Opinion Columns & Blogs

Charlie Harper: Short break and back to work

It's been about ten days since the Georgia General Assembly gaveled to a close and politicians quickly left Atlanta with a view of little more than their taillights. For most of Georgia's state-level elected officials, the job is officially "part time." Given that the day after Sine Die was Good Friday, there was little need or desire to belabor the forty days of official service. Easter weekend, spring break, and the Masters all provided a great opportunity for a political time out.

There's something refreshing about the concept of a citizen legislator - one who serves only part time in the political world and the rest of the year working among the citizenry. The reality is a bit more complicated, as our elected are generally expected to attend many more meetings and events than their forty official days of service. Even still, much of their time and service is not spent in Atlanta but in the districts which they represent and where they live and work.

I too took a break during the last week. There was a brief interruption between Easter weekend and a few days at the beach to handle a couple of days of administrative duties that had been put off during much of the session.

I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about politics. I did spend some time with the family. I also spent some time alone. I begrudgingly got reacquainted with the gym. I counterbalanced that by rediscovering foods I had given up for Lent -- and many more.

Thanks to many good restaurants on St. Simons Island such as Barbara Jeans, Crabdaddy's and Southern Soul there's about five pounds more of me than when I last visited the capitol. Hopefully by the time you're reading this I will have been to the gym again in an effort to again make them disappear. Such is the circle of life.

The break is necessary in order to clearly look ahead, as the work of the "part time" legislature does not begin in January, or even December. It has already begun.

There was a time when study committees were used to pass the buck. Those who still consider them a distraction to appease voters need to look at the results of last year's study committees and look ahead to issues that we'll be dealing with next year. Study committees, commissions, or other legislative actions have put big issues on the table for 2016 already.

We already know that the Governor has asked for legislation to revise state funding to local school districts on a per pupil basis. It could result in the most significant change in how we fund local school systems in at least three decades.

The legislature will also consider asking Georgia voters if they want to legalize casino gambling. Local voters would be allowed to approve casinos providing the legislature can muster two-thirds votes for the amendment and voters statewide first pass the measure. A special tax placed on the casino operations would be levied to bolster the HOPE scholarship under a measure introduced late this past session.

Voters can also expect to see the state start dealing with how it funds indigent and rural health care. Many have been willing to avoid the issue pending U.S. Supreme Court cases on the Affordable Care Act. With a decision expected soon - as well as some for-profit medical centers pushing for repeal of Certificate of Need - it is likely that health care issues will dominate much of the 2016 session.

Then there will be residual issues of transportation. While the state made a major move forward to fund GDOT, most issues of transit governance were left unresolved. The Atlanta area will also have to come to terms that the money for GDOT will not provide for most of the needed new congestion relief and/or population growth projects. Look for continued tweaking of the TSPLOST formulas to find was to increase funding from local governments and regions.

Many have been working on these issues for a while, and the work will continue until the General Assembly re-convenes next January. Those with an interest in the particular areas above have time to become educated and to get involved. After all, spring break is over. It's time to get back to work.