Prospects for transportation, education bills come into clearer focus

Deal addresses legislators in Athens. AJC photo / Bob Andres

Deal addresses legislators in Athens. AJC photo / Bob Andres

A few things I learned in Athens this week during the Legislature’s biennial conference:

1. Transportation will dominate the 2015 session, but not necessarily the way you might imagine. The study committee tasked with recommending a way forward for funding infrastructure has not yet issued its report, isn’t expected to do so until the end of the month (the due date was Nov. 30), and most likely won’t suggest “a” way forward. Rather, we will get a menu of options … and no clear-cut answer as to who’s the chief, er, chef. Great googly moogly.

The optimist in me says the changed tone and increased urgency about the need to put more money into roads and bridges (and maybe rails) points to a strong likelihood legislators will end up passing a strong, if not exactly overwhelming, package. The pessimist in me says we’ve seen this movie before, following the report of the 2010 Special Council on Tax Reform and Fairness for Georgians. That report, too, was issued a bit late and without a clearly defined, consensus policy. It had no obvious, passionate, recognized leader among legislators, who seemed to look at every turn for someone else to push through a reform package. The result was a late, halting effort that was immediately picked apart by critics on all sides — and no legislation passed in 2011. Instead, a more modest and somewhat forgettable package was passed a year later in the name of the same ambitious “tax reform” effort. Lawmakers declared victory and went home. (If you think I underrate that 2012 tax package, know that tax reform is back in the mix as something legislators are discussing in the same way as 4-5 years ago.)

This isn’t the way significant legislation gets passed. Significant legislation gets passed when the governor or legislative leaders are clearly out in front of the effort, as in the case of the governor and criminal justice reform (more on that in a bit); when one member is leading the charge with the clear and full backing of leadership, as with Rep. Matt Ramsey and the 2011 immigration bill; or when a legislator is so passionate about an issue as to put 100 percent of his efforts into it, as with Rep. Allen Peake and the medical cannabis bill expected to pass in 2015 after nearly getting through this spring.

But none of this means an ill-fated topic can’t commandeer the headlines. The transportation-funding debate will color every other issue at the Gold Dome, as observers wonder whether support or opposition to those other issues are being marshaled in the name of an eventual infrastructure package. Republicans, despite their two-thirds majorities in each chamber, know they probably can’t pass a significant bill with only GOP votes; Democrats are well aware of the leverage this gives them.

2. The different approach being taken to education reform makes its prospects rather brighter. As I mentioned earlier, the Legislature has passed serious criminal justice reforms each of the past three years — this, even though exactly four years ago hardly anyone was talking about the subject. As I recall, the topic first arose in Gov. Nathan Deal’s inaugural address in January 2011. Deal established a commission to study the issue and make recommendations — in many ways, not unlike that 2010 tax-reform council. The major difference was that he was the visible and vocal champion of his commission’s recommendations. Deal’s three serial pieces of criminal-justice legislation have passed the House and Senate with a total of five “no” votes (on final passage). That’s astounding.

During this year’s campaign, Deal said he intended to use the same model for reforming education, from changing the three-decades-old and obsolete QBE funding formula to establishing a state-run Recovery School District for perennially failing systems, as has been done in Louisiana and Tennessee. I heard of other nascent efforts at education reform by legislators who may move forward if they get the green light from the governor.

There is a different question of timing than in Deal’s first term: Next year will be an election year for legislators (though not for Deal and other statewide officers), and after that we’ll be watching for lame-duck signs leading up to the 2018 election for Deal’s successor. Still, Georgia’s governor wields significant power when he is willing to use it, and the commission model seems to be Deal’s chosen instrument.

3. Health care remains a potent issue. The first two topics have gotten much of the ink and air time, but health care — the second-biggest budget category after education — will continue to drive much of the reality at the Capitol. Even without expanding Medicaid, which still appears to be off the table for Georgia’s GOP leaders, that program still stands to cost taxpayers an additional tens of millions of dollars in budget year after budget year. That soaks up much of the steady if modest rise in state revenues. So do other health-related budget items.

One long-time bugbear that may make another comeback this year is reform of Georgia’s certificate of need (CON) regime, which manages the planning and approval of new or expanded medical facilities across the state. It’s yet another way in which there is nothing like a free market, or even market-oriented approach, to health care in Georgia. One presentation to legislators Tuesday described Georgia’s CON law as the fifth-most restrictive in the nation. The incumbents in the hospital industry will fight many changes, but there were some indications of openness to some changes from some industry representatives Tuesday. If that sounds like I’m hedging a great deal, well, I am.

