Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Poor priorities, partisan politics ruled Legislature says Golden.

From Tim Golden in the Atlanta Journal Constitution::

Since the Republican Party assumed majority control of state government six years ago, Georgia has been sliding backward in almost every area that the governor and Legislature can influence

Our public schools have suffered from $2 billion worth of cuts in state Quality Basic Education funding, causing higher taxes on local property owners to make up the difference.

Manufacturing jobs have been lost by the hundreds of thousands.

Rural health care is on life support because of drastic cuts in Medicaid reimbursement.

Our transportation system’s failure to keep up with a growing population has gone unaddressed.

Seeking to recruit bio-medicine and related technology businesses and retaining academic leaders in the field of science is becoming more difficult.

And fiscally irresponsible policies during better economic times have left Georgia especially vulnerable to the recession, causing an unprecedented $3 billion budget deficit.

But as poorly as the legislative majority has performed since 2003, the 2009 session would have to be considered the worst in recent history. And that’s saying something.

Consider that from the first day of the session back in January, finding a solution for the transportation funding crisis was the state’s No. 1 priority. In metro Atlanta, drivers sit for hours in traffic, causing untold losses in productivity. In rural Georgia, we are at least 10 years behind the curve in making the road improvements needed for economic development.

The Senate voted Feb. 3 on a transportation funding plan, one of the first actions we took this session, calling for a one-cent sales tax to be voted on, collected and invested on a regional basis. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, insisted on a statewide sales tax to finance a predetermined list of transportation projects in selected areas.

But the two houses were unable to work out a compromise plan, primarily because the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker were preoccupied with pushing through separate legislation to give them tighter control over transportation revenues and road-building decisions. For the second year in a row, helping Georgians get from point A to point B more efficiently was doomed by misplaced priorities at the top of the executive and legislative branches of government.

Regarding the new budget passed for fiscal year 2010, there is no question this was a difficult year because of the revenue shortfall, and cuts were inevitable. But the failure to beat back the governor’s insistence to eliminate homeowner tax relief grants will cost the average Georgia homeowner $200 to $300 on our next local property tax bill.

Partisan politics also reared its ugly head in the budget process when the Republican majority decided to withhold needed funding from districts represented by Senate Democrats because we had the audacity to offer a budget amendment that would have kept the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home in operation by reducing spending on a new luxury resort on Jekyll Island.

The lowlights of the 2009 session don’t stop there. The Republican majority couldn’t go without passing a few more unfunded mandates on counties and cities, while still prohibiting them from making their own decisions on Sunday alcohol sales. Thankfully, the House stopped a Senate bill outlawing potentially lifesaving embryonic stem cell research, but this is a battle we now have to fight year after year.

Georgians don’t expect much of the Legislature when we go to Atlanta each year. They do want us pass a budget that meets basic needs such as education and health care while respecting taxpayers. They want us to focus on the major problems, like transportation funding and unemployment. They want us to put public policy over partisan politics.

After the 2009 session, I wouldn’t blame them if they start expecting less and less.

> Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta) is chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

By the way Golden has mentioned as a possible candidate for Lt. Governor or Governor.

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