Opinion: Solid leadership has Ga. on right path

Georgia’s Gold Dome. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Georgia’s Gold Dome. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

It seems like yesterday that I decided to run for political office. I felt we could work with our educators to improve our outcomes and increase future opportunities for our youth. I felt there was an over-regulation of our business structure that was preventing us from being able to unleash the full potential that our state had to offer. I felt that too many people were having to make decisions about their healthcare based off the high cost of insurance. I wanted to take the time to tell everyone why I feel that Georgia is moving in the right direction.

Governing is never about presenting a one-time solution that then works forever. Government adapts as our environment changes. An example is the technology that enhances all areas of society today could not have been comprehended a decade ago. That one small example is why we continue to evaluate and adjust as needed. The past seven years have allowed me to be involved in reforming key areas – particularly the last two where my primary responsibility is determining the legislative outlay of the state. I’ve taken up those areas of reform and, to me, we have a way ahead.

State Sen. Mike Dugan is Senate Majority Leader.
State Sen. Mike Dugan is Senate Majority Leader.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

For the first time in over a decade, the Quality Basic Education formula (QBE) was fully funded. This formulation looks at the needed resource requirement to correctly fund education systems across the state. The 2008 housing crash forced budgets to be slashed. In that time, the state has incrementally added to the forced deficit – now, we have a formulation that has complete funding. In addition to the fully funded education base, we were able to raise teacher salaries across the state. Granted, the raise schedule has been slightly altered by our current pandemic, but when revenues normalize, we fully intend on providing the promised salary base increases. So, in short, we’ve rebuilt our education funding and teacher salary systems. We continue to promote excellent teacher benefits, and now we are able to better provide classrooms with the fiscal support teachers personally undertook for many years.

Businesses have taken a beating in the past few months as a result of COVID-19. Prior to the current change, Georgia modified our income tax base and incentivized business development via our state tax credit system. By lowering personal obligations, small businesses and business innovation had a unique environment to thrive. We became the number-one state to do business, and have held that title for 7 consecutive years.

We plan on tackling our current business environment this upcoming year, particularly with reviewing our tax credit system and repositioning its base for a few years. Rather than looking solely at attracting new businesses, we’re going to focus on rebuilding and strengthening those that have been part of our community and providing jobs for our families. We’re looking for ways to support Georgia-based businesses impacted by the pandemic; we’ve taken some additional measures to ensure legal obligation around COVID-19 exposure and spread could not be unilaterally pinned on businesses.

During the past two years we have focused even more on innovating healthcare; Georgia has seen drastic, positive change to improving healthcare outcomes. When we hear the phrase “access to quality healthcare”, there are three components that need to be assessed. Access to quality healthcare includes: the ability to pay (insurance), the proximity of healthcare facilities, and the quality of care received at said facility. For almost the entire area covered by Senate District 30, we are 20 minutes from a medical facility providing emergency care. In addition to this, the care at these facilities is very good – I strongly believe the two healthcare providers in this district, Tanner Health System and WellStar, employ excellent medical staff and medical practices; West Georgia is extremely fortunate to have these two exceptional providers available to us.

We have excellent quality and accessibility but that brings us to the third, and in some ways the most difficult, part of healthcare – payment. Insurance can be seen as extremely complicated; each state has different healthcare standards, which then impacts the ability of insurance providers to exist. To help improve opportunities for all Georgians, the General Assembly took on certain components of insurance and medical coverage. This past year alone, we eliminated surprise out-of-network costs in Georgia, expanded the telemedicine capacity, and created transparency requirements for drug companies and healthcare service providers. You can now shop, some in-person and some virtual, for a range of medical necessities.

One of the most significant changes to our system is the creation of a state-based insurance exchange. Rather than have a federally mandated system, we have opted to create an insurance provider platform that is specific to Georgia. This gives insurance providers better mobility to deal with the guidelines of our state public and community health departments. We will be able to deliver better insurance plans and provide more comprehensive coverage by having our own medical insurance exchange.

I look at the reforms of education, business, and healthcare we’ve made and think back to what drove me to run for office in the first place. I wanted to ensure we improved our educational outcomes - working in partnership with those serving from Pre-K through higher education, and we collectively have made huge strides forward. I wanted to create an environment where businesses can continue to grow in place and provide well-paying jobs for their employees. I wanted to remove the choices that people had to make about being able to afford health insurance or other life essentials. Some of those measures invited criticism and I truly appreciate that feedback - although we have improved, our work is never done. As the world changes we will continue to adapt to meet those changes to keep Georgia as a wonderful place to live for all.

We’re moving in the right direction.

Mike Dugan is Georgia Senate Majority Leader.

In Other News