, others view the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Carol Hunstein as confirmation that House Bill 881 got it wrong three years ago.

“One thing that does seem clear is the Supreme Court has held the General Assembly may not create its own charter schools for the general K-12 population,” said attorney Tom Cox, who represented DeKalb County and the Atlanta Public Schools before the state Supreme Court.

“This has never been about the wisdom and viability of charter schools, at least speaking for my clients, Atlanta and DeKalb.  They have approved and authorized and are currently operating within their districts more charter schools than any other district in Georgia,” Cox said.  “This has always been about who makes the decision about which new charter schools will be approved.”

Georgia joins a short list of states whose highest courts rejected the creation of a state charter schools commission.  The list consists of just Georgia and Florida.   A challenge to the Florida Schools of Excellence closed the state charter commission closed before any schools opened.

Arkin at Georgia Cyber Academy remains optimistic.  “Every state that ever had the appetite to do this has eventually done it. This is probably a hiccup toward the eventual solution. Now we just need to wait for some direction from the state Board of Education and from the governor to help us all make sure our students don’t get penalized.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Supreme Court Charters Case Put Other School Funds At Risk?

Mike Klein

Did the Georgia Supreme Court delay its long-awaited opinion in the high profile state charter schools commission case because of the potential far-reaching impact on education equalization dollars received by three-fourths of Georgia public school districts?

“This case is filled with a lot of thorny issues and it’s one that is requiring more deliberation by the justices,” said Tony Roberts, chief executive officer at the Georgia Charter Schools Association.  “My guess is there are so many ramifications about any decision that they have to consider not just the constitutionality of the case, but also the ramifications.”

Roberts predicted a Supreme Court decision to strike down the state Charter Schools Commission funding model “will affect some previous legislation as well, for instance, equalization.  If they say the state cannot reallocate money (to charter commission schools) then equalization will not happen as well and there will be a lot of school systems unhappy about that.”

Equalization … like charter schools commission funding … is a unique funding model created by the General Assembly to move state education dollars into classrooms.  Georgia has 180 public school systems; 75% receive equalization dollars based on their property tax base.  The 25% of school districts with the highest property tax base do not receive extra funds.

Most observers expected the Supreme Court to rule this week in a case that would decide the landscape for state-approved charter schools of both brick-and-mortar and virtual varieties.

Three years ago the 2008 General Assembly created the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and gave it the power to authorize charter school applications that were rejected by local boards.  Legislators also gave the commission authority to transfer dollars from public school districts to state charters.  Gwinnett sued and six other districts joined the suit as co-plaintiffs.

Last May, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob ruled the General Assembly was within its constitutional right to create the Charter Schools Commission and its funding model.

Then in October the seven plaintiff districts appealed to the Supreme Court.  They asked the seven justices to overturn the decision and declare the commission legislation unconstitutional. There also is a question about whether commission charters qualify as “special schools.”

Wednesday morning the Court sent an electronic mail which said that “for good cause” the case would be “hereby extended until further order” of the Court.  A spokesperson said the unusual order gives the Court flexibility to rule at any point, which could mean soon or not soon at all.

Attorneys on both sides were caught somewhat flat-footed by the announcement.

Attorney Josh Moore represents Gwinnett public schools, which is the lead plaintiff.  “All I told them was not to read too much into it,” Moore said Wednesday afternoon.  “The Court is supposed to rule by the end of the second term and they just decided they need more time.”

Bruce Brown represents charter schools.  “We understand the Court has the authority to issue its opinion at any time and it could come right away or the delay could be substantial,” Brown said.  “We do know the charter school case is the only case which they extended the term.”

Attorney Tom Cox represents the Atlanta and DeKalb public school systems.  Cox could not recall another case in which the Supreme Court announced it would delay a ruling. “It’s totally new to my experience.  I couldn’t even speculate about what if anything it means other than they are granting themselves an extension,” Cox said.  “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The “special schools” question is intriguing.  A 1983 state constitution amendment defined “special schools” as being for disabled persons. Charter schools did not exist in 1983.  A Supreme Court ruling that favors the commission would expand the “special schools” definition.

