By Benita M. Dodd
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s, “Guide to the Issues 2014,” serves as a guideline and benchmark for Georgia’s part-time General Assembly as elected officials weigh proposals for 2015-2016.
The Guide exists not just because the Foundation wants things done “our” way, although that would be reassuring, but because elected officials frequently enter office as single-issue candidates: They don’t like their taxes; they’re concerned about their health care plan, their child’s education or the other guy. Then they’re campaigning or are elected to office and a reporter calls to ask how they feel about, say, stormwater utilities, defined contribution retirement plans or charter schools.
Fortunately, since 1991, when the Foundation was established, our policy experts have been answering just such questions for candidates and policy-makers, coming at the issues with a free-market, limited government, commonsense approach. The Guide is a practical and philosophical summary of those conversations, providing the principles behind policy proposals and action items to implement them.
The Guide offers policy proposals we believe can make a difference – not “noisemaker” issues but those that can broadly benefit Georgians, pocketbooks and individual choice and responsibility – without growing government.
This year’s Foundation wish list for the Gold Dome to-do list focuses on tax reform, transportation, health care and education. The state is in recovery from the economic downturn and many Georgians are still searching for jobs; some may have given up. The most important job creation tool is enhanced economic competitiveness for Georgia, and all of the above can do that.
Unfortunately, despite Georgia’s many attractive business attributes, the personal income tax rate is a disadvantage. Many entrepreneurs and small business owners file income taxes as individuals, and no-tax neighbors Florida and Tennessee (and now, lower-tax North Carolina) handicap Georgia as people decide where to locate and keep their businesses. Lower taxes would help create more jobs in Georgia and allow Georgians to keep more of their earnings. They can spend more, save more and make personal choices that improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.
Reducing traffic congestion, improving mobility and providing for Georgia’s transit needs require prioritizing both projects and funding. Despite calls for tax hikes to fund transportation, the Foundation has shown that honing the project focus and dedicating transportation funds to transportation solutions eliminate the need for new taxes.
Much is made of Georgia being 49th in the nation in per-capita transportation infrastructure spending, yet few know Georgia has the nation’s 23rd-highest gas tax. Even fewer know that less than 60 percent of that is dedicated to transportation. Most important is reassuring voters by responsible use of existing funds: Take the “fourth penny” of the state gas tax out of the general fund and put it into transportation.
Then, give local governments the ability to implement a more flexible local option sales tax; provide “congestion insurance” with an optional express toll network that can also be used by transit; enhance arterial roads and provide viable routes for traffic that wishes to bypass metro Atlanta. It’s time to prepare for a future of autonomous vehicles, Uber-like services and user fees such as tolls and distance-based charges.
Even the economic recovery won’t bring enough money to Georgia for Medicaid expansion, nor should Georgia expand this already unreliable safety net for the poor. Instead of costly emergency room care, facilitate quality alternatives that don’t wear down taxpayers or patients. Seek federal waivers and provide tax credits for market-oriented solutions such as direct primary care, among others.
It’s no secret that public schools will continue to dominate Georgia education. So public education choice and personalized options are paramount. For that, the funding needs to transparently follow the child, whether to charter, blended or digital learning.
All families deserve the ability to maximize their child’s achievement and opportunity to succeed in life by being able to choose the best education option available. Georgia’s tuition tax credit scholarship programs offer thousands a private school option. The 2015 donation cap of $58 million was reached on January 1, demonstrating a need to increase the amount. Embracing education savings accounts, like Arizona and Florida did, would give parents even greater flexibility and personal input.
Mark Twain once said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” It’s a tough job, but the Georgia Public Policy Foundation is your safety check and the Legislature’s policy guide, and we take our mission seriously.
Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (January 9, 2015). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.