The Georgia General Assembly resumes session on Monday facing more political and policy uncertainty than has been the case in a long time.
The victory of President-elect Donald J. Trump and GOP gains in Congress have blown unprecedented fogginess into the near future’s political calculus.
The continuing swirl in D.C. will be deeply felt in Georgia, and the other 49 states. GOP control here does not insulate us from this reality. And up against that will be the expectation that Georgia’s lawmakers must somehow deliver results for a restive electorate.
Getting things done – especially the right things – is difficult in a normal, predictable year. And 2017 is likely to be neither.
We’ve no doubt that lawmakers are re-learning the wisdom of being careful what they wish for, because it just might happen. The sea change in Washington washes away the handy political foil represented by President Barack Obama and fellow progressives.
It is politically easy to run against something — or someone. Now the GOP must marshal its energy toward actual governing – and not politicking. The second thing is much easier than the first.
A prime example is the long struggle at the Gold Dome to pass a fuel-tax increase to pay for catching up on delayed repairs and improvements to Georgia’s roads and bridges. We said then that the General Assembly showed courage in finally approving that measure.
This year’s legislative session is likely to see equally thorny issues come before lawmakers. Here are two significant ones:
Prodded in good part by business leaders, Georgia public officials had seemed be easing, somewhat unsteadily, toward reaching some sort of accommodation intended to both increase health care access to more of Georgia’s 500,000-plus uninsured citizens as well as help stabilize struggling rural hospitals. That was pre-Nov. 8.
With Republicans now in control of Congress and Obamacare foe Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, as Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the ground has shifted profoundly around health care.
The Georgia Legislature, and the rest of the nation, are now watching to see what becomes of Obamacare. The trillion-dollar question, really, is what the “replace” in “repeal-and-replace” looks like.
State lawmakers know well the severity of Georgia’s healthcare crisis. It costs lives, and keeping a rickety status quo hurts both the state’s citizens and overall economic health. That must change, and lawmakers should move quickly toward fixes this year.
The defeat of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District idea leaves Georgia still in search of a Plan B to improve the state’s worst public schools. Finding an adequate fix cannot wait, nor should it fall victim to political payback aimed at foes of the OSD, whose efforts carried the day with voters.
Georgia’s children in substandard schools should not be punished for the squabbles of adults who can agree on the problem, but not solutions.
A comprehensive plan toward higher-quality schools will be a tough pull, but one solid place to begin is in acting on the long-delayed update to how the state pays for public schools. The current funding formula is well past its effective shelf life. If lawmakers delay any longer, the state’s children – and its future – will continue to suffer.
Also in the political ether are already-resolved issues that the Legislature should not drag once more into the sunshine.
“Religious Liberty” legislation is chief among them. The economic meltdowns from states that ignored warnings from business against passing laws widely seen as discriminatory must not be forgotten. Any legislator thinking otherwise should just take a field trip to North Carolina. Enough said.
Allowing firearms on college campuses is another red-meat favorite. Lawmakers should heed the wisdom of Gov. Deal’s veto of last year’s “Campus Carry” bill and not make another run at a divisive issue opposed by most who actually run universities for a living.
That all said, we’re not unsympathetic to the high level of uncertainty that the changes in Washington present to lawmakers here. It’s hard to quickly act on policy and purse-string issues without knowing what the feds will do, given that money from Washington amounts to roughly half of state spending. That ratio shows the significance of the unanswered fiscal questions.
If D.C. doesn’t act quickly to blow away murkiness around what’s ahead, Georgia lawmakers would be well-advised to, as some have suggested, call a halt at some point to the session. Things should resume only when needed clarity has been gained.
This year represents the rare occasion when such a delay might actually be in the best interests of Georgians.
About the Author