The Georgia General Assembly convenes for its annual session tomorrow, and compared to recent years there is some sense of optimism as it does so, at least on the financial front.
While Georgia has not fully rebounded from years of economic malaise, when lawmakers take their seats Monday they will do so knowing that state tax collections are on the upswing and reserves again are growing and healthier than they have been.
Recent sessions of the legislature have been dominated by the need to make serious budget cuts throughout state government; this year promises to be a little less lean.
That said, there’s also more than a little trepidation as we prepare for the annual gathering of lawmakers.
With a little more money to spend than in recent sessions, and with 2014 elections on the horizons, there will be great temptation for legislators to boost their election profiles by allocating funds to pet political causes rather than top government priorities.
Every election year there is a propensity for those facing re-election to fatten the budget with plenty of political pork, and while the state’s economic picture is improved, it certainly isn’t rosy enough to allow for spending geared more toward garnering votes than improving Georgia.
What revenues there are to spend are too sorely needed on some big ticket statewide items to be squandered by those hoping to keep the folks back home happy with election influencing allocations.
Take education, for example. Recent years have seen the state reduce its financial commitment to education on multiple fronts, resulting in local school systems cutting days from school calendars, furloughing teachers, freezing salaries, cutting programs and eliminating badly needed building projects. If there are any spare dimes in the state treasury, there is a good use for them in the educational system.
And it’s not just education. Transportation, social services, health care, courts, parks, public safety and environmental agencies all have been on austerity diets for several years and would benefit from an extra helping of allocations.
Hopefully our elected leaders will recognize the serious need for intelligent debate on the big issues rather than becoming bogged down in high-profile hot topic items that generate a lot of attention and publicity but are less important in the overall picture of state government.
More often than not there is a difference between good government and good politics. We can only hope lawmakers will recognize the difference as they gather under the Gold Dome to conduct the public’s business.