A test of resolve and vision looms for Ga. GOP

Yes, Georgia Republicans did well in the 2014 midterms, but now that the votes have been counted and the victories celebrated, they still preside over a state with the highest unemployment rate in the country.

Yes, they were re-elected by substantial margins, but they have yet to confront the fact that a state with an economy highly dependent on transportation still ranks 50th in per capita spending on transportation, a situation that cannot plausibly be sustained. One or the other must change.

Yes, they won by promising prosperity was just around the corner, but in a global economy that places a premium on education, prosperity does not come to a state that ranks 48th in high-school graduation rate.

And while they won on a conservative message, they are also being told by business leaders that the metro Atlanta region — the engine that drives the state’s economy — can no longer compete for growth without a major investment in public transit. In a survey conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission, citizens in the 10-county region told them the same thing. They identified transportation as metro Atlanta’s primary challenge, with 42 percent saying that the best long-term solution was expanding public transit. Just 28 percent said the best long-term solution was more spending on highways.

Eight years ago, the Georgia Republican Party enjoyed a similar moment of grand opportunity. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue had just been re-elected by a healthy margin, and the party had won then-historic highs in state Senate and House seats. The economy in 2006 was still going strong, although in hindsight the signs of its collapse were already there.

And I will never forget sitting in the back of the Georgia House as Perdue announced that the big initiative of his second term, the signal accomplishment of his tenure, would be Go Fish Georgia, an effort that would “turn Georgia into a fisherman’s paradise.”

I don’t think that’s going to happen again. Gov. Nathan Deal is sending signals that he will be a much more activist governor than Perdue in his second term, and more activist than he himself had been in his first term. In addition, a state commission established by Deal will soon deliver recommendations on how to increase state funding for transportation. Indications are that its agenda may go beyond minor, piecemeal steps and include significant funding increases, also known as tax hikes.

The commission would not include such recommendations in its final report unless it has at least tacit approval from the state’s power structure. However, it’s also true that getting support for tax increases from an appointed commission is a very different thing than finding votes for it in a legislature dominated by newly re-elected Republicans. Frankly, having witnessed too many failures of will on this issue from Georgia’s elected leadership, I’m not optimistic.

In addition, there’s no reason for metro Atlanta legislators or business leaders to support a new transportation funding source that is not at least available for use on transit, including MARTA. Nobody on the planet has succeeded in creating a modern, prosperous metropolitan area without extensive investment in transit, and no, Georgia won’t be the first.

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