In preparation for our 2012 Legislative Session, I have been looking at what other states consider to be their top issues. Here are a few that seem to emerge as most important: Energy, jobs, Medicaid, state budgets and college affordability.
Americans are spending more than ever to put gas in their cars, heat their homes and pay their utility bills. Rising energy costs have increased the costs for everyday goods. Energy costs trickle down into everything we buy and every service we use.
When energy prices go up, the entire economy is affected. Recent volatility in energy prices has placed considerable strain on the economy at both the federal and state level. We need a balanced approach that accounts for environmental and safety concerns, while not limiting production and development.
The Christmas Eve news media was full of news that the jobless rates had dropped around the state. Metro Gainesville announced that their unemployment had dropped below 8 percent, but most of Georgia is still in the 9 to 10 percent bracket.
Jobs are not only the number one issue of many of our sister states' leaders; that subject is a top priority with many of Georgia's legislators. A stark reality is that the U.S. has shed millions of jobs since the "Great Recession" began in 2007.
Other states are looking at Georgia's Work Ready Program, which is a great example of a state addressing the jobs mismatch. We do have a problem with middle-aged workers not wanting to retrain and move to where the jobs are located.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved on Dec. 22 the design certification for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, clearing a final hurdle in the process to license and build two new units at Plant Vogtle. That same day it was announced that an Augusta-area ironworkers union chapter had "received a $30,000 grant to purchase specialized welding equipment to be used to train workers for tasks related to the addition of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle."
Some legislators have called Medicaid the 800-pound gorilla in budget discussions.
The healthcare program for the poor is the single largest portion of Georgia's spending after K-12 education. Growth rates for Medicaid spending are higher than ever as a result of increased enrollment due to the economic downturn and continuing high unemployment.
We will spend more on Medicaid next year to make up for loss of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and the growth in the program. With recovery funds, Georgia put up $1 to $3 dollars from the federal government.
Without the recovery funds, the ratio will become $1 state to $2 federal. That gorilla just keeps growing. The feds can just crank the money machine for their portion, but Georgia's portion comes from you, the tax payers.
Over the past few years, states have struggled to balance their budgets. Amid crashing revenues and soaring expenses, I am happy to report that Georgia has always balanced her budget.
It wasn't pretty and it was particularly painful to those who lost their jobs when programs were cut back or eliminated.
Georgia focused on cutting expenses, rather than raising taxes in an effort to end the year in the black. The highest percentage cuts were in government administration and areas like state parks. There were significant cuts in terms of dollar amounts in areas like education, higher education in particular.
The recession left Georgia so low on revenues that even historically sacred areas of the state budget - like healthcare and education - saw significant cuts. Recovery funds helped cushion areas like K-12 education and Medicaid from even greater cuts.
The American Dream depends more and more on a college degree. We know that people who have post secondary degrees earn more money over their lifetime than those who do not. Tuitions at public 4-year universities have gone up much more than the cost of living.
Last year, for the first time in Georgia's history, the state put in less than 50 percent of the true cost of an education. Combine that with cuts to financial aid programs and the result is declining access to postsecondary education.
These are just some of the issues that we will be addressing during the 2012 Session starting on Jan. 9.
My Saturday morning legislative breakfasts during the Session will start 8 a.m. Jan. 14 at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega. Please join us.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; phone (706) 864-6589; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.