2017 Forum Delivers Promising Policies on Taxes, Health Care, Education

By Benita M. Dodd

With politics and the weather in unusual and untimely states of flux in 2017, the 2017 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum was undoubtedly one of the most difficult to organize since the Georgia Public Policy Foundation established the event in 2010. Happily, the annual Forum produced some remarkable, practical solutions to policy challenges in Georgia.

About 150 attendees attended the daylong session October 13 in Atlanta, learning from speakers about tax, health care and education reforms specific to Georgia.

The morning keynote speaker, chief economist Jonathan Williams of the American Legislative Exchange Council, shared his optimism about the GOP framework proposed for federal tax reform, noting that it has been more than 30 years since President Reagan signed tax reforms into law.

But Williams voiced concern about Georgia: “You have fallen behind by standing still, as other states across the country have continued to cut taxes to become more competitive, to try to enhance business investment, enhance in-migration, enhance income growth, job growth.”

While 30 states have significantly reduced taxes, Georgia has steadily declined in terms of economic competitiveness, as ALEC’s “Rich States, Poor States” rankings have shown. It’s not because the state is necessarily doing anything significantly wrong, Williams said, but because the state is in “a tough region” of competitive tax rates. After being in the top 10 for seven of the 10 years of “Rich States, Poor States,” Georgia is now No. 17 nationally. Meanwhile, North Carolina surged ahead to No. 3.

Williams cited the required principles for tax reform: simplicity, transparency, neutrality, predictability and pro-growth, with “pro-growth” the most important principle. The decision after federal tax reform occurs, he said, is getting it right at the state level: “People vote with their feet to lower taxes.” Georgia has benefited from good business growth and relatively low taxes, but far ahead of Georgia on in-migration of residents are no- or low-income tax states like Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.

“If we get it right at the federal level, Georgia will be presented with a huge opportunity – a generational opportunity – to get it right, keep up with North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida … and become that top 10 state in economic competitiveness once again.”

The Forum featured two panel discussions on health care. One panel focused on innovations among some of Georgia’s largest employers associated with EmployersLikeMe. No longer passive participants in this costly benefit, they joined forces to become actively involved in advancing creative, quality solutions for workers, which in turn lowers employer costs.

One panelist was Lisa Evans of Carrollton-based Southwire, a $5 billion, family-owned corporation with 7,500 employees and a $91 million budget next year for health care (60 percent directly paid by Southwire). The Carrollton headquarters boasts an onsite pharmacy and clinic. With pharmaceutical costs one of the largest challenges over the years, the company uses Walmart as its preferred pharmacy outside Carrollton, but specialty medications are shipped from the onsite pharmacy, which takes advantage of manufacturer coupons. “In the first six months, we have saved $200,000” in costs through manufacturer refunds, she shared.

For panelist Barbara Barrett of Valdosta-based Langdale Industries, “Access to our data is extremely important.” Before the company self-administered health care in 2000, access to data was limited and Langdale had difficulty figuring out why costs were increasing. Its 23 companies have 1,300 employees, 60 percent of them blue-collar, 84 percent male, with an average age of 43. It offers a PPO plan. With a “large population of diabetics not adhering to medication,” which led to costly increased hospitalizations and care, Langdale is partnering with independent pharmacies to work with diabetics and offer an educational component. 

In the second panel, focusing on opportunities for state-level innovation, Rea Hederman of the Buckeye Institute outlined how federal waivers for Medicaid programs allow innovation over Medicaid expansion; urologist Dr. Brian Hill animatedly discussed patient-centered opportunities provided by Direct Primary Care, and insurance broker Russ Childers discussed options in the individual insurance market, a growing group as more small businesses end insurance coverage.

“Instead of the very poor people who don’t have access to coverage that is affordable, we now have middle-class people who don’t have access to coverage that is affordable,” Childers noted.

The luncheon keynote speaker was Dr. Tim Huelskamp, president of the Heartland Foundation, and a session on education completed the day. The Foundation will share Huelskamp’s remarks and the exciting session on opportunities in education, “Teacherpreneurs and Edupreneurs,” in a separate, upcoming article. The Foundation’s survey of attendees found an overwhelmingly positive response, with more than 85 percent rating it “Excellent” to “Very good.”

View video of the panels and speakers at the event here.

Benita Dodd  is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view 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 27, 2017). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.