The following column is an opinion piece, which contains editorialized opinions by the author. The views represented below represent the views of only the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.
If you want to make a problem worse, just tell the Georgia Legislature to find that problem a solution.
That’s a recurring theme in the story of the Peach State and the newest chapter on the revitalization of rural Georgia is no different than any of the others that came before it.
It’s all anyone is talking about right now – statewide candidates for office, legislators seeking re-election, people like me who still use the equivalent of dial-up Internet. Luckily, 2017 is apparently THE YEAR we’re going to get the economy in rural Georgia booming. But we need government to do that – at least according to some. Lately, my social media accounts are flooded with conservatives who have managed to set aside any remaining limited government principles and are now stumping for a government bailout of rural Georgia. And it’s driving me insane.
The Georgia House of Representatives Rural Development Council recently released their recommendations after a series of hearings around the state over the last several months. (For reference, you can see the full list of council members here and the final recommendation report here. The videos from all of the meetings/hearings are also linked here.)
A brief summary of what the committee is recommending looks like this:
The creation of a “Rural Relocate and Reside” Program
This program would provide incentives for Georgians to relocate to 124 of the state’s 159 counties. In doing so, new residents would receive:
- a one-time, per person/filing jointly 10-year income tax deduction up to $50,000 for new residents
- a one-time per person/filing jointly, 10-year state income tax exemption up to $100,000 where the local property referendum is in place to draw professional-level, high-wage earners.
( These exemptions would be transferable within a county during the 10-year period for relocations to encourage growing families to upsize and retain retirees.)
But there are tremendous problems with these recommendations.
First, this really isn’t focused on rural Georgia. No one in their right mind would say that 124 of 159 counties (or 77.9%) of Georgia is “rural.” This isn’t Montana. Rome, Columbus, Augusta – those cities do not need to be in the same category as Telfair, Stewart, and Taliaferro.
Allow me to show you the map of the counties in the “Rural Relocate and Reside” program.
It’s very hard to take this Council seriously when this is their depiction of rural Georgia – the green counties. The actual definition of rural is “in relating to the characteristic of the countryside rather than town” and none of us – especially the ones who frequent these areas – are buying the idea that all of these counties are rural.
Second, one of the biggest complaints from rural Georgians is that their elected officials represent “Atlanta” and not their communities. My greatest criticism of this ‘plan’ is that it helps metro people, not rural residents. A third generation business owner or a family of five living in a sparse area won’t see a tax cut, but a wealthy businessman relocating to live on a modern-day farm will see a lower tax burden with the hope that it will spawn economic activity. How can legislators justify supporting special tax treatment to transplant residents but not their own constituents?
Third, dangling tax breaks in front of people to entice them to a less populated area only brings more people to areas with limited resources. More doctors, dentists, and lawyers do not help a community if 1) there is no infrastructure to conduct their business in that specific industry (i.e. – no hospital or facilities for work), and 2) the base is not large enough to utilize the services. Most people are not going to relocate to earn less money. At best, the first prong of the council report is putting the cart before the horse.
And let’s not forget that our state already has a tax code ripe with loopholes, exemptions, deductions, and breaks – none of which are fair or equitable under the law – and only reward certain groups of people and industries.
Expanding Broadband Internet
The recommendations suggest flattening the fees and taxes so all companies work the same, utilizing infrastructure already in place -such as utility poles,- and streamlining permitting. Because the legislation is not yet available, we don’t know how much regulation and red tape will be eliminated and it’s hard to say what unintended circumstances would arise. Unfortunately, though, the Council recommends eliminating franchise fees which, in many small rural towns and counties, are major governmental operations funding mechanisms.
It is important to remember that these are committee recommendations only and the forthcoming legislation has not yet been released, but as Georgia has seen in the past (like with cannabis oil and the transportation tax,) committee recommendations such as this lead to legislation nearly every time. Given the platform rural Georgia has right now because of the statewide campaigns, I see no way this would be deferred.
Establish a Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovations with the Board of Regents
This would be an informational port for ‘rural leadership training’ for community planning models, assistance, and cooperative issues.
The problem is that it’s duplicative in that local governments already have the Georgia Municipal Association and the ACCG, both of which are non-profit organizations. I see no reason to expand the size of government to provide a service already established, operational, and respected while simultaneously interjecting the Board of Regents – which has a lower level of accountability than most other state agencies – into the economic development side of rural Georgia solutions.
