Georgia editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

Jan. 7

Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune on off to the races:

The upcoming General Assembly session is almost predictable, a rarity for a legislative body seemingly dominated by rogue rangers who shoot at every imagined target existing.

Yes, they’re coming back next Monday … even the ones that don’t count and barely have a vote, like the minority Democrats. But it is easy to anticipate this time will be considerably different, and perhaps milder on the nerves, than what most Georgians have come to expect.

For starters, legislators simply aren’t going to have to carve out extra time to enjoy the recreational amenities, fine dining and well-stocked bars of the “big city” of Atlanta because the new ethics guidelines have kicked in. While there are loopholes aplenty the reality is that for most legislators, particularly those not considered sufficiently powerful to be worth the risk of expense account trickery, most “fun” will have to be paid out of their own $173 per diem during the session or their $17,342 annual pay.

Of course, that’s not the only reason legislators are expected to keep their noses to the grindstone rather than the four-star dinner plate. Indeed, this is expected to be perhaps the shortest session ever — starting Jan. 13 and ending at the allotted 40 work days around the second week in March after a nose-to-the-grindstone period of five-day weeks.

The reality is that this an election year for all of them — even such as the guiding-light governor — and they aren’t permitted to raise or accept campaign contributions while actually making decisions, writing laws, picking who gets tax money.

In the past that wasn’t so much of a problem, but the very first order of business this year is expected to be changing the state’s primary election, in which candidates of both parties have to fend off rivals, to May 20. That’s almost two months earlier than the previous mid-July date.

It is no secret that the state has a whole lot more revenue coming in and available for spending than in years past marked by slash, cut-and-burn policy actions.

So will reams of new funding go to repair the so-many clearly broken obligations of state government — protecting the children under state supervision, fixing the murderously understaffed prison system, actually supporting the new, so-called community-based juvenile-justice system?

Not to even mention the huge, huge burden thrown onto the backs of local taxpayers by the “community-based” mental-health system that has turned the County Jail into a psychiatric ward,

It seems more likely, and has already been in open discussion, that the governor and legislators will mostly restore some funding to schools in particular, including mending the HOPE scholarship cuts that set many technical-college students adrift.

Abused children, prisoners, juveniles and the mentally limited are not “constituencies” to consider in an election year.

In a sense, Georgians appear to have transitioned away from having to worry about what might be the worst the General Assembly when in session might do. Now they have a new concern, regarding a legislature that might well simply ignore what really needs doing because, most inconveniently, such might take too much time away from seeking re-election.



Jan. 3

The Albany (Ga.) Herald on study finds Medicaid expansion increases emergency room costs:

Politicians, at least if they’re honest, will tell you that the biggest problem with legislation is unintended consequences.

And that may be what we’re running into as the Affordable Care Act continues to be implemented.

President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation is off to a rocky start as federal officials work the kinks out of a flawed registration system. So far, the number of Americans who have obtained new coverage under Obamacare pale in comparison with the number of Americans who had their coverage pulled out from under them by the act. There are also concerns about the security of the system and its ability to protect the privacy of the information required of those who sign up.

But an even more unsettling development came to light last week when one of the biggest selling points of the part of the program that expands Medicaid coverage turns out to not be the case in the only real sampling of its implementation. Proponents of expanding Medicaid coverage argued that it would lessen the stress on hospital emergency rooms because the newly covered individuals would use primary health care instead.

It appears the effect is just the opposite.

A study published Thursday in the journal Science found that emergency room use by Medicaid patients increased by 40 percent, which some experts think could increase emergency room spending at U.S. hospitals by $500 million a year rather than reduce it.

With the administration’s estimate that 8.7 million people will be added to Medicaid in the United States this year, it means that federal taxpayers will shoulder much of the initial cost for the 26 states that went along with the Affordable Care Act and expanded their Medicaid coverage. But while the federal government is picking up that tab at first, that federal support will decrease and those states — and their taxpayers — will have to pick up a sizable tab in the not-too-distant future.

Georgia didn’t expand its Medicaid program, though there is a growing political effort in the state calling for it to happen.

The climate under the Gold Dome isn’t likely to change in the coming session, and in this case that is probably the best avenue of approach. The Affordable Care Act is flawed and first needs to be fixed by the federal lawmakers and the administration who created it before Georgia considers any Medicaid expansion.



Dec. 30

Savannah (Ga.) Morning News on county bidding:

The city of Savannah isn’t the only local government that has been in the spotlight lately over the handling of bids for public projects.

Chatham County is getting the same kind of attention, and it’s not flattering.

County Commission Chairman Al Scott and the rest of the commission must quickly get a handle on this matter, then get it fixed.

On Dec. 20, commissioners had been scheduled to award a contract for a concept plan for the reconstruction of Memorial Stadium. This aging, county-owned sports facility was one of the most expensive items on the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax list, which voters approved earlier this year. The cost of the project was estimated at $12 million.

But the county’s Purchasing and Contracting Department botched the bid process. So now this contract is on hold.

That’s actually a good thing, however. It gives commissioners time to identify and fix the flaws.

In this case, five architectural and design firms submitted bids for the county contract. But Michael Kaigler, the county’s assistant county manager, said the proposed fees that three local bidders would charge the county were fouled up during the county’s evaluation.

Kaigler called it a “staff error.” That’s awfully vague. In any case, this mistake was a doozy. It apparently affected the county’s initial rankings, which affect the staff’s recommendation to county commissioners. That apparently forced the staff to hit the reset button.

If the problem is a “staff error,” as Kaigler maintains, how did it occur? At least four top-level county employees looked at these bids. Did all four of them make the same error at the same time? That’s hard to believe. More importantly, what is the county doing about it?

Meanwhile, this confusion at the courthouse comes on the heels of complaints aired at Savannah City Hall about the awarding of public contracts, especially as it pertains to bids that involve women-and minority-owned businesses.

County commissioners must keep digging — and start fixing.


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