Deal renews call for road funding, without specifying how

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Gov. Nathan Deal again called on legislators to authorize more spending on Georgia’s roads, highways, and transit systems in his “State of the State” address Wednesday, but did not recommend a specific path for lawmakers to follow.

“We must maintain and improve our roads and bridges, we must provide congestion relief, and we must prepare for more freight and more businesses,” Deal told a joint session of the House and Senate.

“We can debate how much it will cost to do something, but let us not forget how much it will cost to do nothing,” the governor said.

Deal, like Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, has called several times in recent weeks for more money for transportation infrastructure – it is estimated an extra $1 billion to $1.5 billion is needed each year just to maintain the current road network.

None of the leaders as yet have said whether they prefer a statewide sales tax, an increase in the motor fuel excise tax, or some other method of raising revenues.

Deal did take note of the shortcomings of the current motor fuel excise tax of 7.5 cents per gallon of gasoline.

“The excise tax, which is a per gallon flat fee, has remained the same since 1971,” Deal said. “That’s 44 years. In that time, the fuel efficiency for the average vehicle has almost doubled, which means the amount of excise tax collected for each mile driven has roughly been cut in half.”

Although he pointed out the declining effectiveness of the motor fuel tax, Deal did not say whether legislators should increase it or otherwise change it.

In other parts of his speech, which generated polite but restrained applause from the audience, Deal touched upon education, supervision by the state’s criminal justice system, and medical marijuana.

As he indicated earlier, the governor urged passage of a constitutional amendment that would establish an “Opportunity School District” in which the state would take over the operation of individual failing schools. His proposal is based upon a similar model used in Louisiana.

“There will be those who will argue that the problem of failing schools can be solved by spending more money,” Deal said. “They ignore the fact that many of our failing schools already spend far more money per child than the state average. The problem is not money.”

The governor has appointed an Education Reform Commission that will try to overhaul the state’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula for funding local school systems, a formula that has been in place since the mid-1980s.

“My vision is to create a formula driven by student need that provides local school and district leaders with real control and flexibility,” he said. “It is our hope that funding changes based on the commission’s recommendations will go into effect as early as the 2016-2017 school year.”

QBE revision is an issue that governors typically promise to undertake without ever quite getting it done.

Deal appointed an “Education Finance Study Commission” during his first term in 2011 that was also asked to suggest new ways for funding public schools – but didn’t bring forth any changes in the QBE formula. Sonny Perdue similarly named an “Investing in Educational Excellence” committee when he was governor that also failed to release any proposals for revamping QBE.

Deal said he wants to combine the supervision functions of three state agencies — the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the Department of Corrections – into a new Department of Community Supervision.

“Under current policy, these agencies often don’t coordinate effectively on these cases,” he said. “This fails to bring a holistic approach to the needs at hand and it doesn’t deliver services efficiently.”

The Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) would operate independently of the new agency but DFCS Director Bobby Cagle would be a member of the department’s board.

“Recently we have seen tremendous growth in the number of child welfare investigations (at DFCS), due in part to our 24-hour call center,” Deal said. “This is why we will continue to fund additional resources to meet this unfortunate need, including support for 278 additional caseworkers.”

On the issue of medical marijuana, Deal will support the decriminalization of the possession of cannibis oil, which is sometimes used to treat childhood seizures, but will stop short of changing the law so that marijuana could be cultivated and distributed in Georgia.

“Let me be clear, I do not support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes,” the governor said.

“We’re focused narrowly on an oil that contains fractional amounts of THC – the chemical in marijuana that intoxicates a user,” Deal said. “We want to find a pathway to bring our children home from Colorado without becoming Colorado.”

Deal said he will appoint a study committee to examine “the types of medical conditions that can benefit from this product (cannibis oil), and how we can best address this in a logical and controlled manner.”

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Education , medical marijuana , Nathan Deal , State of the State , transportation funding