We’re now just days away from Christmas. A week later is New Year. After a brief time to give resolutions an old college try, legislators will convene in Atlanta for a statewide election year session of the Georgia General Assembly. It is with these tight deadlines in mind that I offer a list of Christmas wishes, hoping that it is not too late for the elves at the North Pole — or the Gold Dome.
First and foremost, it’s time that legislators take another serious look at Georgia’s transportation network. Our ports and airports keep us connected to the rest of the world (at least when the power is on), but our intrastate network continues to show signs of stress. Atlanta continues to experience gridlock, while other parts of the state lack direct connectivity.
My wish for the Atlanta area is not a predefined solution. Options such as trains (both heavy and light rail), bus rapid transit, additional toll lanes, and even bike lanes are on the table. My wish is that leaders go west — and east.
Right now most solutions continue to add capacity bringing people to or through the perimeter to move around the metro area. Solutions for the metro area must include more east-west routes. This could include additional transit options across the top end perimeter and/or points north, as well as grade-separation (think mini-interchanges) at major intersections to make existing east-west routes more efficient.
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Outside of Atlanta, the need is more freight capacity. This includes road and rail. Every truck that can go around Atlanta is a truck not adding to traffic in Atlanta. This helps congestion in Atlanta and the economy in the rest of the state.
My wish for education is that Georgia legislators make commitments to school choice beyond lip service. Several years ago there was real momentum with Georgia becoming a national leader in the school choice movement. The defeat of the Opportunity School District amendment seems to have stymied progress.
Much as the defeat of T-SPLOST temporarily thwarted solutions on fixing our transportation infrastructure, the defeat at the ballot box didn’t mean there wasn’t a problem. It meant that voters didn’t like the proposed solution.
The place for choice advocates to start is to quit selling the model, and focus on the core of the solution. Quite simply, schools exist to serve the student. The students and their advancement must be at the center of all education discussions. The goal must be that students are funded according to their need, regardless of the kind of school from which they receive their instruction.
On healthcare, we have to understand that Medicaid is fundamental to financing much of our rural and urban healthcare system. We don’t have to like it, and we can wish all day that so many federal strings weren’t attached to our hospitals and our doctors. This is the reality state policymakers are given. Yet we don’t currently fund the system we have.
Medicaid rolls in Georgia increased more than 50 percent after the Affordable Care Act became law. Georgia “expanded” Medicaid without actually expanding it. And yet, hospitals and doctors report receiving less than 85 cents on the dollar of their costs to provide services to Medicaid patients.
We can’t continue to ask rural and urban hospitals to lose money on a majority of their patients and then stay in business under “free market principles.” We must recognize the disconnect between our slogans and our reality.
This means increasing provider payments on Medicaid services, and identifying the revenue stream to compensate hospitals and doctors for the cost of treating indigent patients. In exchange, this means taking a look at the myriad of regulations that simultaneously stifle competition in healthcare delivery. And yes, that means opening up the state’s Certificate of Need laws for major revisions.
And finally, my wish is that candidates who are already grandstanding over talking points show their work. Georgia currently has one of the lowest state tax burdens in the nation and is the most competitive state to do new business. Yet to hear some of them tell it, we can somehow eliminate the state income tax (and thus half of the state’s revenue), and either double spending on transportation or have the state assume the costs of local law enforcement while balancing the budget. These claims beg for specifics, and beyond this Christmas wish, I’ll be asking for them again in the new year.
There will be plenty of time for politics, policy, and anti-demagoguery in the New Year. Until then, set these issues (and frankly, all politics) aside, and focus on enjoying what’s left of this holiday season. These wishes will become a to-do list soon enough.
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.