That Tuition Increase and Other Riveting University System of Georgia News

In case you were working on an end-of-semester project, sleeping off a hangover, or just disconnected from all things public college in this state, tuition is going to go up 2 percent for the 2017-2018 academic year. That should work out to between $27 and $98 per semester for full-time, in-state undergraduates, depending on the college or university.

Don’t worry, exactly zero dollars and zero cents will be added to my salary (or almost any other professor’s salary) from this increase!

The Chancellor and the Board of Regents have to say things like “we thank the General Assembly that we were graciously allowed to raise costs,” and probably it’s not smart for an untenured, assistant professor (who is a librarian, nonetheless) to point out reality, but as costs to educate increase, our funding has to come from somewhere, and it’s almost assuredly not going to come from state appropriations. Continue reading “That Tuition Increase and Other Riveting University System of Georgia News”

Pew: Georgia Tax Revenues Still Below Pre-Recession Peak

Attention 3110 Maple Drive Northeast: Consider this remedial reading.

The Pew Charitable Trust has released an analysis of states’ revenues since the trough of the great recession. They concluded what we already know, and have analyzed here, here, here, and here, among other places. Georgia’s revenues remain below where they were before we went into recession when adjusted for inflation.

It’s fine to grouse that we’re spending more money than ever, if you want to be lazy and uninformed. It’s also a grossly incomplete statement that makes it an act of willful ignorance.

Despite spending less money now after adjusting for inflation, let’s talk about what we’re doing now with roughly the same money that we didn’t have 10 years ago:

  1. We have a rainy day fund with over $2 Billion cash on hand to cushion any future downfalls.  Governor Deal took office with less than 3 days operating cash on hand – AND we had to take $2 Billion in federal money to get us through the worst of times.
  2. We’ve added about $1 Billion per year in annual dedicated transportation infrastructure spending.  About half of this amount of money came from existing revenue streams or cutting tax credits. Less than half was the change in our gas tax.
  3. We’ve added 50% more Georgians to our Medicaid rolls, this despite Georgia not being a state that chose to expand Medicaid.
  4. We’ve added almost 1 Million more Georgians as the state’s population has grown.

We’re generating slightly less money than we were before the recession. We have 10% more people splitting that pie, disproportionately more using state Medicaid dollars, getting more road maintenance and improvements, and have money in the bank.

Thus, instead of openly wondering why our conservative leaders aren’t budgeting like conservatives, it’s probably better to actually thank Governor Deal, Speaker Ralston, Lt. Governor Cagle, and specifically Budget Chairmen Representative Terry England and Senator Jack Hill for figuring out how to balance a budget while doing more with less.  Cause that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, and the Pew Trust numbers verify that.

Augusta, Columbus Back In Revised Casino Bill

This years bill to allow for “Destination Resort” casino gaming was introduced as a paired down, more focused alternative to last year’s proposal that would have allowed as many as seven licenses to be issued throughout the state. We covered the bill in detail here.

At the bill’s first Senate hearing, sponsor Brandon Beach of Alpharetta has allowed the county population threshold for the second casino license to be lowered from 250,000 to 200,000. Aaron G Sheinin of the AJC explains the change:

We’ve changed that from a 250,000 population to 200,000, so Columbus has a chance and Augusta has a chance,” he said, adding that he will present a new version of the bill to the committee Thursday.

Beach’s decision is a smart one, said state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, a top co-sponsor of House Bill 158, an identical House version of Beach’s bill.

“It’s more acceptable,” Smyre said of Beach’s revision. “We all know the main resort will be in the metro area, but economic development ought to spread throughout the state.”

There’s also a change in where the revenues would go. Instead of 70% of proceeds going to HOPE (with 30% going to a new, needs based scholarship fund), rural healthcare is in the mix. More from Sheinin: Continue reading “Augusta, Columbus Back In Revised Casino Bill”

Appropriations Chair Terry England Cites Objections to Increasing Sales Tax and Lowering Income Tax

Whenever the idea of tax reform comes up in the state legislature, a common point of discussion is trading the state’s income tax for an increased sales tax. It’s a popular idea, given that neighboring states Florida and Tennessee appear to do well without an income tax. Many Georgians are fans of the FairTax, introduced by Rep. John Linder, and later Rob Woodall, which trades income and payroll taxes on the federal level for a national sales tax.

