Opinion: Collaboration that fuels action

State leaders tout connection and collaboration as lawmakers return to the Gold Dome. Those assets should lead to action, even in an election year.

Georgia’s motto of “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation” may make a big comeback in 2018. That would bode well for this state, its people and its economy.

The reality of a sweeping election year across Georgia could not overwhelm a strong vibe of “git ‘er done” pragmatism from key speakers last week at an event that’s historically been a curtain-raiser for a just-resuming Georgia General Assembly.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues breakfast laid out an ambitious agenda of important, yet commonsense matters that face state lawmakers this year. Legislators should live up to this year’s promise, and Georgia’s business community and citizens should hold them to high expectations. We need substantive action, as opposed to seductive noise that can please crowds and fund campaigns, but generate little practical gain to show for it on issues that count.

Gov. Nathan Deal, in his final annual address at the event, both made news and offered sound advice around Georgia’s pursuit of Amazon’s coveted second headquarters and all that it promises in terms of potential jobs and economic development.

Deal promised that if Georgia becomes a finalist for Amazon’s HQ2, he would haul lawmakers back into special session to “make whatever statutory changes are required to accommodate a business opportunity of this magnitude.” We hope things move that far.

The governor went on to wisely note that, “It may be months before Amazon makes a decision or even narrows their choices, and we have many important issues to consider in the interim during this legislative session. We cannot waste valuable time, energy and effort when what we should be doing is focusing on enhancing those issues which have already made us an attractive candidate to Amazon.

“We have opportunities over the next few months to strengthen our education system, improve the health and safety of our youngest citizens and invest in our network of transportation infrastructure. We cannot allow those opportunities to pass us by as we wait on another.”

We agree. And we are heartened by a sentiment that stressed the need for solutions to challenges facing both urban and rural Georgians and their communities. Speakers sounded like they had taken to heart a key thrust of the Georgia Forward grassroots group, which has long preached just that message.

One issue that directly links both metro and rural is transportation. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, reiterated last week his belief that transportation touches on statewide mobility, quality of life and economic development. Reducing congestion in metro Atlanta will fuel benefits across Georgia, we agree.

And, said Ralston and others, enhanced transit options must be part of the solution. As such, the General Assembly should make real headway this year in moving toward the necessity of more state involvement in both transit funding and facilitating greater, efficiency-boosting cooperation among existing transit agencies.

Such a gamechanger would dovetail nicely with lawmakers’ push to improve economic prosperity in struggling rural areas of the state. A number of ideas, including tax incentives, have been floated to help draw investment and taxpayers to non-urban parts of the state. They warrant careful consideration this year.

Lawmakers should also follow through on another big part of rural prosperity – or lack of it. That is healthcare. Georgia’s struggling rural health apparatus is overdue for help. Businesses are rightly skeptical of investing in areas that lack adequate hospitals, doctors or clinics.

Georgia’s conservative majority of lawmakers have been loath to expand Medicaid eligibility, but with the Affordable Care Act still the law of the land, they need to reassess options to help heal the state’s ailing health care net. Other states as conservative as Georgia have found ways to improve their health care apparatus; there’s no reason Georgia can’t do the same.

There are many other issues that we expect to address as the year and the legislative session move along.

A final one worth noting is too-often-paltry pay for local law enforcement officers. As Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle noted at Eggs and Issues, “It’s important we work together with our city and county governments to attract and keep good people in law enforcement.” As the souls who put their lives on the line daily in making nine of 10 arrests in Georgia, there has to be a way for impoverished cities and counties to be able to boost compensation so that an estimated 3,000 Georgia officers aren’t relying on food stamps, as indicated in an analysis by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That should shame us all.

Overall, state lawmakers have set out an ambitious agenda for 2018. It can become reality if they hew to their predictions of widespread cooperation and collaboration.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

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