Reasonable approach needed to improve Georgia

By Alan Essig

Should Georgia rely on nonprofits and charity hospitals to solve the state’s Medicaid budget problem?
That could be the long-term solution, according to some state lawmakers who will arrive at the Capitol this week. We must move away from unrealistic approaches to actual problems as legislators cope with declining revenue and increasing demand for services.
Georgia lawmakers have a real opportunity to turn things around during the 2013 legislative session. I’d like see the following challenges take top priority this year.
Educate and develop Georgia’s workforce. Georgia cut state funding for the university system since 2000 by almost 20 percent. Funding for technical colleges dropped by 11 percent. Steep tuition hikes predictably followed. Between 2003 and 2012, $5.6 billion was cut from K-12 funding, resulting in fewer instructional days and larger class sizes. This session lawmakers should:
Implement the recommendations of the State Education Finance Commission as a first step to repairing damage done by a decade of budget cuts.
Create a needs-based financial aid program for higher education in order to improve graduation and retention.
Fund health care in Georgia. The state should create a plan to fund Medicaid by renewing the provider fee and seeking ways to raise additional revenues to support the program.
Renew the hospital provider fee, or Medicaid assessment, initially passed in 2010 to prevent a financial crisis among doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
Increase state funding to fix a structural problem with Medicaid caused by years of lack of adequate support. A $1 per-pack increase in Georgia’s cigarette tax would bring in funding that is directly tied to health care costs caused by smoking.
Make government open and accountable. Georgians deserve a more accountable economic development spending plan.
Prove economic development incentives work as intended. Last year’s House Bill 920 called for just such accountability. It should be revived in 2013.
Create a transparent review process for programs that subsidize businesses directly. That includes OneGeorgia EDGE, an economic development program with huge recent funding increases. Georgians deserve evidence the subsidies really create lasting jobs.
Restore Georgia’s fiscal integrity. Georgia needs to fix basic structural problems with the ways it raises revenues to pay for vital state services.
Find ways to increase state revenues faster than the state economy is delivering during our slow recovery from the recession.
Rebuild our reserve funds. Our reserves were $1.5 billion in 2007. They are projected to be $350 million when lawmakers adopt a new budget.
It is the nature of political debate that many unrealistic options are offered as lawmakers brainstorm to solve problems of the day. These priorities and solutions are well-grounded and will create a better state for all Georgians.
Alan Essig is executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

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