Life is about choices. Governing is sometimes less so.
It’s always easy to rail against the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of Washington. It remains a place where deadlines can be missed, budgets are procedural instruments at best, and accountability is a can that is kicked from generation to generation.
Government, however, is about more than what happens – or doesn’t happen – in Washington. While those who complain about politics are often laser fixed on D.C. as the cause of their problems or as the place that holds the key to all of their solutions, so much more of what affects our daily lives occurs in state capitols, county commission chambers, and city halls.
State and local governments don’t have the ability to deficit spend. As such, there is a level of accountability that comes at least annually, when the books must be closed and the decisions paid for. It is, too often, accountability that goes unused and unnoticed.
Never miss a local story.
This is the point where most similar columns would begin a plea that more involvement in state and local government would increase transparency and produce better civic results. It would, but that’s not the point.
We’ve allowed the cottage industry that has developed around blaming Washington for everything to obfuscate the hard choices made at other levels of government. Those local governments that mess up are sure to get the headlines. Those governments that meet their obligations to their constituents don’t generate clickbait, and thus get little coverage.
Georgia is a state that made some tough choices. Over the last decade, we’ve gone from the lows of a great recession with double-digit unemployment to a state that has seen a reversal of economic fortune.
During this time period, we’ve committed roughly half of each year’s revenue growth to education. Along the way we’ve increased a focus on work-ready skills needed by employers and grappled with solutions to turn around failing schools.
We’ve invested heavily in transportation, both in roads and bridges and a commitment to deepen the port of Savannah. We’ve moved our state law enforcement officers from the bottom of national averages on the pay scale to the middle of the pack.
We’ve undergone a systemic review of our criminal justice system at all levels, reducing the rate of first-time incarcerations as part of criminal justice reform. We’ve made it easier for those who have made criminal missteps to reenter society as working productive citizens rather than continue as wards of the state.
From the worst of the lean times until today, Georgia has maintained a AAA bond rating. This was done without across-the-board tax increases at a time when many Georgians were already suffering. Instead, a system of annual decisions with annual accountability have incrementally produced a Georgia that would be unrecognizable a decade ago.
We are now the film capital of the country. We have fostered an entire emerging industry of financial technology or Fintech, in which 70% of U.S. credit card transactions are processed through Georgia-based companies.
We are again among the fastest-growing states in the country. This growth is joined at the hip with Georgia’s now perennial ranking among top states to do business. Employers are moving here along with those seeking work.
Is this to say that Georgia can rest on its laurels? Not a bit. There is much work to be done.
Not all of Georgia has benefitted equally in our recovery. Rural Georgia continues to lag in access to healthcare, deployment of broadband, and job creation. These are issues specifically acknowledged by state leaders.
Likewise, metro Atlanta continues to grapple with the strain of growth. While road expansion will occur over the next decade, there is growing consensus that transit must be part of the solution for a new generation of commuting Georgians.
Solutions will not come in a single silver bullet. There is work that remains to be done.
Sometimes we focus so much on what needs to be done that we don’t take stock of where we are, and where we’ve come from. We’ve come a long way from where we were a decade ago. We need to recognize choices made by our governor and legislature that got us here.
Charlie Harper, executive director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank, is also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to state & local politics of Georgia.