Let's Get Real

Politics

It only took them 130 years to do it, but Georgia's Republicans have finally achieved their goal of controlling state government. They won the governor's office and the state Senate two years ago, and they destroyed the final Democratic stronghold on election night when they won a majority in the House of Representatives.



For the long-suffering GOP, it was probably worth the wait. Now comes the tricky part of actually governing and passing legislation. The new Republican majority in the Legislature will surely devote much of its attention to such pressing issues as a waiting period for abortions, public displays of the Ten Commandments and school prayer. It would be nice if they could also spend a little time on some issues that would actually have an impact on the pocketbooks of working Georgians. Here are a few suggestions:



State government has been struggling to raise enough operating revenue under a tax system that was designed for the property and products of an agriculture-based economy. It's a system that is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of a rapidly changing, technology-based society. With a new group in charge, what better time than now to take a long look at the tax system and start overhauling it?



A major victim of this lack of revenue has been public education - over the past two years, the General Assembly and Gov. Sonny Perdue have cut hundreds of millions in state funding for local schools so they could balance the budget. On top of that, Perdue's appointees to the state Board of Education increased the class sizes in science, which happens to be the subject area in which students show the weakest performance on standardized tests.



If Georgia is ever going to raise itself from 49th in SAT scores and become a player in the emerging global economy, lawmakers will have to make the necessary investment to upgrade our public education system. We're not talking about a huge tax increase here - just a return to the budget levels of three or four years ago would at least be a step forward.



On the other hand, if legislators are content for our schools to continue sinking into mediocrity with those of states like Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina, then they won't have to do a thing.



While you're considering the needs of our children, give a thought to the people who depend on Medicaid for their health care needs. Perdue has proposed a partial privatization of Medicaid, but more drastic solutions are needed. Otherwise, you have the possibility of a governor and his legislative allies running for reelection at the same time that old people are being turned out of nursing homes.



Georgia's correctional facilities are so overcrowded that thousands of prison inmates are backed up in county jails - much to the dismay of local sheriffs. This prisoner backlog is an unfair financial burden on county governments and an abdication of a responsibility that belongs to the state.



Legislators can choose one of two directions here: they can impose a significant tax hike to build more prisons (correctional facilities are among the most expensive government building projects), or they can start easing off on some of the get-tough sentencing laws and find alternatives to hard beds for our non-violent offenders.



If lawmakers cannot make up their minds to choose one option over the other, there is probably a federal judge who will be happy to make the choice for them.



Latinos are the fastest-growing part of Georgia's population and will soon surpass the 1 million mark. Some of our more conservative politicians would like to seal the borders and send all Spanish-speaking residents back to their countries of origin. In the real world, that's not going to happen.



Immigrants are coming to Georgia for a very simple reason: there are jobs that need to be filled and businesses lack the workers to fill them. It is time that lawmakers start dealing with the issues that affect the state's growing Hispanic community. The question of driver's licenses would be a good place to start, along with the needs of students who don't speak English as their first language.



Republicans have been saying for years that if they ever got control of state government, they'd do a much better job than the Democrats. They now have the chance to prove that point.



Tom Crawford, editor of the Capitolimpact.com news service, covers politics for Georgia Trend.



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