The Supreme Court found itself boxed into a calendar corner.  The case was filed in September.  The Court is required to decide all cases within two terms, which almost always means the decision is reached within six months.  But with the opinion clearly not ready, the Court took the most unusual step to issue an order granting itself more time.

“Had they not done that I believe the lower court order would stand,” said Moore, who represents Gwinnett.  “This case is too important to do that so regardless of which way they rule, they are going to provide a rationale for the ruling.  It underlines the complexity of the case.”  The plaintiffs are Gwinnett, Atlanta, Bulloch, Candler, DeKalb, Griffin-Spalding and Henry.

Mark Peevy is executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  Peevy said the 17 charter schools “don’t have any questions that they didn’t have yesterday.  We’re still at the same spot.  We certainly believe the Superior Court was right and we are expecting the Supreme Court to uphold that decision.” State charters will enroll up to 16,500 students next fall.

“Our approach and our belief is we’re going to be here next year,” said Matt Arkin, Head of School at Georgia Cyber Academy which has 6,500 online students.  “GCA is not going anywhere and I hope we can say the same about all Commission schools.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thousands of Mentally Ill Patients Will Leave State Psychiatric Hospitals

Mike Klein

The changing face of Georgia health care looks something like this: Thousands of mentally ill patients will begin to leave state psychiatric hospitals as they move into community care settings. Programs that serve millions of Georgians will be scaled back even as public sector employees pay more for coverage and receive less in their state health benefit plan.

How Georgia will make decisions about health care dollars was the focus Thursday when the state’s three leading public health executives testified during Senate – House appropriations committee hearings. Next year health care expenditures will be nearly $14.7 billion. Governor Nathan Deal’s proposed budget includes $4.1 billion in state dollars. The rest are federal funds.

Two of the state’s three large public health agencies – Community Health and Human Services – expect to lose hundreds of millions of state dollars in the Governor’s Office proposed budget. Program services will be eliminated or reduced affecting young and old, infirm and able-bodied.

The third large agency — Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities — will receive an increase in part because the state must transfer thousands of patients with mental illness or developmental disabilities out of state psychiatric hospitals and into community settings.

This happened because the U.S. Justice Department sued Georgia after an investigation found the state was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that Georgia had unlawfully segregated some patients who had disabilities.

Last October the Justice Department also said the investigation “found that preventable deaths, suicides and assaults occurred with alarming frequency in the hospitals.” Under the settlement agreement Georgia must transfer 9,000 patients before July 2015 and it must stop admitting developmental disabilities patients to state hospitals this summer.

It was not lost on anyone who was in the committee room Thursday morning that less than two weeks earlier a gunman shot 19 persons, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, during a Tucson event. A nine-year-old girl, a federal judge and four other persons died.

Behavioral Health Commissioner Frank Shelp acknowledged that, “People with severe mental illness who have not received proper services, if they are neglected and allowed to simply move about, bad things happen eventually, as we’ve seen recently in our country.”

He asked that legislators remember, “Mental illness is a spectrum condition. Some people with severe diagnosis still operate virtually autonomously and move about in the community and even maintain jobs and do all kinds of things whereas someone with the very same diagnosis can be virtually completely incapacitated and need complete care, and everything in-between.”

Shelp said many more than 9,000 Georgians are afflicted with schizophrenia; he estimated the number at closer to 70,000. Behavioral Health requested $10.3 million in the amended budget and $54 million next year to fund the settlement agreement changes.

Public health dollars pay for many other services including Medicaid, PeachCare, inpatient and outpatient health care, HIV testing, chemical hazard investigations, food safety inspections, assistance to unwed teenage mothers, state hospitals, infectious disease tests, adult and child care services, indigent care, the state’s vital records program, even poison and rabies control.

The largest piece of the state health budget goes to the Department of Community Health. The Governor’s Office recommended $11.936 billion for DCH next year, down from $12.1 billion.

Community Health Commissioner David Cook spent nearly an hour describing program cuts before he asked legislators to support a $10 million bond package that would enable Georgia to draw down $90 million in federal matching funds to implement health care reforms.

“This money will be used to create a revised eligibility program to determine Medicaid eligibility and it’s something that I believe we desperately need to do,” Cook said. I’ll just speak for our area; the IT infrastructure area is in need of help and I am asking for your support on that.”