In the last legislative session, Rep. Tom Kirby of Loganville introduced House Bill 208, which would have eliminated the state income tax. Assigned to the Ways and Means committee, the bill went nowhere.

While it’s unknown whether a similar bill will be introduced for the 2017-2018 session, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England doesn’t seem to be in favor of the idea. Speaking at a Barrow County “Eggs and Issues” breakfast recently, England was asked about the possibility of reducing the income tax in exchange for a higher sales tax, England responded,

When you look at our revenues following the economic recovery, sales tax has remained flat for about the last six years, which is concerning to me and others.

I hope that’s a result of people putting more money back into savings and paying down debt, but I suspect it’s also probably a shift over to more E-commerce.

My inclination is for us to wait a little bit and see what’s going to happen with our sales tax revenues. Then if we do decide to do something, let’s be very cautious about it.

The Peach state derives 45% of its revenue from individual income taxes, with another 4% coming from corporate income taxes. Sales taxes make up 24% of state revenues.

Law on Fiscal Notes Will Be Enforced During 2017 Session

During the 2017 legislative session, the ability to request a fiscal note from the Department of Audits and Accounts or the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget will be limited to what the law prescribes. In practicality, what does that mean, and how will it affect legislation being written or voted on? Let me explain.

The Fiscal Note [fısk(ə)l nəʋt, sometimes pronounced fızık(ə)l nəʋt] is an estimate of the financial impact of a piece of legislation on the state’s revenues or expenditures. Its basis in Georgia Law is the Fiscal Note Act, which requires a fiscal note to be produced for “Any bill having a significant impact on the anticipated revenue or expenditure level of any state department, bureau, board, council, committee, commission, or other state agency.” That brings up the first challenge: defining when a significant impact occurs to a state budget that exceeds $21 billion, and the code is not very helpful in narrowing the definition.

What it does say is that fiscal notes must be requested by a bill’s author prior to November 1st of the year preceding the legislative session in which the bill will be introduced. Newly elected lawmakers have until December 1st to request a fiscal note. All the fiscal notes prepared will then be available by the first day of the legislative session.

All of that is well and good, but what about bills that aren’t prefiled (most of them), or receive substantial modification in committee? In that case, the Act says that a fiscal note can be requested by the chairperson of the committee to which the bill is assigned. Fiscal notes prepared in that case will be delivered within five days of the request, or ten days if an extension is requested by the preparing agency. The Office of Planning and Budget and / or the Department of Audits and Accounts can produce a Fiscal Note on its own if it believes a bill will have a significant impact, and the fiscal note is not requested otherwise. Continue reading “Law on Fiscal Notes Will Be Enforced During 2017 Session”

Rep. Price to Deliver Keynote on Budget at 3 PM (Video)

UPDATE: Archived video of the event is below.

At 3:00 P.M. today, Rep. Tom Price will deliver a keynote address at the Brookings Institution on reforms of the budgetary process.

Price is, of course, Chairman of the House Budget Committee and has been focusing his committee hearings on reforming that arcane process for some time. Given the incoming unified Republican government, his prescriptions have a better than even chance of being filled.

After his speech, the question-and-answer segment is likely to turn to the government’s plans for Obamacare, given his recent nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

With a huge influence on both the federal budget and healthcare policy, Dr. Price has become one of Georgia’s most powerful voices in Washington since Speaker Gingrich.

The prepared remarks are included below in the comment section.

To Amend Or Not To Amend

This week’s Courier Herald column:

When Georgia voters go to the polls between now and November 8th, they will be given a series of proposed constitutional amendments to consider. Four measures will be decided that could give the Governor more power to fix chronically failing schools, establish new taxes on strip clubs, provide political oversight to the group that oversees Georgia’s judges, and dedicate taxes raised from the sale of fireworks to trauma care, fire services, and public safety.

There’s often a reluctance from the electorate to change the Constitution, and there should be. The Constitution is more sacrosanct than the litany of laws that compose the Georgia code. A change to the Georgia Constitution cannot be proposed without first having received two thirds of members of both the House and Senate agree to put the question before the voters.

