Solving the sizable challenges now facing Georgia demands elected leadership that’s up to the task. For this state’s problems cannot simply be neglected, wished, or ignored into submission. They’re not going away — not without decisive action.
That means this state’s lawmakers need to abandon their continuing practice of sidestepping, hurling into the future or hastily batting away too many of the toughest issues that loom over Georgia and its taxpayers.
We need a General Assembly that’s willing to stare down our challenges and act openly, decisively and forthrightly to address them. Doing so would help rebuild the tattered voter trust that’s influencing some of the decisions, and indecisions if you will, that are not serving us well.
On key issues lately, we’ve seen the opposite of the behavior outlined above. That’s unacceptable for a state as important as ours.
A current example of these avoidance tactics is the maneuvering by Gov. Nathan Deal and legislators to avoid a floor vote on using Atlanta-Fulton County hotel-motel tax proceeds to pay a minority share of the cost of building a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons. Given that the Dome is overseen by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, it’s mind-boggling that state officials want to push the matter of enabling the public portion of this public-private partnership onto the city of Atlanta, thus eliminating the need for an unpopular vote at the Gold Dome.
Another instance this year is the so-called “bed tax” levied on hospitals to help fill a $700 million gap in Medicaid funding. A plan by Gov. Deal to transfer responsibility for renewing the tax from the General Assembly to the Georgia Department of Community Health’s board sailed quickly through both the state House and Senate. This fast action removed a critical, if controversial, decision from the hands of elected leaders, at least for the next four years. That’s politically expedient, but it’s unlikely to help rebuild voter confidence in the current leadership at the capitol.
To his credit, Gov. Deal has been candid about his intent. During a recent interview with this newspaper about the stadium financing, he said that, “I’ve tried my best as you might have already gathered to relieve the members of the General Assembly from difficult decisions that they have to make because I understand the political consequences of it.”
Deal’s candor is striking, and at least he’s pushing to pragmatically work through some thorny issues. However, such workarounds should not become an acceptable way to conduct the public’s business. Doing so fails the tests of transparency and accountability to voters. Both lawmakers and citizens should recognize those commonsense points.
The legislature’s long-in-coming T-SPLOST fix offers another case study of leadership found wanting. GDOT, governors, individual lawmakers and most anyone else have long said that Georgia’s transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the needs of our growing economic powerhouse of a state.
Yet rather than summon the political courage to legislatively enact a means to invest in needed work, the General Assembly happily kicked the problem to a restive electorate that wasn’t in the mood either for new taxes or willing to trust lawmakers with money the T-SPLOST could have raised.
As a result, the penny transportation sales tax was defeated in 9 of 12 regions, including metro Atlanta. And commuters here will continue to pay congestion’s considerable backdoor tax for the foreseeable future.
We must do better — all of us. Making government work reasonably well requires trust and a real partnership between the people and those we elect to represent us. It’s an arrangement that’s been battered and tested through the years, yet it has survived since the birth of the Republic.
The tenor of our current day is straining this relationship more than usual, both in Georgia and elsewhere, as political tumult and divisiveness seem settled in for the long haul.
Controversy and competition among philosophies, parties and factions is a cherished part of the American Way of civic life. Yet, at the end of the arguments, we’ve historically been able as a people and their elected leaders to reach agreement and actually get needed things done.
We need to renew our acquaintance with this politics of getting results. That’s where leadership comes in. We need it now, perhaps more than ever.
As recent polling by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows, voters are aware of the problems and, on issues like transportation, are willing to pay for fixes when they believe they can trust their public leaders.
Rebuilding that trust won’t be easy or fast, but it must be done. Georgia deserves no less.
The partnership of citizens and public officials must be repaired. Responsibility for our successes or failures is something we all share. For we are Georgia.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.