Good times are easy. Tough times can force a cohesion that helps us all endure to see better days. Since the Great Recession slammed into Georgia, we’ve pined away for the former and struggled against the latter.
In our view, the days falling somewhere between these polar opposites will also greatly influence our shared destiny. They provide opportunities that, while challenging, should be heartily pursued.
This great state and its capital city now stand in the early light of a still-new year, seeking signs of what is to come. It is on the stage of this theater that Gov. Nathan Deal cast forth his vision for 2013 during last week’s State of the State speech.
Deal proclaimed that we continue to see signs of improvement in Georgia’s downturn-battered economy. The state is doing noticeably better on some key measures, we’d agree. We’ve got a long ways yet to go, but we’re gradually gaining ground.
For example, Georgians are returning to work in substantial numbers, even as our jobless rate stubbornly remains high. Georgia Department of Labor numbers released last week mark a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 8.6 percent for December. That’s substantially better than the 9.4 percent recorded in December 2012. More jobs posted and filled will help households, communities and all of Georgia.
Creating a climate that fosters such recovery calls for plenty of the “wisdom, justice and moderation” that comprise the state’s motto. Smart, strategic moves are a necessity because the state remains in cost-cutting mode, with most agencies being asked to cut expenses an average of 3 percent for the remainder of this fiscal year and for fiscal 2014. That’s needed to close a budget gap of half a billion dollars.
Our fiscal situation has improved enough, though, that Deal’s proposed 2014 budget wisely spares K-12 education from further blanket cuts. This year’s budget plan, for example, allots $156 million to pay for enrollment growth. This and other additions, such as a 3 percent increase in HOPE scholarship funding, are good moves for this still-growing state.
Even so, they are only a partial payment on long-deferred investments needed to improve the quality of education for Georgia’s children.
Deal said, for example, that it was “unacceptable” for Georgia to rank 45th of 47 states reporting graduation rates under a comparable method. “We can do better. We will do better,” he told lawmakers Thursday.
And we should do better. Achieving that aim, though, will require both a focus on results and on providing adequate funding necessary to attain better educational outcomes. There’s no realistic alternative if we want our schoolchildren to be competitive for jobs in a global workplace. That’s unlikely to happen in a state where school districts have lopped off days, or weeks, of instruction because of budget issues.
This year’s State of the State speech ticked off other areas where wise strategy executed well can improve economic conditions, at-risk lives or save taxpayers’ money.
Tactics like remaking the juvenile justice system should yield big cost savings and, more importantly, do a better job of influencing troubled youngsters away from a life of crime that burdens both taxpayers and society.
Deal’s budget also calls for allocating another $50 million in bond funding for the Port of Savannah expansion. Enhancing this economic muscle will yield statewide economic benefits that more than justify the investment.
In setting up his remarks, Deal cautioned that, “I will not lead our state with a doomsday mindset, reacting erratically and hastily based on fear or ignorance. Instead, we will move forward with confidence, focusing on the proven foundations of a growing Georgia … .
We still retain a solid foundation on which to build. We can only do that, though, if lawmakers approach this task with an appropriate blend of fiscal prudence and bold thinking, backed by smart investments. Such a strategic mix will see us through good or bad times and everything in between.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.