Georgia Governor Nathan Deal made history last week when he delivered a sterling address to African American legislative leaders who gathered in Savannah last week for the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference at the Hyatt Regency Savannah. The Caucus is the largest constituent body of its kind in the nation. Gov. Deal was the first Republican governor to deliver an address to this body of legislators and he petitioned for unity over common concerns although there are some differences.
Regardless of the polit- ical differences in the General Assembly, Deal said, “they did not elect us to fight. People put aside differences, worked for the common good and that’s what I want to continue to build on as we go forward.”
Deal said quality education for Georgia’s children, funds for deepening the Savannah River, and improving Georgia’s bleak economic climate were common goals. Deal cited statistics about the current condition of our state and nation. Nationally, unemployment is 9.1 percent, but Georgia’s unemployment rate is 10.1 percent, an entire percentage point above the national rate. In Georgia, one out of every 13 people are under some form of correctional su-pervision. Rising unemployment and incarceration rates are taxing our economy, he said. Educationally, in a middle and high school in Georgia, Deal said, “only 5% of their 8th graders met or exceeded the expectations in their core subject matters last year.”
The governor said it only costs approximately $3,800 annually to educate our children but incarcerating offenders costs $18,000 annually. Georgia is the 10th largest state but has the fourth largest prison population. Deal said he has appointed a special criminal justice panel to create special courts such as DUI, drug and mental health issues, and to reduce recidivism rates. Those courts may result in lower costs to the state and ulti-mately the taxpayers. He asked for the help of churches and civic organizations.
Deal also mentioned some good news for Georgians. In education, Georgia has received $400 million from the federal government as a part of its Race To the Top program for grade schools. Governor Deal said he is adamant about rewarding top performing schools and programs with these funds for their continuous improvement.
Deal said he is committed to educating Georgians from the early years, to increase the likelihood of securing employment, whether through a traditional academic education or through a trade school.
“Georgia has set aside $125 million for the Savannah harbor deepening project which represents 40 percent of a 60/40 collaborative effort with the federal government,” he said.
Senator Lester Jackson, the GLBC conference chairman said the state legislators’ top priority is resolving unemployment and the high rate of foreclosures.
He and his constituents are vying for better inner-city schools, equal access to higher education, and the transportation infrastructure that will improve Georgia’s economy.
Gov. Deal mentioned a transportation special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) that the general assembly is placing on the ballot. “It is the only foreseeable new revenue source that I know of that we can look to for transportation projects in our state,” Deal said.