Democrats respond to Nathan Deal: More mass transit, expand Medicaid

Gov. Nathan Deal used his sixth State of the State address to stave off the start of fundamental changes to education policy and announce raises for teachers and state employees. Not surprisingly, state Democratic leaders weren't impressed.

Here's the response from state Sen. Vincent Fort, who used the platform to call on Deal to expand Medicaid and boost funding for mass transit:

Governor Deal told us today that Georgia is the best state to do business. The Governor told us today that our economy has brought prosperity to the people of Georgia. The Governor told us today that he's finally going to fix our broken education system. He told us today that he has the solutions to what ails the State of Georgia.

I am here on behalf of my fellow Democrats throughout the state.  You heard Governor Deal's view of the state of our state, and his plans for the next year.  We Democrats will work with the Governor when he's right, such as on criminal justice reform.  When he is wrong, however - and he and his fellow Republicans too often have the wrong priorities and solutions for our state - we will oppose him and offer alternatives.

Unfortunately, the Georgia of today is a place where economic inequality is among the worst in America, and a place where a person who wants to climb the ladder has less opportunity to do so than most anywhere else in America.  The fact is that a child born into a poor family in Georgia - whether they're in downtown Atlanta or rural Mitchell county - has less of chance to work his or her way into the middle class than if they were born in almost any other state in the nation.  That's wrong, we must not accept that, and we must work together to change it.

The Georgia my Democratic colleagues and I seek to create is a place where every one of our public schools provides its students with the skills to succeed in the 21st Century.  We want a Georgia that stops turning down billions of federal dollars - tax dollars we have paid to Washington - by expanding Medicaid to provide health insurance to half a million Georgians, create seventy thousand new jobs and keep rural hospitals across the state open.  We want a Georgia that invests in transportation and infrastructure in a way that provides options for people in urban, suburban and rural parts of our state - which means better roads and bridges, as well as more mass transit.  And we want a Georgia that honors and respects all of our citizens and their families, and does not condone discrimination against anyone.

The Governor and his colleagues would have you believe that the policies they're pushing in the next two months are in your best interests. But make no mistake - those policies serve the powerful special interests, not the interests of our middle class and those striving to join it.

We Democrats are fighting to change that here under the Gold Dome. That is why we have been working to raise Georgia's minimum wage - at only five dollars and fifteen cents an hour, among the lowest in the nation - to a level that provides a wage that pulls people out of poverty and lets them start working their way up the ladder.  In addition to helping those just starting their journey to the middle class, a minimum wage increase will boost Georgia's economy by over eight hundred million dollars and create almost three thousand new jobs.  

We Democrats also believe that the need to care for a sick relative or a newborn child should not cost someone their job or put their family's financial well-being at risk.  We will fight for legislation to guarantee paid family leave for those who need time off to care for relatives who need it. Several states across the country have already implemented similar programs to great success, with every employer in these programs reporting virtually no instances of complications or misuse. I hope our Republican colleagues can put the interests of Georgia families ahead of politics and work with us to pass this critical legislation.

You also heard the Governor discuss his plan to rework the state government's commitment to fund our local school districts.  For more than a decade, the Republican leadership here at the Capitol has failed to meet our obligation set by law to fully fund the program that supports our local schools. Despite the Governor's assurance today that this is the largest education budget in state history, he is only replacing some of the money that has been cut under years of Republican control. That has resulted in more kids in classrooms with fewer teachers and higher property taxes for homeowners as local school boards raise taxes to make up for the state cuts. Now, instead of providing the funding that school districts need, he has proposed a new funding formula which would lead to a drop in state funding for 178 of the 180 school districts in Georgia compared to the current formula.

The promise of a quality education for everyone is a sacred duty entrusted to our state government. With the Republican leadership failing to hold up its end of the bargain, less than half of our students demonstrate proficiency in reading, social studies, science, and math.Our kids' SAT scores are among the worst in the nation.And why should this surprise us when, adjusted for inflation, teachers are making less money now than they were a decade ago, leading to high turnover.

We have an obligation to our children to change course.  Democrats will fight again this year for Georgia to renew its commitment to our public schools, and to make every school in this state one that provides its students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the Twenty-First Century.

Expanding Medicaid remains a priority for Democrats. Our proposed legislation would provide healthcare to over 650,000 people, save hundreds of lives, inject billions of dollars into Georgia's economy, and create 70,000 jobs, funded by money that Georgia taxpayers are already sending to Washington.

In his speech, the Governor failed to address one of the greatest threats to civil rights in Georgia, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. The passage of this bill would allow discrimination against our LGBT families and drive businesses out of Georgia. More than 100 businesses, including Google, SunTrust, and AT&T have spoken out in opposition to the bill. It is abundantly clear that this pernicious piece of legislation would hurt every single man, woman, and child in Georgia - not just the LGBT families but every Georgian who has or wants a job. We will fight every single day until this bill is permanently dead and gone.   

The easiest way to know what politicians stand for is to look at the legislation they support. Do they support making healthcare available to everyone? Democrats do. Do they support legislation that gives people the tools they need to lift themselves into the middle class? Democrats do. Do they support legislation that protects people from discrimination based on orientation, color, and creed? Democrats do.  And we will continue to fight for those principles and against legislation that violates them.

We hope you will join us in our efforts by contacting your legislators and telling them to put the interests of the everyday people of Georgia ahead of the special interests that too often control what happens here.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.