November 20, 2002

Editor's note: This year the Republican Party made unprecedented gains in Georgia. A long-time Democratic U.S. Senator was defeated; a record number of Republicans were elected to the State legislature; and the State elected its first Republican governor since 1872. Upset for the governorship by Republican Sonny Perdue was Democrat Roy Barnes. Speculation is that Barnes lost because of voter anger over gerrymandering expected to benefit Democrats that often ignored county and city boundaries; the elimination of tenure for public school teachers; his on and off support for a controversial road North of Atlanta, and his cutting of a deal with various legislators that resulted in the rapid passage without debate of a bill that eliminated from the State's flag the Confederate battle flag it had sported since 1956 because it was feared would result in fewer conventions and sports events being held in Georgia.

Now that the last blush of victory is wearing off, Governor Elect Sonny Perdue is learning what is in store for his administration. 

There is no more rainy day fund.  The $1.5 billion that was passed from Miller to Barnes will be exhausted by the end of this year.  We all hope that economic recovery will raise revenues to current spending levels.  However, one economic forecast suggests that Atlanta is more prone to an economic relapse than any other metro area in the country. 

I have problems with that study, which I will address at another time.  Nevertheless, if Atlanta falls back into recession, Governor Perdue will be conducting triage with government spending, not supporting new initiatives. 

Indeed, the number one problem facing our Governor is facilitating economic growth and development before the rest of the world learns that Atlanta no longer is creating jobs.  If we do not continue to attract talent from elsewhere, we will be forced to use what we are creating at home.  As the Governor's campaign acknowledged, only Washington D.C. high school graduates have a lower SAT score than our own. [Editor's note: This year the average performance of Georgia's students on the SAT was below that of the other 49 states. The previous year its score was below 48 other states.]

None of this is to say that all education initiatives have failed.  The HOPE scholarship has dramatically raised the standards of our colleges and universities. [Editor's note: Financed by a State lottery, the Hope scholarship program provides in-state scholarships to students maintaining a B average in high school. To keep it, they must maintain a B average in college.] Pre school initiatives are beginning to improve the performance of elementary school students.  Nevertheless, without job growth, the coming of the Republicans will be viewed as the end of development for Georgia. 

I will try to avoid politics, but a flag referendum as the latest wing of the Georgia World Congress Center opens is the last thing that is needed to attract new conventions.  Georgians may believe that the flag issue is about history and tradition, but the rest of the world believes it is about race.  We cannot afford to ignore that world in our current economic troubles. 

The first issue facing Governor Perdue is government efficiency.  Governor Miller was getting a handle on that with his program to shave 5 percent each year from all activities that had no new initiatives.  [Editor's note: Former Governor Zell Miller currently represents Georgia in the U.S. Senate. It was during his administration that the now popular HOPE scholarship program was created.] Some institutions, especially the universities, struggled with this approach; but it created the $1.5 billion that was available to mitigate the harm from this recession. 

I would re-introduce that 95 percent rule for all government functions.  I also would make it a permanent part of the budget process.  This still allows additional spending for better service, new activities, or equipment to make old activities more cost effective in the future.   However, all those initiatives need to be defended in budget reviews.

Education is more than 53 percent of the budget.  Who says we must teach the same way with the same tools as in the past?  And I would avoid falling for the argument that paying the same teachers more to teach the same way will raise education standards. 

I also would clean house.  Let the capital hill crowd know that a new party means a new team.  Of course you can use existing talent to begin your administration.  We do not need to worry that change will be too drastic.  The Secretary of State, Lieutenant Governor, Labor Commissioner, Agricultural Commissioner and Insurance Commissioner all were returned.  A lot of old faces will remain. 

I would review regulations with an eye to improving our image as a progressive business development state.  When the North Carolina mortgage bankers, bristling under their latest lending practices act, declare that "at least it is not as bad as Georgia's", then we must review what we have done.  Has reform missed the mark and created lending restraint? 

There are a host of issues under that regulation umbrella.  Who did we protect when we restrained internet commerce in autos, wines, cigars, and other goods? 

And the governor cannot ignore the problems of Atlanta.  If the arc is wrong, what is right for Atlanta transportation?  Should 55 percent of the state's transportation initiative for Atlanta be used to improve transportation used by 3 percent of the people?

And let's explore our tax system.  About 25 percent of the gasoline taxes are paid by people driving through Georgia to another destination.  Why are our transportation taxes the lowest in the country?  Of course, we should not be raising the total tax burden, but we should be shifting that burden to conform more closely to our air quality and economic development needs. 

I would develop themes and begin responding to them.  The first should be government efficiency, including education.  The second should be growth and development.  What works and where do we fail?  The third should be efficiency in taxation.  The fourth should be in facilitating local governments.  How effective are the special tax provisions and should they be widened to achieve more objectives? And are we helping these governments use federal initiatives as effectively as possible?

Lots of luck Governor Perdue. 

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