This “could” be a big legislative session

The 2024 legislative session is upon us, squeezing itself between a special session for redistricting and the coming election season. But while every session of the General Assembly – like every election – is billed as consequential, this time the hype could be right.

Emphasis on “could.” These issues will make or break it:

Promise Scholarship Act: Other states have been diving into universal school choice. This bill would let Georgia dip its toe into those waters.

Commonly, if erroneously, referred to as the “voucher bill,” this legislation would give families far more freedom over the use of tax dollars allocated for their children’s education. Promise Scholarships could be used far more flexibly than a traditional voucher: for private school expenses, homeschooling expenses, virtual classes, tutoring, certain education-related therapies and more.

Eventually, entrepreneurs might offer new ways for students to personalize their education by purchasing classes from various sources. This could include entrepreneurially minded public schools: There’s no reason they couldn’t sell individual classes to students who might otherwise miss out on band or AP physics – and who might also want access to sports and other extracurricular activities.

Consumers of other goods and services enjoy far more choices, variety and innovation. Georgia lawmakers can give students the same opportunities by creating Promise Scholarships.

Certificate of Need repeal: CON puts bureaucrats and would-be competitors in charge of deciding whether many new healthcare facilities and services can be opened. That’s unacceptable, given that numerous parts of our state lack nearby access to hospitals, surgery centers, imaging technology and other crucial services.The state Senate last year passed a limited repeal of CON laws for rural areas, but the House didn’t act on it. Both chambers spent the summer examining the issue further. The Senate study committee concluded that Georgia needs full CON repeal, but their counterparts in the House weren’t so conclusive. It’s unclear what, if anything, the House is willing to do regarding this anticompetitive law.

What is clear is that Georgians will continue to lack access to affordable healthcare as long as CON laws remain in place.

Medicaid expansion: Media reports indicate the House may backtrack on its decade-plus position against expanding Medicaid as allowed under Obamacare. If so, it would represent a strange and sudden turn of events, and not a welcome one.

The same problems posed by Medicaid expansion still apply, 14 years after Congress passed Obamacare. It’s an expensive way of providing insurance to people able to work, and it doesn’t necessarily improve their access to care because a large share of physicians don’t accept Medicaid. (Why? Because they lose money on those patients, the kind of thing that doesn’t get better with volume.) If anything, those problems are worse today after dozens of states expanded Medicaid and found it more expensive than they anticipated. Meanwhile, Georgia’s physician shortage has only grown. This still isn’t the answer.

Tax reform: Wouldn’t it be lovely to have an issue where the question is not whether to do the right thing, but how quickly to do it? We do, and it’s tax reform.

In 2022, the General Assembly passed – in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion – a bill to flatten Georgia’s income tax brackets to a single rate, lower that rate over time to 4.99%, and exempt more of Georgians’ income from the tax. All in all, it’s the rate tax measure that saves everyone money. It takes effect this year, with the first rate cut taking it from 5.75% to 5.49%.

Since then, tax revenues have soared. Gov. Brian Kemp and legislative leaders have already signaled their intention to lower the rate to 5.39% this year, a year earlier than scheduled. They can go faster, thanks to some responsible budgeting in recent years. And they should go faster, to keep from falling behind other states that are also cutting taxes.

All of this “could” result in one of the most significant sessions in years. Or it “could” not. We’ll find out over the next two to three months.

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