On Charlie Hebdo and a Gold Dome To-Do list

Liberty’s precious price

A murderous rampage hurled the words Charlie Hebdo into common knowledge last week. The French journalists who paid with their lives for having irreverent ideas would likely appreciate that.
Armed fanatics can quickly cut down unarmed innocents. But they will wholly fail in their larger quest.
For an incessant clash of ideas and ideals is essential to the higher nature of humankind. The necessary clangor of disparate thoughts can, should — and will — survive sustained, desperate, violent assault. Cracking AK-47s, shrapnel of suicide bombs, and even minds sealed off to new thinking cannot obliterate freedom’s path.
The French have long known that, as have Americans and those of other like-minded nations where a common thread of liberty is sewn deeply into a national fabric.
The marketplace of ideas is a lodestone in the divine right of free people to think for themselves — and govern themselves accordingly.
There is risk in that. Which means that the free world will forever be taxed a wrenching, unavoidable price in blood and suffering to safeguard ideals that are so abhorrent to some.
The latest entries in this ongoing ledger are the journalists, French police and hostages killed last week. They died as the result of a cowardly attempt by jihadist terrorists to murder a way of life, a way of thinking.
Civilized societies simply cannot countenance violence against people merely for espousing ideas some find unpopular or offensive.
We who toil in journalism intuitively get the preciousness of our forefathers’ profound vision. Our practitioners live — and sometimes die — trying to measure up to the noble obligation enabled here by the First Amendment. Yet the five freedoms spelled out therein equally shield all Americans — not just those who pursue news for a living.
Many in our business have seen guns drawn, or used. We bear witness each day to the sight of blood spilled for no good reason.
We know that journalism’s end product is, at times, unpopular with many, and downright dangerous to some. We accept that ours can be a risky craft, especially in troubled places.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says some 1,109 of us have been killed since 1992. The journos in Paris bore the risks for a reason. They believed in the right of people to know — and to think.
All of us in this endeavor quickly learn that the truth — or as close to it as we can humanly get — stings, smarts, angers and enrages at times. And we believe that frank disclosures and the raucous debate that often follows helps perpetually reinforce the freedom that the free too often take for granted.
Terrorists and murderers can never slay free expression and the liberty it supports. Not as long as brave men and women are willing to embody such principles. And defend them when push comes to shove.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.


Prudence, smart innovation needed

By Kelly McCutchen
With major policy decisions on transportation, education, health care and tax reform on the legislative agenda, Georgia should think beyond the traditional approach of spending more money as the solution for every problem. Focusing on ways to enhance economic opportunity and empower individuals beats doubling down on the status quo.
Economic opportunity, now more than ever, starts with education. Low- and middle-income children deserve access to the same educational opportunities available to children in affluent families.
Expanding Georgia’s successful tuition tax credit scholarship program is the best first step.
Operating at about one-third of the cost of public education, this program frees up funding for traditional schools, increases parental satisfaction and has broad support across party lines.
Education savings accounts, similar to the popular health savings accounts and already implemented in Arizona and Florida, would give parents of special needs students even more options and the incentive to be wise consumers.
More work is needed to make quality charter schools, online resources and career academies available to every child. Traditional schools should continue shifting from a top-down, factory model of education to personalized learning, a long-term goal that allows every child to move at his or her own speed and provides flexibility on testing.
Too many Georgians lack access to quality health care; taxpayers are on the hook when the only option is the emergency room. Expanding Georgia’s network of charity clinics – the largest and most successful in the nation – would improve access to primary care.
Redirecting the billions of dollars already spent subsidizing the uninsured into refundable tax credits for the working poor could address catastrophic coverage. Individuals would use tax credits as a voucher to purchase private insurance. Unused funds would flow to safety net providers, providing a market-oriented way to save rural hospitals and create a more fiscally sane health care system.
Transportation performs many functions, but getting people to jobs is highest on the list.
That’s why Metro Atlanta and other urban areas need cost-effective road and transit networks to broaden job opportunities for citizens.
How do we pay for it? Start with our existing gas tax, the equivalent of about 28 cents per gallon and 23rd highest in the nation.
Currently, less than 60 percent of these funds are dedicated to transportation. Fixing this problem would redirect more than $700 million a year.
Optional tolls and an optional, more flexible local sales tax adds up to another $800 million a year in possible new funding targeted where the need is greatest and paid for by those who will benefit most.
One in three jobs today requires a government license, which disproportionately affects low-income citizens who want to work. Georgia’s requirements are among the highest in the nation; 19 occupations have greater licensure burdens than emergency medical technicians.
Reducing or eliminating these unnecessary barriers should be a priority.
These examples above show not all solutions require more money.
Empowering individuals with better access to education, health care and jobs while striking down barriers to economic opportunity will benefit all Georgians and our economy.
Kelly McCutchen is president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, which focuses on market-oriented public policy solutions.  


Now’s time for strategic fixes

By Alan Essig
For the first time in years, state leaders are sending signals before the January General Assembly that they might raise revenues to fix a challenge Georgia needs to address, in this case its neglected transportation system. A new legislative committee report outlines a menu of options to raise more money for transportation. I will applaud a responsible fix to the state’s traffic woes now strangling economic development opportunities.
But our education and health care system are no less in need of attention and can play just as critical a role in the state’s ongoing economic recovery.
Schools across Georgia are underfunded by $750 million in the state budget this year, following several years of underfunding at about $1 billion. Meanwhile, Georgia’s rural hospitals teeter on the brink of financial collapse while state lawmakers could toss them a ready lifeline.
Rededicating a penny of Georgia’s fuel tax to transportation from the state’s General Fund is one of the ideas mentioned in the legislative report.
This is akin to an accounting gimmick and would result in several hundred million dollars in additional cuts to the non-transportation sections of the state budget.
Another transportation study committee proposal would increase the state sales tax by one penny.
A sales tax increase is the most efficient way to raise significant revenues.
One worrisome idea floated is to combine a sales tax increase with an income tax cut. That would raise taxes on middle and lower income Georgians while handing a significant tax cut to higher income Georgians.
Such a tax cut would divert money from education and other initiatives important to job growth with little benefit to the state’s economic development.
The responsible thing to do is to tackle a few of the state’s biggest challenges head on, at the same time.
Improved education funding must be a priority this year. The state’s own formula called for it to spend an additional $8.3 billion on public schools since 2002. School districts across Georgia still furlough teachers and have shortened calendars.
Georgia should close the health insurance coverage gap this year by accepting the billions of dollars available through the Affordable Care Act. Federal money can cover 100 percent of the cost to close the gap the next two years and at least 90 percent in future years. Expanding Medicaid income eligibility is the right thing to do for hundreds of thousands of Georgians and the countless communities that depend on rural hospitals.
And, yes, Georgia needs to address its transportation mess with increased revenues focused to deliver smart solutions.
Lawmakers could choose to raise gasoline taxes, now among the lowest rates in the country. The committee offered other viable options that raise dedicated revenues without robbing the budget of some other vital state service.
Investments in education, health care, transportation and a wide range of public services are vital to the quality of life in communities across the state. Options to raise revenue in a fair and responsible way include raising cigarette taxes or taxing some services that don’t pay now.
Georgia policy makers should act now while the economy is on the mend. We have a chance to create strong underpinnings for Georgia’s economy and prime it for success for decades to come.
Alan Essig is executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, which advocates policies to more widely share economic opportunity.

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