The 12 days of Christmas continue this week, and so do my dozen good ideas for Georgia in 2019. (To find the first six, please refer to last week’s column.)
6 Types of Welfare Cliffs Crumbled: Some of our most well-intentioned programs to help the poor are designed in such a way as to unintentionally trap people in their poverty. That’s because eligibility and benefits can stop suddenly as recipients earn even a bit more at work. A raise of 25 cents an hour might be one step toward better opportunities in the future, but a person would be crazy to accept it if it means immediately losing thousands of dollars in welfare benefits. That keeps people in poverty and on welfare, which is the worst of all worlds. Georgia should ask Washington for more flexibility in administering these federal programs – from tax credits and cash to food, housing, child care and healthcare – and stop trapping people beneath these “welfare cliffs.”
5 Thousand Dollars for Education Savings Accounts:
School choice took a step forward in 2018, but Georgia is a long way from true freedom for parents to find the very best school for their children’s needs. Ben Scafidi, a professor at Kennesaw State University and senior fellow for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, has authored a plan called “Georgia 2020” that would finally bring universal choice to Georgia families. The key component is putting $5,000 each year into Education Savings Accounts for students who choose to leave their public school, money they could use for tuition at a private school, tutoring, home-schooling materials or eventually, if they don’t spend it all, college tuition.
4 Ways to Overcome Obamacare’s Flaws:
The prospects for the “repeal and replace” effort in Congress are even grimmer than previously after the midterm elections. Yet, the damage wrought on the markets for individual insurance plans won’t reverse itself. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act included a provision for states to propose regulatory changes for their own markets. The Trump administration has quietly made this flexibility easier than ever to obtain, outlining four particular avenues states could take. Georgia is well-positioned to pursue one of these “waivers,” just as it should for the Medicaid program.
3 Neighboring States to Beat on Tax Climate:
The Legislature in 2018 enacted the very first cut in Georgia’s top state income-tax rate. But the latest State Business Tax Climate Index from the Tax Foundation shows three neighboring states well ahead of our No. 33 ranking: Florida (4), North Carolina (12) and Tennessee (16). While Georgia stands to rise once the new changes actually take effect, there’s more work to be done to produce a competitive tax structure that’s as flat, broad and low as possible.
2 Billion Reasons for Pension Reform:
Since 2012, taxpayer payments into Georgia’s Teacher Retirement System have doubled to almost $2 billion per year. The system isn’t poorly managed. Many of its rules and assumptions need to be updated, however, to reflect the modern reality of lower investment returns and longer lifespans. We owe it to our teachers to ensure we can keep our promises to them, and we owe it to taxpayers to ensure that’s done in a way that is fiscally sustainable.
1 Seamless Network of Express Lanes:
Commuters cheered in 2018 as new tolled express lanes opened on I-75 and I-575 north of Atlanta, as well as an extension of the HOT lanes on I-85. But metro Atlanta still lacks a true network of these lanes, which provide an uncongested route when motorists really need one – benefitting drivers and attracting transit riders as buses are expedited. As leadership of state government changes hands, completing this network must remain a top priority.
Altogether, that’s quite a lot to take on. But Georgia is up to the task.
• Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Contact him through the group’s website at www.georgiapolicy.org.