March 21: “Shining a Light on Government,” an 8 a.m. Leadership Breakfast with Richard Belcher of WSB-TV in celebration of Sunshine Week. Thursday, March 21, at the Georgian Club in Cobb County. $30. Information and registration here.
May 23: Mark your calendar for a Policy Briefing Luncheon with David French of National Review on Thursday, May 23, at the Georgian Club in Cobb County. Details to follow.
Quotes of note
“The national debt is the government’s formal commitment to repay its creditors. But Uncle Sam has many other commitments for future spending that are not on the books, so-called “off-balance-sheet” liabilities. Such liabilities do not show up in standard debt measures. While these commitments are different in nature from the promise to pay back previously borrowed funds, they are nonetheless a potentially large burden on taxpayers – and surely a governmental imposition on the economy.” – William D. Lastrapes
“Every honest employment is honorable; it is beneficial to the public; it deserves encouragement. … But it is not the business of the State to make discriminations in favor of one class against another, or in favor of one employment against another. The State can have no favorites. Its business is to protect the industry of all, and to give all the benefit of equal laws.” – Thomas Cooley, Michigan Supreme Court, 1870
“No longer can we measure compassion by how much we spend on poverty but how many people we help to lift out of poverty.” – John H. McWhorter
Up, up and away: National health spending is projected to grow 5.5 percent on average annually and reach nearly $6 trillion by 2027, according to federal estimates that predict, “Over 2020-27, growth in Medicaid spending is projected to rise further to an average of 6.0 percent per year, influenced by faster per enrollee spending growth.” Source: CMS.gov
Waiver I: The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony this week on health care waivers, which offer states flexibility. Among those testifying was Kyle Wingfield, Foundation president. Listen here (starting at the 11:45 mark); access his testimony here. The legislation won committee approval 9-4 along party lines.
Waiver II: Responding to Democrats’ calls for Medicaid expansion during the Senate committee hearing on waivers, Blake Fulenwider of the Georgia Department of Community Health reminded senators, “[W]hen you do go to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, you are disqualifying Georgians from 100-138 percent for coverage assistance that is federally funded to buy private insurance coverage. They become ineligible for those subsidies by virtue of the state making them Medicaid-eligible. And so one consideration is, are we trying to drive people into a Medicaid entitlement program or are we trying to provide people choices for coverage that meets their need and is more affordable?”
Taxes and spending
Housing costs: The Foundation provided testimony to the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee this week this week regarding architectural ordinances imposed by local governments. Read the testimony here.
Raise taxes, lose taxpayers: Taxes are not the only consideration when people move, but it’s “folly” to suggest the tax burden doesn’t matter, an editorial in The Oklahoman newspaper notes. The editorial highlights New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s response to calls to further raise taxes in his state: “Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich – and then the rich leave. And then what do you do?”
Taxes or fees? Can you tell the difference? Georgia Supreme Court Justice Nels Peterson, writing a unanimous court’s ruling this week against counties that sought to collect 911 charges from telephone companies, offers clarification: “Generally, we have considered four criteria in considering whether a charge is a tax, which we have defined as:
(1) a means for the government to raise general revenue based on the payer’s ability to pay (i.e., income or ownership of property), without regard to direct benefits that may inure to the payer or to the property taxed;
(3) not related to the payer’s contribution to the burden on government; and
(4) not resulting in a “special benefit” to the payer different from those to whom the charge does not apply. …
“In contrast, fees are a charge for a particular service provided, based on the payer’s contribution to the problem.” He added, “Moreover, requiring a governmental charge to be deposited in a special purpose fund does not make it not a tax.” Source: Georgia Supreme Court
Streetcar: After MARTA took control of the Atlanta Streetcar in July 2018, ridership declined steadily, from 33,538 in July to 10,709 in December, according to federal transit data. Total ridership reported in that time was 99,508; December ridership was 68 percent lower than July.
Congestion: Metro Atlanta’s congestion ranks it 11th in the nation on INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard, which estimates the region’s drivers spent 108 hours in congestion in 2018, costing drivers $1,505 annually. It’s worth noting, given the calls for higher density and more transit in Atlanta, that it is the nation’s older, larger cities with higher population density and higher transit use that saw greater congestion. (INRIX has changed its methodology from 2017, complicating year-over-year comparisons.)
Short shrift: Amtrak could reduce its popular, once-a-day long-distance routes to implement shorter inter-city service “where rail can compete with flying and driving,” including the Atlanta-Charlotte corridor, The Wall Street Journal reports. CEO Richard Anderson (a former Delta Airlines CEO) has hinted at his desire to boost ridership along densely populated corridors where Amtrak currently runs infrequent service.
Transit: Early voting begins next week in a March 19 Gwinnett County referendum on whether to ratify a county transit contract with MARTA. Interestingly, the ballot does not inform voters the contractor is MARTA or that, if it is approved, Gwinnett will impose a penny sales tax to fund said transit. Source: Mass Transit Magazine
YouTube: “Romance of the Rails,” the February 7 event with Cato Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole, is one of the more than 650 videos available on the Foundation’s YouTube channel. View it here.
Foundation in the media: WSB-TV interviewed Benita Dodd about metro Atlanta’s annual auto emissions testing. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted the Foundation in an article about school-choice legislation.
This month in the archives: In February 10 years ago, the Foundation published, “Time for Change: School Choice Will Have a Positive Fiscal Impact.” It noted, “The facts are clear. The financial impact of providing parents with choice is to leave more money per child in public schools. The potential impact on each child’s future is priceless.”
Visit www.georgiapolicy.org to read the Foundation’s latest commentary, “Architectural Ordinances: Government Overreach vs. Home Rule,” by Benita M. Dodd.
Have a great weekend!
Kyle Wingfield and Benita Dodd
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