New Year, New Resolve

This week’s Courier Herald column:

As our new year begins in Georgia, political optimism for many is fueled by the fact that a state governed by Republicans now has a White House and Congress controlled by Republicans. Well, optimism for many Republicans anyway. More than a few Democrats are still somewhere between pretending 2016 was a bad dream and preparing for two to four years in the wilderness of a power vacuum. Hint: there is no Bobby Ewing shower scene coming. It’s time to lean in.

For those in position to advance their agenda, the optimism comes from several sources. One Georgian has already been tapped for the President-elect’s Cabinet. Another is rumored to be a front runner. There is renewed optimism that federal policy can be aligned with state goals.

Almost paradoxically, this will cause a delay for implementing some big ticket legislative items. Many were prepared to resign themselves to the relative permanence of Obamacare, and push for at least some funds offered for additional Medicaid patients. With the obituaries of the “Affordable” Care Act already being written but the plans for succession murky, State leaders are likely to strike wholesale changes to healthcare funding from this year’s list of resolutions.

Expect continued efforts to patch together funding for rural healthcare and existing Medicaid programs instead. More substantive changes will have to be considered in 2018. This is unfortunately an election year where many statewide offices will be open, including the Governor. These years often cede policy reform to campaign rhetoric, so it may be 2019 before major state changes in medical funding align with whatever comes next from Washington.

The current occupant of the mansion on West Paces Ferry still has two legislative terms left, however, and all indications are he wishes to complete his agenda to reform the state’s education system with both a new funding model and additional accountability measures. The failure of the Opportunity School District may signal a change in some tactics, but the general path remains intact.

The Governor will likely have a friend in Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, an advocate for challenging the education status quo and school choice. Opposition, as usual, will be those who measure the success of education by the amount of money the entrenched bureaucracy can separate from taxpayers.

Also on the list of New Year’s resolutions is one that represents a stark change from that of the past. As recently as two years ago, “Be more like North Carolina” was a generally accepted direction for much of public policy. North Carolina is our most similar neighboring state with almost exactly the same population, growth rate, and demographics.

They are a fierce competitor in business recruitment. They had a thriving film industry, a decent statewide healthcare network, respectable convention and tourism industry, and were investing significantly more in transportation infrastructure. Their crown jewel is the “Research Triangle”, leveraging a brand for the universities in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham to anchor a high wage jobs base in technology and medicine.

North Carolina’s Republican leadership has eliminated tax incentives for film that have shuttered studios. A reactionary response to a local ordinance in Charlotte has made some question North Carolina’s image as one that threads the needle between southern competitiveness and big tent inclusiveness. Conventions and sports events have been canceled.

Georgia has seen an uptick in technology companies relocating near Georgia Tech. Economic Development leaders quietly confirm that Georgia has a new found edge over our neighboring state. Convention planners confirm the same.

At least for now. The decisions made in the next 90 days under the gold dome will decide if this is long term, or good while it lasted.

The dawn of the new year brings the beginning of a Democratic Governor’s term in North Carolina. Paraphrasing one Georgia Republican leader, the economic cost of North Carolina’s legislative activates has been well established. November demonstrated there is a political cost as well.

Perhaps the inauguration of Democratic Governor Cooper in North Carolina will help leaders with their new resolution of “Don’t be like North Carolina”. Those who wish to win not only a Republican primary but a statewide general election in a purpling state may have a political career that depends on this new resolve.

And with that, please forgive those with political ambition who already have some work to do on their 2018 resolutions. And their resolve.

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