Bookman: Child welfare, public safety not big Georgia priorities

September 19, 2019 8:09 am

Tentative state budget cut plans calls for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to eliminate 16 investigator positions. Courtesy GBI.

This is a story about priorities.

Fearing a slowdown in tax revenue, Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered many state agencies to cut their budgets by 4% in the current budget year, and another 6% in the following year, for a total savings of roughly $530 million. Most of those savings would come from social-service, law-enforcement and service-delivery programs.

For example, 21 child-welfare protection positions have been proposed for elimination, because clearly we have too many such workers on the state payroll. The tentative plan calls for 16 investigators for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to be cut, because again, the GBI has become a blatant example of government fat and waste. Agricultural research jobs would also be targeted, because with the rural Georgia economy doing so well these days, that assistance is no longer needed.

And yes, it’s sadly true that Georgia mothers are dying in childbirth at the highest rate in the nation, and that we have the nation’s ninth-highest infant mortality rate. (As a report for the state House of Representatives tells us, that’s in part because almost half the counties in the state have no practicing OB/GYN physician.) But tough decisions must be made. In the interest of austerity, the state will probably renege on its promised grant of $500,000 to help establish a maternal mortality research program at Morehouse School of Medicine that would try to figure out a way to keep more Georgia mothers and babies alive.

You know, priorities.

Now, here’s another story about priorities:

As they prepare for the upcoming legislative session, Georgia Republicans are planning to cut the state income tax by $550 million a year, with most of the benefits going to Georgians who are already enjoying high incomes. According to an analysis by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, the proposed tax cut would save those in the top 1% — those with incomes of $572,000 and above — an average of $2,786 a year.

Those Georgians in the middle 20% of income – those making $38,000-$49,000 annually – would enjoy an annual tax cut of $59, or $1.13 a week.

We are told, of course, that the $530 million in budget cuts demanded by Kemp have nothing whatsoever to do with the $550 million in tax cuts that Kemp and his colleagues are contemplating. We are told that the budget cuts are necessary because revenue might be declining, and we are told that the tax cuts are necessary in order to make revenue decline even more.

If you can spot a policy or logical consistency in those two arguments, you are a wiser person than I.

Georgia is the eighth largest state in the country, with annual population growth of roughly 100,000. It has the ninth largest gross domestic product. We are no longer a poor state that is financially incapable of providing basic services to its people to help them become safe and healthy and productive; we haven’t been that kind of state for a long time now.

Instead, we are an affluent state that chooses not to provide adequate basic services. It is not accidental that we have the third highest rate of uninsured in the country, well above that of poorer states such as Arkansas and Louisiana. It is a conscious choice, because to our current state leadership giving tax breaks to rich people is more important than providing basic health care to those in need but unable to afford it.

That’s who and what we are.

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Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman

Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.