This week’s Courier Herald column:
The 2018 regular session of the Georgia General Assembly has come and gone. The gavels dropped on the session just after midnight last Thursday, with much of the political class of Georgia taking a bit of a spring break this week. This is tradition, as there’s this little meeting in Augusta that requires attention.
Everyone can stand down for much of the week, in an effort to re-energize and refocus. With the awarding of the green jacket on Sunday, the next phase of Georgia politics will begin. Georgia will have primaries on May 22nd, with runoffs as necessary on July 24th.
The primaries are a bit unusual this year because across the state, there is action from both major parties. Democrats will choose between various candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Congress, and quite a few other offices. They’ll get the opportunity to set a message for what the “new” Democratic party of Georgia represents as they appeal to their base – and what they perceive is their base. The changes in the party from when they last held power 16 years ago – some subtle, some not – will be interesting to observe in a primary setting.
Republicans, meanwhile, currently hold all statewide elected positions and ten of fourteen seats in Congress. With power comes the ability to set an agenda. With most statewide positions open (save a few PSC seats) and all members of Congress, the GOP was in a posture going into this year’s General Assembly to play it safe and run out the clock.
Conventional wisdom said that a few red meat issues would be picked to stoke the GOP’s base electorate, a budget would be passed as required by the constitution, and little else of substance would be done. Conventional wisdom, as is so often the case in modern politics, was wrong.
Instead, GOP leaders from across the state were able to come together to solve a four decades old problem of transit governance for metro Atlanta, including $100 million of funding via state issued bonds for state transit interests. Four of five recommendations from the House’s Rural Development Council passed to focus on the issues unique to rural Georgia.
These items are unique because the process for addressing them essentially codified the idea that all of Georgia isn’t created equal. Whether it is “two Georgias” or “five Georgias”, legislators no longer are taking one issue such as broadband or transit and pretending that each corner of the state must get an equal number of dollars in order to create an illusion of fairness.
Other highlights of the session included the first income tax cuts in state history. Education was “fully funded” for the first time in decades according to the QBE funding formula. Additional budget funding for charter schools on top of the QBE funding formula was allocated, as were up to $100 Million per year of scholarships. As has been the custom for the last eight years, education was at the front of the line to receive the lion’s share of state revenue growth.
Rather than play it safe, the GOP majority put a few more points on the scoreboard of their permanent record. They enter an election season where roughly two-thirds of Georgians believe the state is on the right track, according to a recent statewide poll from the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.
It is a state that continues to meet its fiscal obligations while maintaining a AAA credit rating and putting $2.5 billion into the rainy day fund. It’s a state that has funded its priorities. It’s a state that is cutting taxes. It remains the “number one state to do business” while attracting new employers and new residents at a steady pace.
Georgia has a positive record, and momentum. After a quiet week, campaigns should be hitting full stride. It will be interesting to see how candidates of both parties present their plans to lead given the backdrop of positive legislative news and feelings of a generally satisfied electorate.