With the gap between Georgia’s growing needs and available resources continuing to top $1 billion in the coming years, we face the consequences of the state’s most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression, compounded by an antiquated tax system.
When lawmakers try to find ways to fix a problem that large, it’s only natural that they take a hard look at everything on which the state spends money. “It’s a spending problem,” they tell us, and the pens come out to cut costs for state services on a line-by-line basis.
Just as in medicine, though, an erroneous diagnosis will likely lead to the wrong treatment. Like just about every other state, Georgia in the recession and its aftermath has seen a collapse in revenues. That’s why we’re short; not because we spent too much.
Needs haven’t gone down in these troubled times. In fact they’ve gone up. So trying to use a cuts-only approach to solve a crisis caused by too little revenue would be like telling a patient with appendicitis to get more exercise. Relying entirely on service cuts would have dangerous consequences for our state’s families and our future.
In reality, Georgia has a number of options. To raise awareness of this, the 2020 Georgia alliance has begun a “20 Choices for Georgia’s Future” campaign that throughout the legislative session will demonstrate the value of a balanced approach that includes revenue instead of a cuts-only approach that will damage our state’s economy and threaten future prosperity and job growth. The alliance arose from the shared concern of over 75 organizations — including educators, human service providers, faith-based practitioners and community leaders — that we cannot afford to continue addressing Georgia’s challenges through cuts alone.
One choice has to do with cuts to Elder Support Services. A proposed $1 million cut would end delivery of 138,000 meals to seniors across the state in a one-year span. Those meals are an important part of seniors being able to have the dignity of continuing to live in their homes rather than move to expensive nursing facilities.
Another choice underscores how a cuts-only approach puts domestic violence, sexual assault victims and their children at risk. Over 71,000 crisis calls were answered last year, and 7,544 victims and their children were placed in safe housing. Yet, more than 2,600 victims and their children were turned away because of a lack of available space.
During the campaign we’ll also be showing how relying too heavily on service cuts in education, dental care for pregnant women, adult literacy, assistance for the developmentally disabled, public health, and many other areas will have consequences that far outweigh whatever money would be saved in the budget.
The unprecedented challenges Georgia faces also offer a unique opportunity to build an even better and more prosperous state. Choosing only cuts to vital services will undermine the long-term prosperity of our state, keeping families from investing their human and financial capital in opportunity and growth. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A balanced approach — one that includes revenues that bring in enough money to pay the bills, invest in our future, and make the choices that work for Georgia’s families — makes so much more sense for the long haul.
Our future is in the balance.
Beth English is executive director of Easter Seals of Southern Georgia and partner of 2020 Georgia. 2020 Georgia is a broad alliance of community leaders and organizations. Our common goal is to promote a balanced approach to budget and revenue solutions that meet the short and long-term needs of our state and its people – rather than relying too heavily on service cuts that damage the state’s economy. www.2020georgia.org.