The 2018 session of the Georgia General Assembly convenes today against the backdrop of a wide open election year. While it is true that elections in Georgia come every other year, this election year presents the first time since 1998 that both the Governor and Lt. Governor’s offices are open due to Governor Nathan Deal being term limited and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle running for the top spot. All other Legislative and Constitutional offices are also up for election this year including two offices being vacated — Secretary of State, due to Brian Kemp running for governor, and Commissioner of Insurance, due to Ralph Hudgens’ retirement. With all these political offices in play, candidates and power brokers will be watching the clock – and their backs – until Sine Die of the legislative session sometime in late March. After all, the open party primaries for these political races are fast approaching on May 22, 2014.
With these political distractions in mind, bills and proposals this year should be viewed through the following five lenses:
1. Is the proposal constitutionally required? Only one item fits under this question but it is a doozy – a balanced state budget. Although state revenue has steadily increased along with the state’s economy since the depths of the Great Recession, so has demand on that revenue. Governor Deal will reveal his proposed budget – estimated at approximately $26 billion — later this week along with his State of the State address to the General Assembly. The final budget is likely to include such high profile items as an infusion of $350 to 400 million to keep the Teacher Retirement System healthy and economic development incentives to try and lure such companies as Amazon to Georgia.
2. Does the proposal shore up an existing public policy initiative that has been previously established? It is doubtful this year that we will see many bold new long range public policy initiatives but we should expect to see pushes to further previous public policy initiatives. For instance, the Governor’s previous initiatives in public education regarding state commission charter schools and his highly praised criminal justice reform initiatives should receive attention to shore up and continue these reforms.
3. Does the proposal benefit from a cascading effect created by previous policy initiatives? For instance, the recent metro initiatives in some counties and cities on transportation in general and transit in particular is likely to prompt other local governments to want to move forward to avoid being left behind in improving their own transportation infrastructure.
4. Does the proposal address particular critical issues that require a pressure valve release that cannot wait to 2019 or beyond? The badly needed and overdue adoption law overhaul that stalled last year in the final minutes of the session certainly fits in this category, as well as the initiatives on rural revitalization to expand broadband, shore up healthcare, and promote work force development in this region of the state.
5. Does the proposal violate the cardinal rule of economic development for a government to do no harm? Georgia has earned a solid reputation as a state friendly to business and we are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to attract new business to Georgia. The legislature will be under a great amount of pressure to avoid any measure that will damage these efforts. Another fight over religious liberty is viewed by many to fit in this category this year.
At 10 am this morning the General Assembly will gavel into session. Let the games begin.