Commentary: Guide to The Issues 2020 Offers Innovation for Georgia

Chris Denson

Friday, October 9th, 2020

Emerging from the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was reportedly asked whether the Framers of the Constitution had produced a republic or a monarchy. His reply – “A republic, if you can keep it.” – is an oft-repeated reminder of both the greatness and danger inherent in the “grand experiment” known as American democracy. A democracy that requires constant participation by its citizens.

As Americans stand once again in the midst of a presidential election (and all it entails) that will determine the nation’s  Head of State for the next four years, Georgians once again consider the state and local issues that will impact our quality of life. 

While federal taxes, immigration and the military dominate the national debate and the airwaves, the next president won’t (immediately) influence the length of your daily commute on I-75/85 or decide the best option for your child’s education during and after this pandemic. 

States, however, can lead the way on these issues and be an example for national reforms. It can happen here in Georgia, where the state’s achievements over the past decade in criminal justice led to federal reforms.

The bipartisan FIRST STEP Act – the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act – applies to the nation’s federal prison inmates and includes providing judges with more sentencing leeway, reducing mandatory minimum drug sentences and limiting the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses. All of this was based on the initial work of Georgia’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform and enacted by the Legislature. 

Embracing this state-based policy innovation is one reason the Georgia Public Policy Foundation publishes a biennial Guide to the Issues. Since its inception in 1996, the Guide to the Issues is a fact-based approach that advocates the principles of limited government, individual responsibility and free enterprise. Opportunity for all Georgians is essential to the Foundation’s approach.

The 2020 Guide to the Issues is currently online. These 13 issue chapters share solutions Georgia can implement at the state level and, perhaps, serve as a national model. Each chapter includes the Foundation’s principles for reform, facts on the issue, background information and, in most cases, specific items that provide positive solutions to Georgia’s policy challenges.

Education for K-12 students in Georgia, as Foundation President and CEO Kyle Wingfield observed, has become one of the greatest and most urgent challenges: “The Education chapter proposes long-term solutions to education funding and choice in Georgia. More importantly, it also points to immediate action, such as micro-grants, that can help families with the near-term hurdles they’re facing amid the pandemic.”

These quality-of-life issues impact the daily existence of all Georgians. Innovation in healthcare and the state’s Medicaid program leads not only to better choice and quality for patients, it also improves the state’s budget flexibility and ability to address spending priorities in other areas, whether education or public safety.

Rather than continuing wasteful investments for underutilized modes of transportation, the state should embrace funding alternatives and options such as toll lanes, which  facilitate transit needs. Georgia can improve the efficiency of government spending while ensuring less time is spent commuting.

Greater government transparency is one issue that Georgians of all political affiliations should embrace. The limited amount of state data available to the public – and the difficulty in updating many of the 13 chapters – highlights the need for more transparency. It is one issue the Foundation intends to focus on in the days to come.

Proposing market-based solutions to the state’s issues is always integral to the Foundation’s mission; given the lasting effects of the pandemic, it has become even more essential. As Wingfield said, “The Foundation’s motto says it all: ‘Changing Georgia Policy, Changing Georgians’ Lives.’ We urge the state’s leaders and policymakers to embrace these fiscally responsible, commonsense ideas for Georgia that can improve the lives of all Georgians; they’re needed now, more than ever.”