Organizations: Georgia Budget And Policy Institute
Making Sense Of It All: The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) has its roots in a movement launched earlier this decade to establish a network of nonpartisan state fiscal analysis institutes. The mission of this five-year-old organization, says Executive Director Alan Essig, is to “simplify and explain not only the tax code, but the budget” and proposed budget policy implications to government officials, legislators, the media and everyday citizens, with a highlight on how proposals affect children, the elderly and low-income residents.
Expert Analysis: Essig’s team of five includes analysts focusing not only on the state’s tax code and budget, but healthcare, child welfare, poverty and social services as well. Their research is posted on the organization’s website, copies of reports are hand-delivered to members of the general assembly and the press is notified electronically. Staffers also testify in front of legislative committees and speak to civic groups statewide. During their busy season – when the legislature is in session, staffers literally wear a path from their downtown Atlanta offices to the nearby state capitol.
Cause For Concern: Georgia’s tax code was written in the 1930s, Essig says, and remains unchanged since; the sales tax has only been raised a few cents worth since it was enacted in 1954. Worse, he adds, politicians of both parties are guilty of “telling the public there’s a free lunch – that they can cut all your taxes, pay for transportation, lower class sizes, give teachers a raise, have services for children and take care of the elderly and disabled and it all be free.” The system can’t work that way much longer, Essig says, and GBPI’s goal is to prepare Georgia’s leaders and citizens for the day tax reform becomes a necessity.
Looking Ahead: As the GBPI prepares to celebrate its fifth anniversary this fall, Essig is seeking funding – the organization is primarily supported by foundations, grants and individual donations – for an analyst to focus solely on a green economic agenda. He’s also planning to work with candidates in the 2010 elections to help foster an honest discussion of Georgia’s tax situation, along with overall tax and budget policy, healthcare policy, programs to move Georgians out of poverty and green economic development. “Our goal is to get those topics on the political agenda during the election,” he says.