To Understand Georgia’s Future, Look in Washington

The work continues under the Gold Dome, but look farther north to understand Georgia’s future. In Washington, the most evenly divided Congress in two decades wants to turn states into subsidiaries of the federal government they created.

Longtime readers know I’m not prone to hyperbole. But these bills could decimate the federalist balance the Founders struck. What’s more, they would erode the ability of well-run states like Georgia to sharpen their competitiveness.

First is the latest COVID-19 relief bill. It subsidizes workers who never lost jobs, sends revenue to state governments that didn’t lose revenue, offers “reopening” funds to public schools that don’t intend to reopen anytime soon. What good it does in the way of, say, vaccinations could have been had for a fraction of its $1.9 trillion price tag – or with unspent funds from previous relief bills.

The litany of spending inappropriate for a “relief” measure has been recounted before. For today’s purposes, consider how it micromanages states.

Most pernicious are its spending limitations. Georgia is due $4.7 billion in general funding alone – not counting money for local governments, schools and more. Nor am I counting the $10.7 billion public agencies in Georgia received from earlier legislation. All of this, even though state revenue actually rose in 2020. (As happened in half the states.)

Yet, states are barred from using the money to cut taxes, “directly or indirectly.” The language is so broad as to jeopardize tax cuts the General Assembly was already pursuing before the bill was finalized.

“In Georgia,” Speaker David Ralston wrote to President Joe Biden this past week, citing pending legislation, “we have prioritized providing tax relief to our citizens, and (the federal legislation) appears to prohibit that relief.” He asked the president to insist Congress correct “this flaw in the legislation,” to no avail.

The second piece of legislation is the “Protecting the Right to Organize Act.” The name is misleading because this bill, which the U.S. House passed on March 9, wouldn’t protect the right to organize so much as dismantle the right not to be organized by others.
One of the bill’s key provisions is a nullification of the right-to-work laws that prevail in 27 states, including Georgia. Employees in unionized workplaces in those states can’t be forced to pay union dues. This bill would end that.

Now, the fact that we are talking about dues and unions in right-to-work states ought to demonstrate that the “right to organize” is not what’s at stake here. Organizing occurs in those states, such as the upcoming vote at an Amazon facility in Alabama. But the right of workers not to belong to a union, and the right of states to set their own labor laws, are very much in danger.

Finally, there’s H.R. 1, the “For the People Act.” Today the people, through our state governments and local election boards, run our elections. H.R. 1 would end that, federalizing the process. Whichever side one takes in the current debate over Georgia’s election laws, for example, this bill would take such decisions out of Georgians’ hands altogether. (There’s a separate column to be written about how the bill would also erode individuals’ privacy, chill political speech and put “cancel culture” on steroids.)

For Georgia and other states, these bills come on the heels of the Biden administration’s decision to suspend Medicaid “waivers” which allowed them to insure low-income workers on modified terms. The administration cited the difficulty of finding work during the pandemic, but Georgia’s unemployment rate has already fallen to nearly 5%. The pandemic looks like an excuse.

Again, all of this is being pursued by an especially closely divided Congress. The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, and House Democrats have a margin of only nine members, the narrowest for either party since shortly after 9/11. Americans clearly didn’t vote for one-sided, transformative changes.

Each of these ill-considered measures deserves scrutiny, but they must be viewed together to grasp their full, interconnected effect. If all three become law, we will have states in name only.

Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation:
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