The nation's economy looks bumpy for 2008, and Georgia may not be able to avoid the rough ride. A national housing crisis and soaring energy prices combine with a regional drought to signal dread ahead.
This has been a hard year for agriculture, manufacturing and housing, all key industries in Georgia. Unlike the declining Rust Belt, however, our long-term forecasts remain mostly upbeat. Our future rests mainly in our own hands. We understand what our greatest problems are. Now if we can just work together to fix them.
Ruling Georgia Republicans and minority Democrats in high office need to tackle these big issues with sensible solutions. We need to show Georgia businesses and those contemplating a move here that the era of malaise and disreputable behavior is only an aberration, not part of a long-term slide. We remain the South's economic keystone.
A presidential election year is traditionally a time for state politicians to lay low. This year the state faces problems that cannot wait. These issues also present opportunities to showcase the until-now secret abilities of the can-do generation of politicians. For instance:
· A bipartisan water-use plan is a must for Georgia. We cannot avoid the drought any longer. There is no use wailing further about our past lethargy. The state's leaders ducked the issue because they perceived that the political costs of doing something would be too great. Given the public's outrage at their failure to act, the governor and Legislature may have seen the light. The costs of inaction are far greater than action. Finally taking a proactive position on water can convince outside investors that Georgia can plan intelligently and protect the resources needed for orderly growth and prosperity.
Fortunately, some visionary leaders in areas like Cobb, Cherokee, Gwinnett, and Athens-Clarke have been aggressive in reducing water consumption and expanding resources in their jurisdictions. This local-level leadership stands as solid evidence that House Speaker Glenn "Romeo" Richardson is all wet in his effort to reduce local governments' powers through his proposed GREAT plan to centralize taxing and spending in the Statehouse.
· Readdress education. In 2000, we put in place education standards that North Carolina used to jump from being ranked in the 40s to being ranked in the 20s. Many of the changes were abandoned, which has stymied our ability to catch up. The idea of creating a new track for graduation is a good one. Speaker Richardson and DeKalb Rep. Fran Millar have taken the lead in what could become significant education reform. We'll see early next year.
Providing full funding for education next year would be the best indication that Georgia is serious about its schools. We were short by $140 million last year alone.
· Get moving on transportation. Anyone who drives in North Georgia knows that this issue is critical. We require long-term planning to merge smarter road use with mass transit - or the region will stagnate.
· Emphasize drumbeat for key industries in Georgia, especially health care. There is no reason that Georgia cannot be a national leader in the health-care sector. We have tremendous resources, including the Medical College of Georgia, the University of Georgia, Emory Medical, Mercer Medical, Morehouse Medical, Georgia Tech and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We need to make the creation of 21st-century jobs a priority. Perhaps Gov. Perdue could establish a public commission spearheaded by the Georgia Research Alliance to recruit companies in the medical research, biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
The probable loss of the Solvay Pharmaceuticals vaccine plant to Alabama underscores the need to focus on health care.
That commercial setback has not been Georgia's only major disappointment. See Olympics, Atlanta, 1996.
Still, Georgians always seem to find a way to bounce back from calamities ranging from the Yazoo Land Fraud and the Civil War to Reconstruction and the Great Depression.
Georgia's historic resilience ought to encourage optimism for the days ahead. We have shown repeatedly that we can overcome obstacles, even those of our own making. Perhaps that trait more than any other has made Georgia the embodiment of the New South.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.