As of Monday, Atlanta will have a new mayor. Later this month, a new speaker will preside over the Georgia House of Representatives. By year’s end, Georgians will have elected a new governor and perhaps several other statewide officials.
So, 2010 will be a year in which a time of political transition coincides with a need for strong leadership in several critical policy areas.
This could go really well. Or really badly.
Nah, humbug. Let’s open the year with some optimism — and a checklist for where we hope to be 12 months from now.
Atlanta’s new mayor, Kasim Reed, takes office under more daunting circumstances than did the now-departing Shirley Franklin. The economy is worse, the budget bleaker due to pension obligations that tripled this decade into a nine-digit expense.
For the issues held over from the Franklin administration, we get one year of Peter Aman. The Bain & Company partner, who over the past seven years literally wrote the book on how the city should move forward, agreed to be the city’s chief operating officer for 2010.
How much progress he makes will be in large part a function of how far Reed will push the city’s work force and other entrenched interests.
Reed focused his campaign on public safety, setting an ambitious goal to hire 750 new police officers within four years.
Given that this is a medium-term project, Reed has time first to institute a new pension plan for all officers hired going forward. Today’s offerings are so generous that the city has laid off some workers so that it could pay for its obligations to others. There’s no real security, present or future, for anyone under that arrangement.
Creating a different plan for new hires is essential if Reed is to bring in new officers without letting others go. For the same reasons, the new mayor needs to begin negotiating different retirement benefits — for future, not past, accrual — for existing workers.
Reed’s former colleagues in the General Assembly have plenty on their plates, too.
House Republicans hint that, before taking on a budget that’s sure to be contentious, they will propose a transportation bill. A thoughtful plan has been elusive so far, but putting one forth is essential if the party is to show it’s serious about governing.
When legislators do tackle the budget, the test will not be whether they can balance the books but how they do so. David Ralston, the presumptive next speaker, says tax increases are off the table — a good thing given the state’s fragile economic condition.
That leaves spending cuts. So far, the state has sliced some $3 billion from the budget in the past couple of years, in large part by making across-the-board cuts. We need a structural approach, perhaps shuttering some agencies altogether.
Along those lines, Rep. Charlice Byrd (R., Woodstock) has proposed a regular “sunset review” to determine which state offices should be kept, closed or combined with others. The idea has saved Texas taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and it’s long overdue here. It can’t be in place by 2010, but lawmakers can pass it for the future and act in its spirit now.
Finally, with Gov. Sonny Perdue and his counterparts in Alabama and Florida all entering their final year in office, 2010 may offer the best timing for a truce in the water wars.
If this checklist doesn’t remain just a wish list, we’ll all be happier come 2011.