Georgia, like most states, is in a financial bind. Revenues have been falling for two years, financial reserves are exhausted, budgets have been trimmed, federal stimulus aid has been spent, and some fees and fines have been increased. Now, facing another billion dollar shortage, legislators in Atlanta are trying to figure out the where, when, how, and what to squeeze out of the state budget.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, small government, fiscal conservatives, govern our state. State Senator Chip Pearson (R- Woodstock) is telling us that lean times call for a lean budget. Personally, I thought that is what conservatives stood for even in fat times. However, I suspect that our fiscal conservatives are not seeing this fiscal crisis as the excellent opportunity it presents for them. They have the opportunity to implement their small government philosophy and give the citizens of Georgia a significant tax cut – permanently. I am not going to hold my breath but I have always wanted to know how small, small government would be. I have always wanted to know whether tax cuts would actually lead to increased state revenue. I have always wanted to know if conservatives actually believed their ideas about how small government would work if implemented, and now we have – no, make that they have, the opportunity to place their principles in practice. They have the opportunity to downsize government and let us see firsthand their true priorities.
Conservatives have never needed to face the reality of decreased tax revenue until now. Now is the time that the proverbial tire hits the road because they have to make the hard decisions of how limited government should be and how much revenue a limited and small government will require. How are they going to respond to this situation, particularly since they have been asking for just such a situation for decades? Interestingly, I hear no talk of permanently downsizing government, one of their stated goals. Conservatives are talking as if this is an aberration and as soon as the economy recovers, we can put the fat back in the budget.
According to Republican fiscal doctrine, a tax cut now would put more money into everyone’s pocket, people will go out and spend it, corporations will have an incentive for investments, and the increased growth would produce more jobs and tax revenue than before the tax cut. This, then, is the perfect time for a tax cut in the State of Georgia. This is the perfect climate to test Republican economic policies.
I am not sure we would like their priorities. Georgia Republicans are cutting significant monies from education, but that is not new. Since Governor Sonny Perdue took office, the Republicans have cut billions of dollars from education. For some reason, Republicans do not appear to value education. Maybe that is why Georgia ranks among the lowest states in terms of literacy, high school dropout rates, and test scores. In fact, we have the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. It is estimated that almost 25%, 1 in 4, of Georgia’s citizens are illiterate. These figures are from 2000 to 2003, suggesting an already dismal base rate at the very time Republicans started slashing the educational budget. What do they have against an educated citizenry?
The cuts in education are not the result of low taxes. Georgia has the 16th highest taxes in the nation and among the worst school systems. If you look at the Business Tax Climate, of the states surrounding Georgia, only North Carolina has a worst tax climate. Georgia ranks 29th in the nation, not good for a Republican state with pro-business rhetoric. Maybe now we know why so many new automobile manufacturing plants went to neighboring states.
How are Georgia’s citizens going to respond when they get a taste of small government? How will Georgia’s citizens adjust to the decrease in services, the shortened hours of public offices, and the compromise in public safety? How will they feel when they see the results of small government and limited government services? Consider the fact that Georgia State Troopers are likely to lose 10% of their yearly pay because of imposed furloughs over the next 12 months. Their furloughs come on top of last year’s budget cut for Public Safety. Georgia has as few as eight Troopers covering 12 to 15 counties while 20 of the 48 patrol posts are closed anywhere from 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. and do not reopen until 7 a.m.
Now is the time for Georgia’s Republican legislators to step up to the plate and demonstrate, in detail, exactly what small and limited government looks like. Now is the time for Georgia citizens to learn whether tax cuts in an economic downturn will actually generate more state and county revenue. This financial crisis has been tailor-made for the Republicans to demonstrate their political beliefs in action. I hope they step up to the plate because I, for one, would like to see what the Republicans have had in mind all these years.