That said, the Georgia Constitution has not proven as rigid as the the U.S. Constitution. Georgia’s current Constitution was ratified in 1982, replacing a Constitution that had just been adopted in 1976. This is the tenth Constitution since Georgia became a state.

The U.S. Constitution is broad by design, and leaves out many details. Something about leaving laws not specified “to the states, respectively, or to the people”. Georgia’s Constitution fills in many of the gaps left open by the U.S. Constitution, as it dictates more routine day to day governance items that occur much closer to those of us as we’re governed.

Many of my friends have adopted a stance toward proposed amendments in Georgia that they should be voted down as a matter of principle. The thinking seems to be that we have too much government with too much power, and voting against amendments will somehow result in less government. There’s a huge logic fallacy here. Continue reading “To Amend Or Not To Amend”

Tom Graves Introduces Legislation to Reform Congress’s Budgeting Process

We’ve covered in some detail Senator David Perdue’s year-long effort to change the way Congress develops its annual budget, and appropriates funds for each fiscal year. One result of this effort was the introduction of the Accurate Accounting Act in the Senate earlier this year.

On Thursday, 14th District Rep. Tom Graves introduced a matching House version of the Accurate Accounting Act, calling for zero based budgeting, showing the true cost of the Social Security program, and increasing accountability by requiring the General Accountability Office to produce reports on the effectiveness of mandatory spending programs that are not subject to the regular appropriations process. In a statement, Rep. Graves said,

Washington’s budget process is broken. It’s only worked four times in the past 40 years. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, which is why I introduced this bill. It creates a new, more honest framework in which Washington’s budgeting process would take place. The reforms would help control costs and give Americans a clear view of the country’s financial picture, much of which is hidden by the current budgeting process. While the bill doesn’t fix every problem, it’s an important first step. My hope is that these changes spur far greater reforms that balance the budget and solve our national debt crisis.

This isn’t the first time Graves has introduced a zero based budgeting proposal. While serving as a state representative in the Georgia House, he championed the idea, introducing legislation in 2009 that eventually became law in 2012.

Meanwhile, as the start of a new fiscal year begins on Saturday with the likely passage of a continuing resolution, Senator Perdue is using the occasion to stress the need for his budgeting proposals. “Once again, we are witnessing a complete breakdown of the budget and appropriations process,” Perdue said in a statement. “Enough is enough, it is time for the greatest governing body ever conceived – the United States Senate – to start acting like it. Congress cannot continue to legislate from crisis to crisis. We cannot allow the budget and appropriations process to come to a grinding halt every year. We cannot allow gridlock to prevent funding the federal government on time. We certainly cannot afford a temporary fix that does not produce real results for the American people.”

Continued positive fiscal news

Governor Nathan Deal announced a continuing positive trend in tax collections. August receipts were up 6.8% over August 2015 at $1.69 billion. For FY 2017, which began July 1 receipts totaled $3.3 billion which represented a 4.3% increase over the same period in FY 2016.

Each tax revenue category showed an increase which is indicative of the improving economy in the state. That coupled with the fiscal discipline of the Governor and the legislature has swelled the rainy day fund to more than $2 billion.

A copy of the Governor’s press release detailed each category’s performance for August

Raises And Thanks For Georgia’s Law Enforcement Officers

This week’s Courier Herald column:

We’ve now clocked the fifteenth anniversary of September 11th. As is typical – and well deserved – we couple this remembrance of when terrorists killed over 3,000 on American soil with a recognition of the first responders that ran toward the danger rather than away from it.

As a country, we have historically been pretty good at public acknowledgement and thanks of those who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. The reality of how we support them often differs substantially.

During the last year or so, the calculus has changed significantly. Protests of police officers have led to a very public questioning of the role between those who wear a badge to protect and those they serve. Some incidents have gone well beyond protest. Dallas and Baton Rouge have seen incidents where multiple officers were assassinated in an ambush style attack.

Officer Tim Smith of the Eastman Georgia Police Department added a local face to the heightened risks faced in an environment of heightened tensions. He was ambushed and killed in the early morning hours of July 8th while responding to a call about a suspicious person. Continue reading “Raises And Thanks For Georgia’s Law Enforcement Officers”