The state of Georgia is furloughing 25,000 employees, and in months to come school districts face the prospect of laying off teachers and crowding more children into each classroom.
Cities and counties face cuts in police, fire and 911 personnel, and legislators can’t seem to find a way to fund a statewide trauma-care network that would save up to 700 lives a year.
Around the state, prosecutors are being forced to take unpaid furloughs. Every day they’re not on the job, another 500 criminal cases back up unprosecuted. Many will end up being dismissed.
Oh, and did I mention that our roads still don’t work, our SAT scores still suck, and that even before the recession hit, our state mental-health system was so poorly funded and badly run that it drew federal attention as a threat to those it serves?
Nor is the problem temporary. Revenue projections suggest that in the next few years, the state could face annual budget deficits of a billion dollars or more.
Confronted by a revenue crisis of that magnitude, how does the Legislature respond? It votes to make it worse, approving hundreds of millions of dollars in business tax cuts and moving to abolish the corporate income tax, which could cut future revenue by $1 billion a year.
The idea —- or more accurately, the ideology —- is that lower taxes will create jobs. Maybe around the margins, they will. We may indeed attract a few bottom-line industries whose main siting criteria is whether the corporate tax load here is a percentage point or two lower than in a competing state.
But roads that are permanently clogged are already costing us even more jobs.
The loss of 700 lives a year because Georgia lacks trauma care available in other states will cost us jobs, and a whole lot more than jobs.
Under-educated children will cost us jobs, and will cost them a better future.
Few people dispute the fact that budget cuts in state and local government are necessary. Everybody’s cutting back, and government has to share that pain. However, choosing to compound the crisis by enacting massive tax cuts —- what we are watching is madness.
Businesses —- good-paying businesses with the potential to create growth and prosperity —- come to places with roads that work and schools that teach and communities that are safe and state parks that are attractive and well-kept —- or at least open. Only government can do those things.
Likewise, the employees needed to run those kinds of businesses are drawn to places where government helps to create a decent quality of life. Jobs are drawn to places where government works and solves problems. That’s not Georgia.
Here, our Department of Transportation is a dysfunctional mess, and the solution apparently agreed upon by state leaders will make it worse. They are taking a system crippled by political meddling and “fixing it” by making it even more vulnerable to such meddling.
As if they don’t have enough to do, some of those same legislators complain that MARTA —- which functions without state money —- doesn’t operate quite as well as they might prefer. Others plot ways to take over Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, suggesting that the state could do better than the city of Atlanta in running an airport already nationally recognized for efficiency.
Yet this fall, Hartsfield will open a rail line capable of moving 10,000 passengers an hour to its new rental car facility. Meanwhile, how’s that state commuter rail line coming?
Perhaps the best reflection of the mindset at the Capitol can be found in a few little-noticed lines of one major tax-cut bill.
Under House Bill 481, the state Department of Revenue will be required to send a letter to each business affected by a particular tax change. Legislators even dictate the letter’s wording:
“… the Georgia State House and State Senate passed and the Governor signed the J.O.B.S. Act … believing that entrepreneurs and business owners, not government, are best equipped to create jobs and sustainable economic growth for Georgia. We appreciate your efforts to create true economic stimulus for our great state.
The cost of sending that message can’t be measured in just the price of paper, envelope and postage.