The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Sunday edition on January 10, 2016 published this op-ed by Foundation president Kelly McCutchen on the Foundation’s hopes for the legislative session. The link to the op-ed is here.
Time to prioritize, advance state’s economic prospects
By Kelly McCutchen
As the Georgia General Assembly meets in 2016 amid an upswing in state revenues, lawmakers should avoid the temptation to grow government spending and programs. Rather, legislators should focus on prioritizing the Rainy Day Fund, limiting government and advancing economic opportunity.
Economic opportunity begins with quality education. Replacing the 30-year-old school funding formula with a student-centered model is overdue and will dominate the headlines, but the shift to a competency-based education system is perhaps the most overlooked recommendation of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission.
The Commission recommends offering state tests every nine weeks so students can move at individual speed, giving classroom teachers much needed flexibility and moving students off the conveyor belt of the current factory model of education where time is fixed and learning is variable.
Just as every child is unique in how quickly they learn, not every school is right for all children. Education Savings Accounts would offer parents more educational options, private tutoring where needed, access to special services for special-needs students or even a way to save for college that could help fill the gap between college tuition and the HOPE scholarship. Georgia should join the five states already empowering parents with this option.
Georgia is already a leader in telehealth and health information technology. Now it’s time to lead the way in using technology to expand affordable, quality health care rather than expanding an expensive, overregulated and ineffective Medicaid program. Joining the growing number of states that have created a market for Direct Primary Care would be a good start. Also known as “concierge care for the little guy,” this allows individuals to pay as little as $50-$75 a month for almost unlimited access to primary care.
Georgia’s top income tax rate of six percent has been in place since 1937 and affects Georgians earning as little as $5.77 an hour. A recent analysis by Dr. Robert D. Buschman of Georgia State University showed the impact on state revenue would be minimal if Georgia simplifies the tax code – in a fair way – by reducing six tax brackets to one and reducing the rate by nearly 10 percent. Georgia is under pressure to remain competitive; North Carolina recently reduced its income tax rate from 7.75 percent to 5.499 percent.
Government regulation is sometimes necessary, but overregulation puts a damper on jobs and creates unfair profits for a select few who benefit. Georgia, for example, is one of only two states where breweries cannot sell directly to consumers or retailers, but must go through a wholesaler. Simply treating breweries the same as wineries could help numerous small businesses across the state.
Most people view Georgia as a right-to-work state, yet one worker in three needs the government’s permission to pursue an occupation. Professional licensing and the accompanying training costs are often insurmountable barriers for low-income Georgians to becoming productive citizens. Less burdensome options include inspections, registration, certification or old-fashioned market competition.
Even the regulation-happy Obama Administration supports reducing such barriers. In a report issued recently it noted “the practice of licensing can impose substantial costs on job seekers, consumers, and the economy more generally.”
There is value in a quick election-year legislative session as long as it is focused on lowering hurdles to economic opportunity and empowering individuals rather than special interests.
Kelly McCutchen is president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.