Political Notes — Carter urges separate budget process for education

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State Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) has proposed that lawmakers debate and adopt a separate budget each year for spending on public education.

“Our education budget is broken,” Carter said. “I propose a new approach. I believe we need a separate education budget — essentially a trust fund for education that will keep the politicians from raiding it to pay for other things.”

Carter said the Legislature should break down the state budget into a two-part process: one part for education and then a general budget to cover other state government agencies.

“Having a separate education fund will make it clear to Georgia families, Georgia teachers, and local school systems that our investment in education is the state’s top priority, and will require elected officials to take responsibility for the way in which we fund education,” Carter said.

He plans to introduce a resolution for a constitutional amendment that would enact an education budget process. The measure is not expected to pass in a Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Another voice on Medicaid expansion

It’s becoming clear that Medicaid expansion is going to be a topic that will dog Gov. Nathan Deal throughout the abbreviated General Assembly session.

Deal adamantly opposes expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act and said Wednesday he will continue to oppose it, even though protest groups known as “Moral Mondays” are holding demonstrations at the state capitol urging the expansion.

“Their solutions may sound appealing on the surface, but will ultimately require us to raise taxes on all Georgians,” Deal said. “We must resist those temptations.”

The governor and his aides so far have dismissed any and all calls for Medicaid expansion by describing the proponents as “left-wing liberals,” but that may be more difficult to do as the session moves forward.

For example, the conservative editorial page of the Savannah Morning News has added its voice to those who are looking for a way to help the state’s hospitals:

Georgia chose not to implement a state-run insurance exchange or expand its Medicaid program under the federal government’s terms. But the governor and other lawmakers can’t run from reality. Georgians are already shouldering a financial burden for the uninsured. Emergency rooms fill up with people who make too much to receive Medicaid, yet hospitals treat them anyway.

The Georgia Hospital Association, which represents 174 institutions across the state, wants Georgia to participate in the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act. Strictly speaking, that’s not a good idea. The carrot that the Obama administration is offering — additional federal Medicaid funds for Georgia — comes with a huge stick — a bigger wallop to state taxpayers in the form of increased Medicaid costs in the future. So it’s a dicey proposition.

But it shouldn’t be the only one.

What the governor and Georgia Legislature should do is find another alternative to just saying “no.” They must get beyond the political rhetoric, get creative and find solutions to problems affecting Georgia’s hospitals.

Olens in a private meeting

Attorney General Sam Olens made a name for himself in 2012 by pushing for a stronger state law to restrict secret meetings by government agencies, but Olens was recently reported by his hometown newspaper as taking part in a private meeting involving Cobb County’s local governments.

On Tuesday, according to the Marietta Daily Journal, Olens participated in a private meeting of Cobb school officials, County Commission Chairman Tim Lee, and business types who are trying to get tax breaks enacted for developer John Williams. The Cobb school board has been balking at approving those tax breaks.

From the MDJ report:

Lee said Chamber CEO David Connell invited him to attend a private meeting Tuesday morning in the conference room of one of the Galleria office buildings. Present at that meeting were Olens, [former governor Roy] Barnes, Williams’ consultant Tad Leithead, Connell, Brooks Mathis, the chamber’s executive vice president of economic development; Development Authority Chairman Clark Hungerford; Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa; Cobb Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci, Vice Chairman Randy Scamihorn; State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb) and school board attorney Clem Doyle.

We asked Olens’ office why he would attend a private meeting of government officials and received this reply from the law department spokesperson: “Sam was invited to attend at the request of local leaders to assist the two sides in reaching a resolution. The gathering was not a meeting because there was not a quorum. Even if it had been a meeting, there is an exception for mediation – 50-14-3 (a)(5).”

Personnel notes

Phil Smith, who worked for the grassroots organization Concord Coalition for 17 years, has joined the Department of Community Affairs as the agency’s chief operating officer. Niki Knox has rejoined DCA as director of governmental relations.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Cobb County , Department of Community Affairs , education budget , Jason Carter , Medicaid expansion , Nathan Deal , private meetings , Sam Olens