Reader Comments 0

21 comments
Trefusis
Trefusis

Transportation.  How bloody visionary.  Let's add another concentric ring to the Perimeter while we're at it.  No spokes, just racially circumscribed rims with an ever-shifting hub.  Bozos.  You know, both Tech and UGA generate exquisitely engineers expert in Transportation Planning and I wonder whether the gilded-headed poobahs ever have consulted a one of them, much less the Ph.D's from Ann Arbor, God forbid a Yankee should come down here and show how it's done.  How does Metro Atlanta even think it can handle traffic to and from the notional ballpark in Cobb, when Cobb is as transit-averse as any county in the Southeast?  If everyone has to drive to the Park then a whole generation of less fortunate kids will be shut out of the Baseball experience.  It's nut$.  Moreover do you realize that much of this PLOSST money, so "shovel-ready" that it took six and seven years to pour, is icing on brain-dead federal street standards from 1935?  It's so ironic that what put Atlanta on the map, historically, was that it once had been the South's chief transportation hub.  The brilliant expertise always has been here.  I just don't trust the politicians to know whom to ask, nor even to bother asking; rather, I think they mean to go after pots of money with which to consolidate power for themselves.  Sorry this is such a downer.  Georgia really could be a showplace for very intelligent Transportation planning.  Certainly.   

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Great write-up Kyle.  I'm on the pessimist side of Transit funding, since it's been discussed to death, planned to death, and ignored to death. Georgia needs a leader in the Governor's office.  Pat him on the back all you want, this is a major shortfall, and lack of leadership in the Governor's office is a major piece of it. 


Georgia should also approve Medicaid Funding to expand healthcare funding from the Federal Government. It's incredibly stupid for Republicans to continue whining in the corner about Obama and making this a political partisan issue.  At risk citizens are suffering because of stupid political games.  Alas, I'm a pessimist about that too, because Republicans do not want to credit Obama with anything, even if it improves the lives of their own constituents.





Starik
Starik

Will the Republican leadership permit a vote on Milton County? On new school districts for cities?

MHSmith
MHSmith

By the way Kyle, the public or non-profit Hospitals have a legitimate complaint against these private cut-rate surgery centers.

Which do not have to provide "ANY" indigent care or charity care under currant law, hospitals do. When these cut-cut  medical centers are required to accept patients that cannot and do not pay for treatment and have to charge those who are below 300% of the poverty line on a similar sliding scale, as the non-profit Hospitals, under the same rule of law, things will be very different, you can bet the farm on it.   

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

If you want to improve health care, get government out of it.



HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

Even without expanding Medicaid, which still appears to be off the table for Georgia’s GOP leaders,


Sad but true....We just don't have the funds....Hey Go Fish Georgia !!!!


http://www.gofisheducationcenter.com/


I applaud the attention to transportation issues...It must be addressed.


Now about that unemployment rate ......


First and foremost, generous tax cuts to their corporate sponsors MUST take center stage by legislators.


Bingo....Heck we give Gulfstream ( Which really really really really doesn't need the money ) millions every year.


Still, I hope for dramatic improvement of healthcare in this state because it affects EVERYONE, and improvements will benefit every person in the state. 


FIFY



IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

 One presentation to legislators Tuesday described Georgia’s CON law as the fifth-most restrictive in the nation.


Long before the government first got the mindless idea to get involved in our health care system, we had a great one. Now, it's in a shambles, no innovation, no cures, just a death panel in search of the next "problem."


Why do these government people think they have all the answers?

straker
straker

First and foremost, generous tax cuts to their corporate sponsors MUST take center stage by legislators.


If any thing is left over, it may trickle down to our transportation needs.

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

More of the same, where's the progress?  Just talk and how can we shift the taxes to the masses of poor and middle class workers.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

Many state institution are unfortunately subjected to the federal government's increasing laws, rules, regulations and executive on many issues, including the mysterious meddlesome delay in the Port of Savannah by the White House. 

Still, I hope for dramatic improvement of transportation because it affects EVERYONE, and improvements will benefit every person in the state. 

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

Yes, health care is such a luxury, isn't it? Who really needs good health, amiright?

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@IReportYouWhine Absolutely, we need to repeal the CON, to allow competition.  South Georgia is run by Phoebe Putney Hospital.  They buy up all the hospitals in neighboring towns and one in Albany, shut them down, or convert them to a Phoebe Hospital.  They then control the doctors as they own the hospitals and pretty much decide who can practice there, because if you have no access to a hospital, you have a very limited practice.


Competition improves prices, availability, and outcomes.  

Nobody_Knows
Nobody_Knows

@IReportYouWhine


Can you site an example that is on a large scale that substantiates your assertion?

Save the OpEds and just stick to the facts of a current system that is doing what you say.  

Many thanks for providing the information. 


HeadleyLamar
HeadleyLamar

@IReportYouWhine Only problem


Countries with Government healthcare do it a lot better than we do.


They live longer....and are healthier...This is not in dispute.


I'm always reminded of Rush Limbaugh saying if ACA passed he would go to Costa Rica for his care.


Costa Rica of course has Universal Healthcare...as do most civilized Nations. Save one.


Limbaugh says the following: "I'll just tell you this, if this passes and it's five years from now and all that stuff gets implemented -- I am leaving the country. I'll go to Costa Rica."


What a buffoon. 



RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Yes_Jesus_Can Yeah that delay to make sure all environmental concerns were addressed is just...oh...wait!