As we say goodbye to another year and think about our many blessings, I'd like to write a positive article about where we stand today. While I agree our federal politics are a mess, Georgia is in a very good place, especially compared to our sister states.
For the fourth year in a row, Georgia was named the "Best State in the Nation to do Business" and Atlanta was just ranked the "Best City in the Nation to Start a Business." We've recently added 550,000 jobs, nearly doubling the nation in overall job growth. (When Governor Kasich of Ohio ran for the Presidency, he bragged about adding 400,000 jobs.) We've added 600,000 people to our state, moving us from 10th to the eighth largest state, and our AAA Bond Rating is second best in the nation — we were one of only five states to keep a AAA status during the Recession.
Your state government got 20 percent smaller during the past few years. The average state salary is only $38,000 a year and we've zero-based budgeted 70 percent of our expenses. It costs about $5 a day to be a Georgian, the second smallest rate in the nation. Also, everyone who wants term limits should be happy that a quarter of the General Assembly changed hands during the past election: the average legislative tenure is now a mere six years.
Unlike many of our sister states — nine of which are facing shortfalls and 13 of which are barely treading water — Georgia's revenue is growing. In fact, we're the only state in the South that's enjoying surpluses. The Governor has promised we will pass a "flat-lined" budget this year, meaning there won't be any new mandates. The biggest growth will be a 35 percent increase to education (we're now up to 1.7 million children) and a 43 percent increase to transportation (we'll tackle 11 major projects this year.) Our Rainy Day reserve fund is now up to a record high of $2 billion. It was dangerously low at $100 million just a few years ago.
Savannah is the fourth largest port in America and Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world. Augusta is transforming into a new "Silicon Valley" with its Army Cyber Headquarters and Telecomm and Telemedicine partnerships. Atlanta is now the ninth largest metro with a population of 5.5 million, growing 26 percent over the past few years because of its ample jobs, low cost of living, and appeal to Millennials. Yet despite that growth, Atlanta's air is actually cleaner than it was in 2000 and she's using 10 percent less water (per capita use has decreased by a remarkable 30 percent). Tourism in Atlanta is booming: we're getting the College Football Championship in 2018, the Super Bowl in 2019, and the Final Four in 2020. And we're making more movies than Hollywood.
Whatever you may think of the next generation, teen substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) is actually down to levels not seen since the 1970s. Teen pregnancy has declined to record lows and our graduation rates are at record highs. Young Georgians have the second highest military participation rate (nearly doubling the nation), and despite what you hear in the media, we're becoming more religious — not less so. Agriculture is still the number one business in Georgia: we're exporting just as much as we're importing due to the industry of our farmers. And HOPE has transformed our university system into the best dollar-per-value education in America.
As we gather our families to celebrate this week, I hope we'll offer up thanks to our merciful Creator. Despite our many flaws, we're blessed to be living in the very best state in the very best nation the world has ever known.
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.