20 Years of ‘Policy over Politics’ in Georgia Builds a Strong Foundation

By Kelly McCutchen and Benita M. Dodd

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s reputation is based on its commitment to getting the facts right. In retrospect, one of the few mistakes – or regrets – of the founders of this respected organization 20 years ago was to include the word “foundation” in the name. That’s because unlike typical “foundations,” this Foundation does not give away money. It specializes in saving money – Georgia taxpayers’ money.

How does the Foundation do this? Consider the landscape at the Legislature before a group of concerned business people realized the need for an organization to consider policy over politics in educating legislators on the impact of their laws on business, and those laws’ ripple effect on Georgia’s workers, Georgia’s economy and Georgians’ quality of life. When government agencies proposed a law or enacted a regulation, there was no objective third party to analyze whether the position of the lobbyists for businesses was self-serving, the agency was practicing mission creep or the impact of the proposal on Georgians.

New laws and regulations can have devastating impacts on Georgians and Georgia businesses. They can benefit one industry to the detriment of others or they can drive businesses – and jobs for Georgians – to other, friendlier states. They can raise the cost of doing business, with increased costs passed on to Georgia consumers. They can restrict consumer choices. They can reduce competition and raise prices. And, because government is never at the forefront of innovation, its laws and regulations can have a lasting impact by impeding progress.

Meanwhile, the more laws and regulations promulgated, the bigger the bureaucracy and funding needed to enforce, oversee, manage and support them. That funding also comes from Georgians’ paychecks in the form of taxes and their wallets as businesses transfer fees and charges onto customers. And private sector jobs are lost as government unfairly competes with the private sector.

In 1964, long before he became president, Ronald Reagan warned: “Public servants say, always with the best of intentions, ‘What greater service we could render if only we had a little more money and a little more power.’ But the truth is that outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector.”

Over the years, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has earned the respect of Georgia’s leaders, legislators, businesses and policy-makers as its proposals reinforced its nonpartisan commitment – through position papers, testimony and practical proposals – to the principles upon which this nation was founded. The Foundation proposes or opposes based on limited government, free-market solutions, individual responsibility and the rule of law.

The Foundation’s proudest work is in education. Since its founding in 1991, the Foundation has focused on enhancing education in Georgia. An educated workforce attracts business investment, adding jobs and improving Georgians’ quality of life. Academic excellence is achieved through high expectations and accepting no excuses; enhancing school choice, from charter schools to vouchers to digital education; enhancing the curriculum; allowing funding to follow the child, and widening the pool of qualified educators.

To prove the potential of its strategies, the Foundation wrote the charter for Tech High, a math- , science- and technology-oriented charter high school in the Atlanta Public Schools system. When Tech High opened in 2004, just 10 percent of incoming ninth-graders had met eighth-grade math standards and one in four students met state reading standards. Within one year, Tech High’s ninth-graders were first in math and second in English in Atlanta.

Striving for excellence in Georgia education is a relentless campaign amid a struggling national economy and a global marketplace. So the Foundation now focuses on intensively promoting digital learning to help level the playing field. Online learning can provide students across the state with interactive access to the best educators and personalize their progress in subjects, unlike the traditional “assembly line” of education.

The Foundation’s array of initiatives covers free enterprise, education and the environment. The future of this state lies in a low tax burden for Georgians; a return to individual responsibility, and public policy decisions based on sound economic principles and irrefutable data, whether in transportation, environment, health care or education. It lies in returning to our Founding Fathers’ belief in government as a last resort, not a first responder.

The Foundation’s mission was “to be the most respected and influential source of public policy research, analysis and education in Georgia.” There is more to be done, but on October 24, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation proudly celebrates 20 years of success in changing Georgia policy and changing Georgians’ lives.

Kelly McCutchen is president and CEO and Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented 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 (October 21, 2011). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the authors and their affiliations are cited.

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