Seventeen of the Legislature’s 40 allotted days for 2010 are behind us, but the most important business still lies ahead. Here’s what this voter wants legislators to accomplish before leaving town.
1. Something other than budgeting death by a thousand cuts. Many state officials will tell you that, after more than $3 billion in budget reductions and with temporary federal dollars keeping state spending afloat, it’s time to shut down some programs altogether.
“When you just go across the board, across the board, across the board,” says House Majority Leader Jerry Keen “it hurts some agencies to the point of not being effective.”
Budget writers, the St. Simons Republican adds, have to ask themselves, “Are there things we just can’t do anymore? Not that they’re inherently bad, but we just can’t afford to do them anymore.”
For the future, a bill requiring periodic reviews of each state agency’s functions and budget would be a big help.
2. A firm transportation plan. Georgians have every right to complain that it’s taken Gov. Sonny Perdue eight years to present a plan to pay for projects to alleviate traffic congestion, most notably in metro Atlanta, and freight bottlenecks across the state. The only thing worse than waiting eight years would be waiting more than eight years.
Perdue finally has a plan, and it has much to recommend it. Focusing chiefly on regions — rather than the whole state, or counties either individually or in clusters — is a smart, pragmatic way to approve, raise and spend new revenues for transportation improvements.
Having a firm list of well-explained projects before voters consider taxing themselves is also a welcome requirement. Pass the bill, and put the issue in the hands of voters.
Admittedly, the budget and transportation appear on most anyone’s list of priorities. Here are some less unanimous ones.
3. Property tax reform. I’ve detailed before in this space the reason for lawmakers to pass a bill by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. Proceed more carefully, however, on capping annual assessment increases for land between sales.
A cap sounds nice, but it could have the unintended consequence of favoring incumbent businesses over new entrants, and older (and generally higher-earning) homeowners over young families.
4. Market-based solutions for water. New reservoirs may be part of the long-term solution to Georgia’s water woes. But with a federal judge’s deadline looming, we need more rapid action as well.
Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth) has a bill that would allow cities or counties essentially to sell excess water-withdrawal permits to other jurisdictions, which in turn would pay for infrastructure repairs. It’s a great idea to stop leaks and reallocate water resources more efficiently at the same time.
5. Further education reforms. The Senate in particular wants to improve accountability measures — a must after this week’s revelations of rampant cheating in some school districts — and to expand vouchers to children in foster homes or in military families. Both are solid next steps in schools reform that is gradual, earning trust from citizens rather than assuming it.
6. Meaningful actions on ethics. A limit on gifts? Mostly window dressing. The real need is to ensure the rules we have are enforced properly, without encouraging nuisance complaints.
Absent these moves, lawmakers can expect a lot of voter skepticism about re-electing a Do-Nothing Legislature.