Sally’s Senate Snapshot #2

Vaccine Update: Taking the Helm while Waiting for Help

An Atlanta entrepreneur has launched a free text messaging service to help you know when new appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine are loaded on to a county’s website. Simply text VAX to 678-679-0250, then answer questions via text about your county. The app continuously checks several County Health Departments and as soon as a county opens registration, it sends you a text to let you know. As of Jan. 22,  this app worked for Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Newton and Rockdale counties with plans to add more. However, you may still encounter difficulties accessing county websites to sign up. It’s wonderful to see concerned citizens stepping in to help while we wait for the Georgia Department of Public Health to release a centralized appointment registration system, and for the Biden administration to scale up vaccine availability. Click for more information.

Into the Deep Chasms of Georgia’s Budget

Budgeting from home: During the second week of Georgia’s legislative session, the Joint House & Senate Appropriations Room normally is packed with the most elite and influential of Georgia‘s elected officials, with a crowd of advocates and lobbyists standing in the back. But last week during the budget hearings, this room sat largely empty, as most legislators watched the hearings through video streams due to the terror threats against our nation’s state capitols and the continued risks for COVI-19. Neither threat seems to be abating soon enough. The Georgia Tech surveillance COVID testing program identified yet another Senator positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

The sole requirement of the legislature is to pass a balanced, annual budget. This translates into two bills, both of which must originate in the State House. Legislators must act quickly to amend this year’s budget, which started last July, by passing the “little” budget (HB 80) at lightning speed, just in case we need to recess early due to the spread of COVID. Sub-committee meetings already have begun in the House. The second bill (HB 81) is the “big” 2022 budget that funds the government for next year and begins July 1, 2021.

The Revenue Estimate: Unlike Congress, the legislature is required to balance Georgia’s spending with anticipated revenue. The Governor has the power to set the revenue estimate, which he does in consultation with his appointed State Economist. This gives the Governor an inordinate amount of power. For instance, according to a Governor’s spokesperson, despite the pandemic, this year’s revenues are 4.7% ahead of last year’s, yet the Governor has set the revenue estimate for the remainder of the year at 2.5% below last year’s actual revenue levels. Granted, there could be extra costs in the coming months, such as higher than usual tax refunds, and the economy could still tank if the pandemic worsens. But Georgia already has a robust Rainy Day Fund of $2.7 billion. The revenue estimate for FY2022, which begins on July 1, has been set at 27.2 billion, nearly a billion dollars less than the original FY2021 estimate.

Georgia’s foundation is eroding: For two years, Kemp has taken a proverbial chainsaw to our budget, demanding further cuts and revenue estimate reductions due to COVID-19 and a huge 2018 income tax cut. As a result, this year, the Executive Branch Department Heads were finally told they did not have to include cuts to their FY2022 budget proposals. During their presentations, I could hear the strain in their voices as they struggled to convince legislators that they will be able to meet needs with what they have. This simply isn’t true. Federal stimulus dollars have clearly helped, but Georgia’s budget is plagued by decades of underfunding and deep chasms in the services that Georgians need, especially as we continue to find our way through a pandemic that requires a strong government response. This is not the time to make soup from a stone.

Many state employees work for 40% below market rates, and there are now 18,000 fewer state employees working for Georgians as there were just prior to the 2008 recession.

The GBI Director said they cannot hire forensic pathologists because these workers can go anywhere in the United States and get paid more.

Conditions at state prisons have reached inhumane and dangerous levels due to understaffing, COVID-19,  and the low pay of correction officers. (AJC)

Education budgets for public schools continue to be slashed while millions in tax-payer funded scholarships are handed out to private schools.

The Governor’s Medicaid Waiver costs more in state dollars to cover fewer people than what it would cost the state per person to enact full Medicaid expansion.

The Georgia Department of Public Health, underfunded for decades, is having to choose between administering COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, a choice that diminishes our opportunity to get a handle on cases in our state.

Seven thousand disabled Georgians remain on waiting lists for Community-Based Care, a waiting list that has existed since the early 2000s.

Georgians are going without food, without healthcare, and without an end in sight, and yet billions of tax dollars are being stashed away in the Governor’s Rainy Day Fund. It should be obvious to all that the time is now to use that fund, or we can wait for the impending flood of poverty and disease to carry more of our hardworking and tax paying citizens away with it.

A Major Sea Change at the Federal Level

We won, but our work is not finished: Georgians won big during the last two elections, and we have reason to celebrate! But we must not think our work is finished. We must utilize the grassroots network we’ve built over the last four years to work even harder to implement the change we want at the federal level. This is going to take a conscious shift in thinking — we’re not used to Congress actually working for us!

Remember we didn’t build our network to defeat Trump, and we didn’t build it to elect Democrats. We built it to ensure everyone has healthcare and quality public education, from cradle to career. We built it to enact environmental policies that reverse global warming to save our earth from harm. We built it to pass gun safety laws, to close the income equality gap, and to bring about racial justice.

Don’t expect policy changes to happen automatically just because we elected candidates with “D”s after their names. We, the People – the ones who put our leaders in power – must lead our communities to progress.

Write Congress a To-Do List: If we are loud enough, the leaders we elected will follow us. We have a minimum of two years to get all this done, so the time to dream big is now.

What do you want your two new US Senators, and your US Representatives to do for you? I want them to channel the depression-busting policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who believed in the power of government to help people, and those of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who believed in the ability of government to build the infrastructure to support people and businesses.

Reach out now and tell your US Senators and Representatives what you want! Ask them to host a Town Hall Meeting in your community. We must compete with the well-funded lobbyists who are already busy trying to charm our new legislators in the hallways of Washington.

The Governor’s State-of-the State address included millions of state dollars for the installation of rural broadband. The Speaker of the House wants a few billion dollars to address Georgia’s freight and logistic challenges. Georgia needs to build its public transit infrastructure. These are all the kinds of things Congress used to fund for states decades ago, which freed states to focus their resources on services such as education, mental health and the needs of our disabled citizens. We must persistently demand that our governments once again step up and work for the citizens!

Be the Captain of your Ship! 

Request a Town Hall with your U.S. Senators and Representatives

  • Sen. Jon Ossoff: 202-224-3521
  • Sen. Raphael Warnock: 202-224-3643
  • Rep. Lucy McBath: 202-225-4501
  • Rep. Nikema Williams: 202-225-3801
  • Rep. Hank Johnson: 202-225-1605