Medicaid will cost more in state dollars because federal stimulus funds are going away. Cook said the state must replace more than $600 million during each of the next two years. Medicaid and PeachCare programs administered by the agency serve 1.6 million Georgians.

DCH also administers the state health benefit plan. Cook said the 2010 audit showed a $17 million reserve. “That may seem like a lot of money but that represents an average of two days of claims. We are running on a very thin margin in the state health benefit plan.”

This year 700,000 state employees, teachers and retirees will pay higher spouse and tobacco use surcharges. Basic premiums will increase, as will co-payments. Cook said the real cost to employees will be an additional 10%. DCH has been asked to identify another $37 million in new state health benefit plan savings. “We need to rebuild those reserves,” Cook insisted.

Human Services Commissioner Clyde Reese testified a proposed 4% reduction in the agency’s next budget will zero-out all state funds for child care facility licensing, family violence services and needy families’ assistance. Some state funds will be replaced with federal dollars.

“We are down now to bone. There is no more fat left,” Reese said. “There hasn’t been for quite a while. The priority is the must work phase. Things that we would like to do, things that some people feel the department should do; those have to take a back seat.” Reese said the priority at Human Resources is preservation of children’s and family services caseworkers.

Former state representative and newly elected Labor Commissioner Mark Butler returned to familiar surroundings as Thursday’s final witness. Butler said Georgia must pay $6 million to the federal government this year for interest on funds borrowed to write unemployment checks.

The state Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund ran out of money in 2009.  Weekly checks to jobless Georgians have been written primarily with hundreds of millions of dollars borrowed from the federal government. Georgia will be on the hook to Washington for principal and interest.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

January 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Senator Greg Goggans: Blame Me for Trauma Care Amendment Defeat

Georgia state Senator Greg Goggans said Thursday he feels personally responsible for the defeat of a constitutional amendment to ensure dedicated funding to statewide trauma care.   “I take the blame for this,” Goggans told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.  “I don’t think I did enough to make people understand early on what this was all about.”

Goggans was the principal architect of Senate Bill 277 that placed trauma care on Tuesday’s ballot.  The amendment question asked, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to impose an annual $10.00 trauma charge on certain passenger motor vehicles in this state for the purpose of funding trauma care?”  Supporters expected to raise up to $80 million annually.

With 36 hours to reflect after Tuesday’s defeat, Goggans said “impose an annual $10 charge” might have been poorly worded.  “In hindsight, maybe impose was a terrible word,” Goggans said. “People looked at it as a tax.”

He is not hopeful the General Assembly will identify new funding this winter.  Goggans said last month’s mental health services negotiated agreement between Georgia and the U.S. Justice Department is a significant reason for that likely outcome.

Georgia agreed to comply with a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision that people with mental illness and developmental disabilities have a right to community treatment programs rather than segregation in state hospitals. In return, the federal government will not control state services.

But compliance will carry a steep cost.  Goggans estimated $15 million must be added to mental health services in the current year amended budget and $60-to-$65 million in the Fiscal 2012 budget.   “We have no reserves,” Goggans said, “and our one-time funds are gone.”

The trauma care amendment was not soundly rejected.  It lost by 135,000 votes from 2.5 million cast with 1.2 million voting yes.  But the amendment lost in 145 of 159 counties and rural county Georgians routinely voted no.  Goggans represents nine counties in deepest southern Georgia.

“There was a lot of push-back in rural Georgia that Atlanta would get all this money, that we would never get a trauma center in south Georgia,” Goggans said.  “I never could get it across, even to some of my personal friends.  I had friends say, if you could show me that we’re going to get a trauma center in Waycross or in Douglass, then I’ll vote for it but there’s no guarantee.

”I guess the last two or three weeks, when people started early voting, that’s when everything started to hit me; Yeah, people really have an issue with this and they don’t understand it,” Goggans said, “but I guess it was just too late.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Supporters: Trauma Care Funding Amendment Slain by Angry Voters

Leading advocates for statewide dedicated trauma care funding said Wednesday afternoon that they will plead their case with Georgia Governor-elect Nathan Deal and the new General Assembly, but they are not optimistic about chances to find $80 million in the current state budget or anytime soon.

Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission chairman Dr. Dennis Ashley said voters are angry and they distrust politicians to take their money and do the right thing.  “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ashley said.  “We felt like if we got out there and showed the facts we could overcome it.”

Constitutional Amendment #2 asked voters to approve a $10 annual vehicle registration tax that would be dedicated to improve trauma care throughout the state but mostly in rural Georgia.  The ballot question lost 52.6% to 47.4% and it failed in 145 of the state’s 159 counties.

“I don’t think this was about $10 or trauma care.  It was about government,” said Kevin Bloye, vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association.  “What we heard was (voters) didn’t feel like the money would be used for trauma.   They felt like it would be money flushed down another hole.  As much as we tried to tell them the dollars were locked into trauma care, they weren’t buying it.”

Tuesday was the first time Georgia voters were asked to consider dedicated trauma care funding.  “Even with unemployment the way it is and anti-government sentiment, we still got 1.2 million people that thought trauma care was enough of a problem that they were willing to pay $10 per year,” said Ashley.

“That’s no small number.  The ones who voted no, they were supportive of trauma care.  They thought it was a good idea to save 700 lives a year.  They just wanted no more taxes and they want the money to come from the general fund.”

Despite its defeat, the amendment overcame a perception north Georgia voters would not approve funds that would primarily assist south Georgians.  Three large population counties in metropolitan Atlanta – Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton – approved the measure by slim margins, as did Chatham County (Savannah) on the southeast coast.  But much needed rural support never materialized.

“The irony was the people who needed this amendment to pass the most were the ones who rejected it,” Bloye said.  “Without doubt the major gaps in trauma care are in south Georgia, southwest Georgia and northeast Georgia. Those are the areas that rejected the amendment.”

Georgia’s General Assembly created the constitutional amendment path when it could not or would not fund trauma care from the state’s general budget.  Ashley said he discussed trauma care funding with Governor-elect Deal “two weeks ago.  He talked like he was supportive of (dedicated trauma care funding) but we didn’t get into any details. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.”

Bloye pointed to “an unprecedented time in state government.  Collections remain down.  There are huge funding holes.  Frankly, it’s going to be very difficult the next few years to get anything done with trauma care. Does that mean we will stop working on it?  Absolutely not.  We will work as hard as ever but this is going to be a huge uphill climb.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

November 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trauma Care, Five Other Ballot Questions Go Before Voters on Tuesday

This article was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Next week Georgia voters will decide whether to enact five proposed constitutional amendments and one referendum question.  This article contains short summaries of all six ballot measures.   Additional information is available on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website. You are invited to discuss the proposed amendments by clicking on “Leave A Comment” at the bottom of this article.

Proposed Amendment #1: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to make Georgia more economically competitive by authorizing legislation to uphold reasonable competitive agreements?”

What It Does: As a practical matter, passage would enable Georgia corporations and companies to enforce non-compete agreements with senior executives and others in lower job classifications when the company decides the employee holds confidential information.

Last year the Georgia business community supported passage of House Bill 173 which says post – employment non-compete agreements of two years or less are reasonable. Governor Sonny Perdue signed the bill but enactment requires a constitutional amendment.

House Bill 173 would give Georgia courts authority to revise non-compete agreements entered into by employers and employees without overturning the entire agreement.  Amendment approval means HB 173 would become law on Wednesday, November 3.  Rejection of the amendment means the statute would be automatically repealed.

The proposed amendment could limit options for some persons to work in the same field after an employee leaves previous employment.  Language within the amendment does not make clear how this would pertain to persons who work in firms that do business across state lines or internationally, which often is the case with senior and other key executives.

Proposed Amendment #2: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to impose an annual $10.00 trauma charge on certain passenger motor vehicles in this state for the purpose of funding trauma care?”

What It Does: Advocates have done a good job explaining why Georgia should upgrade trauma care center resources, especially outside metropolitan areas where trauma care is not readily available.  Some $80 million in estimated annual revenue would assist Georgia’s 17 designated trauma hospitals and provide funds to upgrade other hospitals from acute care to trauma center status.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Hospital Association and several other statewide medical associations have made passage of this amendment a full-blown statewide initiative. They point out that the state has just four trauma care centers south of Macon.

