For the past few years, I’ve had the luxury of starting the new year with a happy pronouncement about how great things are.
Obviously, I won’t be doing that this year.
To be fair, Georgia has had an incredible decade-long run of historic successes. Per capita state taxes in Georgia are next to the lowest in the nation. We have the second-best Bond Rating. Our public schools have never had better SAT, ACT, and K12 scores…or a better graduation rate. Our university system is one of the best in the nation; as UGA and Georgia Tech are ranked among the top-20 in public, and Emory is among the best private universities. Before COVID, we had the lowest unemployment rates in history. Even during the pandemic, the Georgia economy has fared much better than most, including the fifth best in the nation in fewest jobs lost, and fifth best in most jobs regained. We’ve recently added 16,000 jobs in the past few months, and over $6 billion in new investments, half of which is outside Atlanta. And for the eighth year in a row we’ve been named the Best State in the Nation to Do Business in. Georgia is poised much better than most to rebound out of this tragic pandemic.
Georgia has grown a whopping 25% over the last decade, adding 2.7 million people. Atlanta has hosted the Super Bowl and the College National Championship, and we’re scheduled to host the Final Four, All-Star games in baseball and basketball, another College Championship, and probably the World Cup. Atlanta is still the busiest airport in the world, bringing in $82 billion a year; and Savannah is now the fourth busiest port in the U.S., bringing in an astonishing $106 billion a year. Atlanta is now being called the “Technology Capitol of the East,” and with the partnership of Fort Gordon and Augusta University, Augusta is now the “Cyber Capitol of the Nation”.
On the other hand, COVID has halved our tourism industry, especially our hotels and hospitality. Ag, our No. 1 business, has suffered at least $50 billion in losses, especially in cattle and crop farmers. Farm bankruptcies are up 25%, as the typical farmer has taken a $50,000 hit. And restaurants and small businesses are struggling everywhere.
COVID has been horrible, costing so many lives. I grieve for the more than 11,300 Georgians that have died due to this virus, and fervently applaud our brave healthcare workers who have been on the front lines of this pandemic.
Georgia has conducted 5.7 million COVID tests, a total that surpasses half of our state population. We were first in the nation to activate the National Guard to help Stop the Spread, where they served 2,400 facilities and gave out 948,000 meals to children. And we’ve supplied tens of millions of pieces of PPE, and now have an 80 days stockpile.
Even better, America has produced two different vaccines in record time, and we are now working hard to get these shots into people’s arms. And while Georgia has not had a great record in the early phase of the vaccine rollout, we’re quickly addressing these problems.
A balanced budget is always the General Assembly’s top priority. Election reform, COVID relief, mental health and broadband will also be high on the list. In order to help the COVID situation, the governor has promised an added $405 million for Medicaid and healthcare access. He’s also calling for an additional $1.2 billion to fully fund K-12 education (including $10 million for special-needs children), and a one-time $1,000 bonus to every teacher. The federal government is also giving Georgia schools an additional $1.7 billion in funding due to CARES 2.
The governor also talked about $20 million for rural broadband grants and $40 million for rural innovation. He emphasized there would be no budget cuts, no furloughs, and no new taxes.
I am working on two teacher bills, one which incentivizes teachers who retire to keep teaching, and another that encourages teachers to teach in very-rural communities. I am also working on four military bills.
I cannot end this article without commenting on the recent catastrophe. Not since the invasion of the British during the War of 1812 has our U.S. Capitol been so violated. There are now more soldiers stationed in Washington than Iraq and Afghanistan put together, a grim reminder of the ills of mob violence.
I criticized last summer’s violence that caused dozens of deaths and $2 billion in damages. I also condemned — in real-time via social media — the unpatriotic assault on our Capitol.
As an American veteran who has fought in five conflicts, I have sworn an oath before God to uphold the U.S. Constitution …not any person or party. My commitment to you is to put country before partisanship, and the rule of law before personality. I will thus make a special effort to embrace anyone who seeks unity, and will reject those – on the left or the right – who continue to divide. Above all, I hope to act in a manner pleasing to my Lord and Savior.
The violence, depravity, and chaos we see today is the result of fallen men and women. The only way our country can truly heal, is to return to the tenets of our forgotten faith. Therefore, I urge all Americans to lower the temperature and seek forgiveness and reconciliation … even with people who disagree with us.
That, after all, is what Jesus taught us.
I hope you will pray for me as I attempt to serve the peoples of Morgan and Newton counties.
Dave Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.