Last week’s Courier Herald column:
The Georgia General Assembly is in its final official hours for 2023, with legislators prepared to gavel out “Sine Die” on March 29th. While this will end their 40 official business days in Atlanta for the year, it’s important to understand the real schedule of the legislature.
State Senators and Representatives are elected every two years, and the legislation they file is active for the duration of their term. The only constitutional requirement for the legislature is to pass a balanced budget every year. Any other legislation is either completed or left on the table based on the desires of leadership and/or majority votes.
Legislative work doesn’t begin on the first Monday after the second Sunday in January, nor does it end on the 40th business day thereafter. While their positions are considered “part time”, the work is year-round. Bigger and more complex issues are often hammered out during the rest of the year, sometimes in official study committees, other times with legislators quietly building support with their peers and/or building public support for their initiatives.
Normally this column would be a rundown of major bills still pending for this legislative session. The lag between the filing deadline and publication date would make much of the speculation of what might pass obsolete, so that will be saved for a later recap of significant legislation on Governor Kemp’s desk. Instead, today we’ll look at three major questions that legislators and voters will grapple with from April until next January.
The first question is an official one, via a joint press release from Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones and Speaker Jon Burns. The two announced earlier this month that they, along with Governor Brian Kemp, will use the time between meetings of the General Assembly to “review all Georgia tax credits, including the film tax credit” to ensure that each credit provides “a significant return on investment for Georgia taxpayers.”
Not all tax credits are created equally, and not all provide the same return on investment. Most are granted in the form of long term but temporary tax abatements, where the state and/or local governments give up a portion of future taxes they wouldn’t have anyway if the targeted project never happened.
The film tax credit is specifically mentioned and targeted for a variety of reasons. The state, via transferrable credits against income tax liabilities, actually subsidizes production costs of major projects.
The success of the program is causing concern as new studio space continues to be announced. Two new studios have been announced for the Southwest metro Atlanta area, with existing studios continuing to expand and add more year-round TV production in addition to their ongoing support for motion pictures. Thus, the costs of the credits continue to grow along with the increased economic activity.
The increasing frequency of “Hollywood” getting involved in state politics continues to draw the ire of the majority party, with many grassroots Republicans drawing a direct connection to the tax credits and Georgia tilting left. Hopefully the study can separate the fact from fiction on both of these accounts.
Healthcare issues are addressed every session, but the infrastructure of the network of healthcare providers is also receiving increased scrutiny. Certificate of Need (CON) requirements saw a host of bills floated this year, and how to address these – essentially monopoly franchise awards allowing hospitals to exclusively serve their own geographic area – are a major negotiating item between the Senate and the House.
Bogging down the debate is a specific concern over Georgia’s financially troubled teaching hospital in Augusta, and their agreement to be taken over by Marietta based Wellstar Health System. Wellstar recently closed a hospital in Midtown Atlanta which included a heavily used Level 1 trauma center. It’s unlikely that all issues around CON will be resolved in the final days of the General Assembly, but a major overhaul if not full repeal of Certificate of Need requirements will likely remain on the table after legislators return home.
And finally, in the last days of this year’s meeting, a constitutional amendment was filed that would change the election of the State School Superintendent to an appointment by the State Board of Education. The composition of the Board would also shift from appointees by the Governor to election by legislators within Congressional Districts – similar to the election process by the State’s Department of Transportation.
This list of sponsors indicates this is a serious proposal. They include Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville), Chair of the Education Subcommittee on Appropriations, Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton), Education Committee Chairman Chris Erwin (R-Homer), Technology Chairman Todd Jones (R-Cumming), Transportation Chairman Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), and Representative Will Wade (R-Dawsonville), a Floor Leader for Governor Brian Kemp.
That’s a lot of horsepower signing on to a bill filed to be considered for next year. Expect a lively discussion on whether the current structure of the State’s Department of Education provides the flexibility and accountability Georgians expect as the largest recipient of our tax dollars.