January 14, 2019 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
A new era has begun in Atlanta for all of Georgia. Monday officially brought us a new Governor, Brian Kemp. The Georgia General Assembly also has many fresh faces as the legislature begins their annual meeting. Chief among them is the new Lieutenant Governor, Geoff Duncan, who will guide the Senate along with the President Pro Tempore, Butch Miller of Gainesville. The constant in leadership of the state’s highest three offices will come from Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge.
With such a significant change in leadership, bold
predictions in outcomes between now and sine die are best tempered until
everyone has some time to demonstrate how they work together. That said, here’s five predictions for the
- Rural Georgia will receive significantly more
attention than before.
While the trend has been toward solving issues unique to
rural Georgia for at least a couple of years, the 2018 elections have tilted the
balance of power a bit more toward rural Georgia. Governor Kemp campaigned extensively in parts
of the state often ignored in statewide elections, and it’s unlikely his base
will be forgotten.
Furthermore, the loss of significant Republican seats in
suburban Atlanta pushes the GOP caucuses’ power centers into rural areas. One can argue that urban Atlanta has expanded
outward and the Atlanta exurbs are now the suburbs, but at least for now, the
result is that the majority caucuses in the legislature are decidedly more
- The House Rural Development Council will set the
The early shift toward a rural Georgia focus was telegraphed
by the House’s Rural Development Council, chaired by Appropriations Chairman
Terry England and Ways and Means Chairman Jay Powell. Powell has since been promoted to Rules
Chairman, which further emphasizes that the recommendations of the council will
receive significant attention.
This means we should expect significant legislation on
healthcare reform, including a strong look at Georgia’s Certificate of Need
laws that treat hospitals as local monopolies.
Other recommendations address rural broadband, the wine industry as
agribusiness, rural broadband access, blight control, job tax credits, and
regional development authorities.
- Big spending items may have to wait a year.
Last year, Governor Deal raised the state’s revenue estimate
twice. The first made it possible to
fully fund the state’s QBE education formula.
The second, in November, allowed for hurricane relief in Southwest
Georgia. With the revenue estimate
already raised aggressively and an income tax cut kicking in, there’s not as much
“extra” on the table to divide up among new initiatives. Budget battles may be more intense than usual.
- The media wants an intra-GOP battle over guns
and religion, and many Republican legislators will be happy to comply.
Nothing provides coveted clicks for political journalists
like these two issues, or signs of division within the party in power. With these two issues, reporters get
both. A not so subtle reminder to the
new folks: Governor Deal isn’t leaving
in a revered status because he took the bait on every shiny object issue offered
to him via headline. His legacy is that
he focused on his own agenda to solve specific problems, and attacked them
pragmatically over his eight years in office.
- Much of the heavy stuff will wait until next
We’ll learn a lot over the next 40 business days, as the
leaders and rank and file legislators learn how to work with each other. Citizen legislators have a learning curve, and
so do new Governors and Lt. Governors.
With governing, it’s better to do things right than do things
quickly. As such, watch for the
development of study committees. A lot
of the work done this year on major issues may not be done while the
legislature is in session. It could be
that much of the heavy lifting is done this summer and fall, with signature legislation
prepared when we start this process again one year from now.