Virtually all private vehicles including motorcycles and pick-up trucks would be subject to the annual $10 trauma charge.  But Senate Resolution 277, the legislation that proposed the constitutional amendment, made clear that state government vehicles would be exempt.

There is near universal consensus that Georgia should improve its trauma care capabilities.  Critics fall into two camps:  Those who believe that amending the state constitution is not an appropriate course of action, and those who believe trauma care needs should be addressed through conventional General Assembly funding.  The state also tried to address trauma care funding through a so-called super speeders law that went into effect January 1, 2010.

Proposed Amendment #3 : “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to allow the Georgia Department of Transportation to enter into multiyear construction agreements without requiring appropriations in the current fiscal year for the total amount of payments that would be due under the entire agreement so as to reduce long-term construction costs paid by the state?”

Proposed Amendment #4: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide for guaranteed cost savings for the state by authorizing a state entity to enter into multiyear contracts which obligate state funds for energy efficiency or conservation improvement projects?”

What These Do: The Georgia constitution says state government agencies may not enter into contracts with vendors that obligate the state to make payments beyond funds available within the current fiscal year.  These proposed amendments would create exemptions for transportation and for projects to improve energy efficiency and conservation.

Under Proposed Amendment #3, the General Assembly could authorize transportation contracts with private sector vendors for periods not greater than ten years.  Transportation contracts would terminate in the event of insufficient project funds.  Legislation drafted for the 2011 General Assembly is expected to address how to safeguard against overextending obligations.

The energy bill purpose is similar with slightly different implementation.  Energy vendor contracts could be written for periods up to twenty-five years.  Vendors would be required to guarantee specified savings or revenue gains solely attributable to energy improvements.  The guarantee would be satisfied by placement of funds into escrow accounts.

Supporters and critics line up in essentially two camps:  Supporters believe both amendments are good business practices that make projects more manageable and fiscally responsible.  The second camp is those who are concerned about the state incurring long-term unfunded debt.

Proposed Amendment #5: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to allow the owners of real property located in industrial areas to remove the property from the industrial area?”

What It Does: This amendment would enable owners of industrial area properties in Chatham and Jeff Davis Counties to have their land annexed by cities that already provide water or fire services.  These properties are the state’s last industrial areas created more than 50 years ago under “local constitutional amendments” that stipulated the property could never be annexed to a city.

“Local constitutional amendments” were eliminated by the state constitution that went into effect in 1983, but existing properties were grandfathered.  In 1996 Georgia amended its constitution so owners whose industrial area property was located on an island could annex to a city.  This amendment updates the idea to include property not included on an island.

Statewide Referendum Question: “Shall the Act be approved which grants an exemption from state ad valorem taxation for inventory of a business?”

What It Does: Georgia voters could impose an early kill date on the state portion of the business inventory ad valorem tax.   Most business inventory ad valorem revenue goes directly to local jurisdictions and the fiscal impact would be small on the state budget. There are several arguments in favor of the amendment and against continuation of the tax.  Georgia law allows several exemptions; just 14 other states impose a similar tax; and, this year the General Assembly passed legislation to eliminate the state business inventory ad valorem tax in 2016.  Amendment passage would eliminate the state tax on January 1, 2011, and for all subsequent years.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Losing Job Leaves Colleague “Feeling Bruised”

This past week two more colleagues joined the half million plus Georgians who are out of work.   They toiled for big companies, Coca-Cola and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who apparently have not heard we are in an economic rebound made possible by the Barack Obama administration.

They entered the ranks of newly laid off professionals the same week the White House admitted the inevitable:  Official unemployment will remain around 10% nationally all year and that is not good news for any politician, Republican, Democrat or Tea Party.   One told me she is “feeling bruised.”

Perhaps they are just a bit fortunate.  Now they can reinvent.  Think about all the poor folks back in the office who sit around all day, fearful someone has painted a target on them.  The best part is they no longer have to get up in the morning and wonder, is this the day they send me home? Continue reading

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment