Issues for 2013
By John Sherman, former President of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation
Georgia public schools have a high school graduation rate of67.5%, the third worst in the nation. Yet the cost per publicschool student, $10,587, is nearly $1,000 more than the national average. Charter schools can offer parents and children analternative to a poorly performing traditional public school. Last summer, Georgians voted to amend the State Constitutionto make it easier to approve the creation of charter schools. Rep. Edward Lindsey is proposing to introduce a bill in the coming legislative session to will allow parents of underperforming public schools to petition the local school board to convert the school into a charter school. While we support “parent-trigger” legislation, charter schools cannot be regarded as a panacea for our educational woes. The quality of charter schools runs the gamut from poor to excellent. The best charter schools, like the best traditional public schools, focus on retaining and developing teachers who are focused on their students and can effectively educate them to continuous improvement. In a recent national survey of charter schools by U.S. News, none of the top rated schools were located in Georgia. In approving charter schools, local and state boards of education have a responsibility to Georgia parents and teachers to carefully review the educational philosophies, credentials and track records of the charter school company in order to assure Georgia parents that the school will be committed in practice and by charter to continuous education improvement of all the students that the school serves.
The transportation gridlocks remain. The legislature, convening in a few days, is urged to pass legislation creating a regional transportation commission for Metro Atlanta composed of professional transportation engineers and planners. The causes of transportation gridlocks will be identified and solutions recommended and supervised by professionals.
3. Atlanta Public School Cheating
It is now a year and a half since the State issued its 413-page report on cheating in Atlanta public schools. The report cost the taxpayers $2.5 million for over a hundred investigators, lawyers, and accountants. Since the report was issued, however, not asingle indictment has been filed by the local district attorney. Considering the extent and duration of this massive cheating (256,586 answers changed from wrong to right), criminal investigations should be undertaken by the State Attorney General or the U.S Attorney.
4. Fulton County
In recent years, two professional studies were concluded, one on the justice system in Fulton County, and the second on the governance of Fulton County. Of the many recommendations, few, if any, have been implemented. The role of the county in providing governmental services has become even more questionable in light of the incorporation of several areas of the county in recent years. Legislation with respect to Fulton County government is being drafted and will be proposed in the coming legislative session. Taxpayers will continue to monitor and advise fellow taxpayers with regard to the proposed bill.
5. City of Atlanta Beltline
The U.S Department of Transportation did a study on the Beltline that indicated the cost of the proposed rail and bus services, along with construction of the four proposed new MARTA stations will run $3.6 billion. Although most taxpayers approve the lake and greenway, they urge that the transit and the bus services, together with the four new MARTA stations, beheld in abeyance. They are simply unaffordable in these tough economic times.
6. Code of Ethics
Georgia needs to join other southern states in greatly strengthening our ethics laws, including the following:
-Place a $100 cap on gifts by lobbyists to elected andappointed officials, and their staffs and families, at both the state and local levels
End “pay for play” in Georgia, at the state and local levels,by prohibiting government contracts from being awarded to large campaign contributors
Strengthen the State Ethics Commission, includingrestoring its power to write clarifying regulations consistent with the statutes, and adding the authority to investigate both conflicts of interest and “pay for play” violations (at both the state and local levels)
Guarantee funding for the State Ethics Commission by aconstitutional amendment, in order to avoid the problem of having to annually ask politicians to fund the agency that is intended to hold them accountable.
Authorize statewide investigative grand juries, to providean additional vehicle for investigation of state and local corruption
7. Surviving and Thriving during the Worst Recession Since 1929
There are cities in Georgia which are cutting essential services or declaring bankruptcy. There are also cities that are surviving and thriving such as Roswell, Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, etc. Each has privatized many or most of their municipal services. In Sandy Springs, there is a law limiting the millage to 4.6 mills and since its incorporation, Sandy Springs has kept within this law millage. The governance report on Fulton County recommended that every service be costed out with bids that are substantially lower than the present government should be privatized. I urge all municipalities, county and the state to obtain private bids from referable sources, and compare the bids with government cost. If any of the private bids are substantially lower, the bid should be accepted in the best interest of the taxpayers.
Since half of Georgia spending comes federal programs, we will not know until April or May how many of Georgia programs will be approved by the Federal Government. If the Federal Government disapproves over half of Georgia programs, it will result in the largest budgetary cuts since 2008. The Federal cuts will definitely affect Georgia’s spending and Georgia’s 2013 budget.
9. New Falcons Stadium:
There must be greater transparency as the negotiations go on, and especially urge Mayor Reed to explain what he has not addressed: How much will the city of Atlanta taxpayers are on the hook for expensive infrastructure improvements around the new stadium site?
10. Medical Insurance
Tens of thousands of Georgia residents do not have medicalinsurance. This is far worse than Serbia, Russia, Egypt, and other third-world countries. To correct this horrible problem, many taxpayers feel that all employees in the state of Georgia should have health insurance.