No, governor, we’re not a ‘beacon of progress’

Here’s the sales pitch offered by Gov. Nathan Deal in a conference call Monday with Republican state legislators:

“When CNBC ratified that we were the number one state in the nation to do business, it drove them crazy … . We are the beacon for progress in the United States at the state level. Let’s not abandon it. We have great things that lie ahead of us. But we have to be there to make it happen.”

Here’s the reality, as offered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday:

“In June 2014, nonfarm payroll employment increased in 33 states and the District of Columbia and decreased in 17 states…. The largest over-the-month decrease in employment occurred in Georgia (-9,500), followed by West Virginia (-9,100) and Alaska (-5,900).”

To put that into context, Georgia’s job loss came the same month that the nation as a whole added 288,000 jobs. While the national unemployment rate fell last month from 6.3 percent to 6.1 percent, Georgia’s unemployment rate rose to 7.4 percent, its second consecutive monthly rise.

Only four states — Mississippi, Michigan, Rhode Island and Nevada — now have higher unemployment rates than Georgia, the “beacon of progress in the United States.”

It’s important to point out that governors always get too much of the blame when things go bad (they also claim too much of the credit when things improve). In Georgia’s case, only the harshest of partisans would claim that Deal is solely or even largely to blame for the downward trends highlighted above. He has been in office for less than four years, and our current predicament is the consequence of decisions made over a much longer period of time.

However, the governor’s insistence that we are “the beacon for progress … at the state level” and his commitment to continue and even accelerate the failed economic strategy of the last decade, ought to concern Georgians. We are not a beacon for progress. We are falling behind states that we once considered peers and instead find ourselves compared to states that we once considered laggards.

If our leaders can’t even acknowledge that reality, if they can’t admit that the trends won’t change if the strategy doesn’t change, the long-term prospects for Georgia are not good.

Let me cite just one pertinent example of bad decisions harming economic growth:

For purely ideological reasons, Deal and his fellow Republicans continue to refuse to expand Medicaid in Georgia, turning away an estimated $40 billion in federal assistance over the next decade and denying medical coverage to 400,000 to 600,000 Georgians, most of them the working poor.

That’s tens of thousands of jobs. It also means that Georgia hospitals, particularly in rural areas, will have an increasingly hard time staying afloat, making the regions that they serve less attractive to business. In fact, the Fitch bond rating service noted last week that the financial impact is already being felt nationally. Nonprofit hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid are doing better, but “we expect providers in states that have chosen not to participate … to face increasing financial challenges in 2014 and beyond.”

It’s bad governance, and bad governance has consequences.