- Add grant funding under the Governor’s ‘Chief Turnaround Officer’/Opportunity School District program.
- Move from part-time to full-time programs with Career, Technical and Agricultural Education/work-based learning
- Move the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education program to the Technical College System of Georgia.
- Request the Board of Regents conduct a market analysis of masters and professional level degree programs needed in South Georgia locations for accessible programming recommendations
Many of the recommendations for health-related issues deal with billing and creating a new platform for how patients are billed, a mechanism which shouldn’t be under the purview of the state government to begin with. Another idea under ‘best practices’ suggests requiring nursing homes to have the ability to do telehealth. Apparently, our Georgia legislators lack the cognitive wherewithal to see that nursing homes and assisted care facilities in rural Georgia are already struggling to keep their doors open, especially the ones that do not already have the ability to do telehealth. A state mandate would be crushing.
Worst of all, the Certificate of Need laws, which dictate where and how health practitioners can operate out of hospitals, are recommended to remain in place in areas with a population of 85,000 or less. To be clear, the recommendation is “service areas with a population of 85,000 or less – not counties with 85,000 or less – meaning, little relief would come to communities in need.
Additionally, premium relief and expanded provider privileges are included in recommendations, but once the actual legislation is written, it will be much easier to see the direction these ‘incentives’ will go. (I would encourage you to go to page 8 and read the full list)
It’s great that the legislature thinks if they do A to incentivize B, miraculously, C, D, E, and F will all follow – quickly and efficiently. Incentives aren’t long-term solutions and they aren’t equitable under the law. They almost always reward a small group of people.
I had the unique opportunity to grow up in metro Atlanta, spent most of my life within the 25 mile metropolis of the heart of Atlanta, went to college there, and earned a living for the first few years of my adult life there. It wasn’t until my 27th year that I was granted asylum south of the Mason-Dixon line and was immersed into the lifestyle of rural Georgia. I did it willingly, for a number of reasons.
When I moved, I knew there would be things I would be giving up: crowds, traffic, bad attitudes, but also access to certain amenities, different infrastructure, a strong cell phone signal, and access to healthcare. I was willing to embrace these things and sacrifice, knowing a longer drive would be in store for some of these things I used to see within walking distance. It may be a pain, and it may be a hassle, but with the exception of health care, I can say with confidence that it’s not the main concern of rural Georgians. It just ‘is’ and the last thing the people WHO CHOOSE to live outside of a metro area want is an influx of people who are here for all the wrong reasons.
The problem with all of the solutions is that they are rooted in the state. The House Rural Development Council was created to study rural issues in hopes of finding government solutions. The government studied a problem to see how the government can stay involved and be a part of the solution. There is no other way to explain it, but unfortunately, government’s track record of efficiency, or even quality, is abysmal.
I am a firm believer of the government doing more by doing less. Do less of things like tax credits for hospital donations in hopes of incentivizing (healthcare is not the same as education) and mandates for insurance coverage at the state level and do more bureaucratic reductions and one-size-fits all regulations. My greatest disappointment in this list of recommendations is that the Council did not conclude that government is one of the greatest inhibitors of growth in rural communities (and that the Council is clearly incapable of defining a rural county).
The idea that government isn’t the solution until we need it to be is ideologically inconsistent. Government is not our salvation and it cannot save rural Georgia. Otherwise, it already would have.
|Rep. Terry England, Co-Chairman|
|Rep. Jay Powell, Co-Chairman|
|Rep. Sam Watson, Vice-Chair||Ex-Officio Members:|
|Rep. Patty Bentley||Rep. Brooks Coleman|
|Rep. John Corbett||Rep. Sharon Cooper|
|Rep. Matt Hatchett||Rep. Robert Dickey|
|Rep. Mack Jackson||Rep. Penny Houston|
|Rep. Dominic LaRiccia||Rep. Rick Jasperse|
|Rep. Eddie Lumsden||Rep. Tom McCall|
|Rep. Chad Nimmer||Rep. Butch Parrish|
|Rep. Clay Pirkle||Rep. Don Parsons|
|Rep. Terry Rogers||Rep. Jason Shaw|
|Rep. Ed Rynders||Rep. Ron Stephens|
|Rep. Darlene Taylor||Rep. Kevin Tanner|
|Rep. Bill Werkheiser|