30 Years of Changing Georgia Policy, Changing Georgians’ Lives

It was 30 years ago that a group of Georgia’s business leaders, inspired by the success of the Heritage Foundation’s influence on the Reagan administration’s policy agenda, decided it was time to replicate the approach at the state level. In the fall of 1991, their efforts resulted in the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Thirty years later, probably the only remorse this nonprofit, public policy research and education organization experiences is in its name: Countless times over the past three decades, the person on the other end of the phone (or email) has asked for funding. This “foundation” does not provide grants; it contributes ideas.

The good news is that since its earliest days, the Foundation has – under orders from its founder, Hank McCamish – focused on the pocketbook issues that affect Georgia’s families and businesses. He gave the Foundation just two other commandments: Never attack individuals. Get the facts right. These remain the Foundation’s cornerstone.

McCamish, an insurance executive and quiet philanthropist who came from humble beginnings, died in 2013, less than a year after Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion opened. He never sought recognition; the $50 million venue whose construction was funded by his donation is the only visible sign of his generosity, in Georgia and internationally, as a tribute to him by his family.

It’s poignant that, much like its founder, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation is unsung for its contributions to Georgia. Through its network of issue experts, academics and partner organizations, this nonpartisan organization contributes research and policy on education, taxes, healthcare, private property rights and transportation, to name but a few policy areas. It happens quietly. Yet the impact is lasting, on Georgians’ pocketbooks, their daily lives and their families. And it is results that matter.

Among those seeds the Foundation has sowed that continue to grow:

  • Georgia’s expanding managed lane network, which also serves transit;
  • charter schools and other education options so that children are not trapped by their ZIP code in failing schools;
  • income tax rates competitive with neighboring states;
  • attention to streamlining of occupational licensing, which increases jobs in Georgia;
  • a bipartisan criminal justice reform effort providing opportunities for people who have paid their debt to society;
  • eminent domain reforms that protect property owners from unwarranted land grabs by government.

Not every seed falls on fertile ground – at least, not immediately. For example:

  • The struggle continues to reform civil asset forfeiture, also called “policing for profit”: the ability of law enforcement agencies to seize and keep private property without convicting a person of a crime.
  • There’s opposition to education scholarship accounts, also known as education savings accounts, that would allow Georgia taxpayers greater control over their child’s education, with the ability to use the child’s education funds on approved, education-related services they need.
  • While the dignity of work has been demonstrated to motivate families and communities, there’s continued resistance to work requirements for able-bodied, low-income adults as a condition of healthcare coverage – even from the White House.
  • Despite the Foundation’s accurate prediction the Atlanta Streetcar would fail, the system is slated for expansion.

Call it job security.

In 30 years, the Foundation has never lobbied or accepted government (taxpayer) funds. Every contribution has been given willingly by knowledgeable donors. They may not support every Foundation idea but support the “Big Idea” of a trusted, independent resource for voters and elected officials that provides actionable solutions to real-life problems by bringing people together.

As President Reagan once said, “On my desk in the Oval Office, I have a little sign that says: There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”

On September 16, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation celebrates 30 years of “Changing Georgia Policy, Changing Georgians’ Lives.” For a brief moment, we’ll give ourselves a little credit. And, as always, the lion’s share of credit will go to our supporters and state policymakers for their time, contributions and willingness to listen along the way.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.

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