Georgia View: Hope And The Democrats

As you may recall from days of yore, Robin Hood took from the rich and then gave to the poor. In those feudal days, the rich were very few and the poor were the masses, more like you and me.

Robin Hood may have been quite the populist back in his day, but now our nation’s long-established middle class feels overtaxed and possibly underserved by their local, state and federal governments.

This discontent further enhances the appeal of programs like Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, which is said by some to take from the poor lottery players and then give to the upwardly mobile and even the rich.

Politically speaking in Georgia, it has been the Democratic Party that has more recently appeared poor and struggling, while the GOP has gathered up the affluent, the business community and, increasingly, the middle class into its tents.

However, the way the Georgia GOP has played out its new HOPE plan and hand may significantly improve those seemingly long Democratic odds for future positions of state leadership. State Representative Stacey Abrams, the House minority leader, and State Senator Jason Carter, her collegue, are in part banking on that. Abrams, Carter and other savvy Dems are reminding their peers that it was Georgia Democrats who gave birth to HOPE and it is now the Georgia GOP taking it away.

Flattening lottery revenues, combined with surging demand for the HOPE scholarships and Pre-K slots, made program cuts inevitable. As always, the devil is in the details: what gets cut and when those cuts take effect.

Many in both parties would argue this change in the HOPE scholarship program is a particularly bitter pill for rising college freshmen to swallow. In addition, the vast majority of the current HOPE scholars will see steep benefit cuts each year and possibly double-digit tuition increases.

More than half of each freshman HOPE class typically loses scholarship benefits each year.

But neither parents nor students can blame the state or its leadership for a less-than-stellar academic performance.

However, they can and likely will place blame for eliminating the HOPE book allowance, cutting HOPE tuition benefits (to fluctuate each year based on gaming revenues) and the steep tuition hikes looming.

Another area where the GOP leadership clearly stumbled is in failing to expand lottery gaming revenues. Video lottery terminals (VLTs) are just one new source of revenue, annually producing hundreds of millions of dollars in seven significantly smaller states. The Georgia Lottery Commission innovated with multi-state and Power Ball games; the next logical surface to scratch would be new gaming options aimed at different demographic segments.

But Georgia’s GOP leadership instead chose to focus on the safer path of offering local referendums on Sunday liquor sales.

An average non-presidential election in Georgia draws 2-2.5 million voters to the polls. There are roughly 250,000 HOPE scholars facing benefit cuts.

The remaining HOPE scholarships and grants may still be generous, but apart from the broken promise and wounded credibility, there is a huge difference between “free tuition” and “mostly paid on a sliding scale.” Add in the now-defunct book allowance and the looming double-digit tuition hikes, and there will possibly be as many as one million parents of high school and college-age students looking at the 2012 academic year feeling they have been robbed.

Fear and anger in political arenas almost always trump logic and fact.

Most Georgia families or college students have yet to pay their tuition bills for this fall. That rude awakening and the adjusted tuition bills should start arriving in mid-June and July.

Even in the healthy landslide win by Gov. Nathan Deal over former Gov. Roy Barnes, the margin of victory was only 259,937 votes. Most HOPE scholars have two parents. So that’s at least 500,000 potentially angry voters.

Do the math, and it becomes easy to understand why so many Democrats are smiling when they hear the words “Back to School.”

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