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Georgia in begging mode

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POSTED: February 27, 2007 5:08 a.m.
What happened? Just four months ago, Georgia was on top of the world. The Peach State had $500 million more than it needed to fund services. Plans had been carefully laid to take care of Medicaid, PeachCare (poor kids’ medical needs) and state employees’ pension funds.
I knew Georgia was doing just fine because Gov. Sonny Perdue told me every day we were in great shape — the best shape ever, he said.
Each time I turned on the TV or the radio or picked up the paper, there was Sonny saying he was doing a wonderful job and Georgia government was just super. Sonny had solved so many of the state’s problems that he asked citizens to make suggestions for new “Sonny do” projects. It was early November 2006.
Now, here we are in mid-February 2007. Georgia’s financial bucket has turned up with a big hole in it — a leak going back years and getting bigger by the second: Government-provided health care for the indigent is going broke in a hurry.
All smiles during last autumn’s election campaign, a frowning Perdue is now wringing his hands and begging Congress for a bailout on children’s health care. He says the last Congress — the Republican-controlled one — left him short of money for the poor kids’ PeachCare plan. Perhaps the PeachCare dollars were mistakenly loaded onto one of those multibillion-dollar cash-carrying planes destined for the black hole of Iraq.
Regardless of what happened, no additional federal funds are available for a Georgia rescue. And don’t bother to ask what happened to the $500 million state surplus we heard about every day during the election cycle. Did somebody send that dough to Iraq too? As things now stand, Pres. George W. Bush’s proposed budget offers no help for Georgia, which is pleading for an emergency outlay of $131 million to cover its PeachCare shortfall — an amount that sounds like pocket change when compared to the funds being spent on lost causes thousands of miles away.
Without the emergency funds, about 270,000 children of working-class parents who can’t afford insurance may soon be without health coverage.
When the self-described “mainstream Atlanta press corps” grows tired of covering Perdue riding motorcycles with Hollywood sex idols, they might ask what happened to the children’s insurance money.
Like us, Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta is curious too. Perdue must not return his calls either.
Says Westmoreland: “Georgia knew three years ago how much [federal] money they were going to get, knew the funding formula and they overspent.”
In other words, one year into Perdue’s first term as governor, he knew the precise amount of the federal block grant allocated for Georgia PeachCare. He could have budgeted the money by transferring some children in need off PeachCare and onto Medicaid. He apparently chose not to adopt the Medicaid alternative. Georgia has to pay a greater share of Medicaid. So he decided to let Georgia exhaust its federal PeachCare funds, and then go begging.
In the current budget year, the feds will pay $183.7 million of Georgia PeachCare’s $312 total million annual cost. But the state is way over budget on PeachCare.
A GOP Washington source suggests other governors could voluntarily return any surplus in their child-health grants to Washington. Georgia might then have sufficient funds to avoid the onrushing calamity. Tell me, dear reader, when was the last time you heard of any state returning to Washington unspent cash from a federal grant?
To be fair, the health-care financial crisis did not start with Perdue. His administration has simply watched it grow worse.
The real crisis began under Gov. Zell Miller, who failed to address it. Instead, he passed it on to Gov. Roy Barnes, who worked out a proposed solution that was promptly deep-sixed when Perdue took office. Perdue’s people claimed the Barnes plan would not solve the problem. They may have been right. We will never know.
State officials blame the state’s rapidly expanding population for the child-health shortfall. Population growth has not been kept secret. It has been forecast for years. Some projections even suggested the population might grow at an even faster rate than it is.
As they say in Washington and Atlanta, mistakes were made.
A bright note: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has formed a bipartisan Senate task force to seek solutions. When the state House finishes with payday lending, Miller’s statue, Jekyll Island development, ethics allegations and cable TV franchises, it might take a look at this issue also.
Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA. 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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