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Georgia needs leader with vision
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In just six months, Georgia voters will choose the political leadership to guide the state through a critical time in its history. Balancing the budget will again be painful, along with ongoing challenges in education, transportation, water and economic growth. It will take more than incremental approaches and status quo thinking. Voters must demand leadership that unites Georgians with a bold vision for our future. Here are a few examples.
Education: Georgia’s dropout rate is shrinking, but remains one of the highest in the nation.
Much of the problem can be traced back to poor reading skills. Older students unable to read are often embarrassed in a traditional classroom setting. Programs using online education and strong teacher oversight, such as the Communities in Schools’ Performance Learning Centers, have proven successful. The evolving “serious games” movement suggests that a more interactive, media-rich learning experience like that found in video games could be even more effective. With Georgia’s thriving video game industry and a successful model to build on, why can’t Georgia be a leader in reducing high school dropouts?
Transportation: As policy-makers move past how to fund transportation projects to what projects to fund, they need to think creatively. Traditional transit doesn’t fit the modern, sprawling metro Atlanta region or our complex lifestyle. There is, however, the ability to build the nation’s largest managed lane network, giving metro Atlanta one of the most efficient (in terms of cost and time) regional transit systems in the nation while reducing traffic congestion. Instead of suffocating freight traffic in metro Atlanta and jeopardizing Georgia’s bustling ports, expedite the projects that connect our major cities. This would provide a way to divert over half of the truck traffic away from metro Atlanta, relieve congestion without the need to add massive capacity or take away choice, and disperse job opportunities across the state.
Corrections: Incarceration rates in Georgia and Texas are among the highest in the nation. In 2007, rather than spending $560 million to build three new prisons, Texas spent less than half that amount on innovative programs including additional beds for substance abuse treatment; creating and expanding specialty courts; additional funding for mental health care and halfway houses and short-term jails for adults serving less than two years. The result? No new prisons were needed. Georgia is already moving in this direction and is perfectly positioned to implement similar programs without jeopardizing public safety.
Many troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will return to Georgia with a variety of mental health issues. A mental health treatment program created with diverted corrections dollars and partnering with the military could be a national model and reduce pressure on the criminal justice system.
Health care:“This is very significant work for our laboratory, and I think for the world,” saidSteve Stice, the director of the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Centerjust this week. He was announcing theCenter’s breakthroughthat may one day allow scientists to turn adult stem cells into new muscle, boneor nerve cells.
Not only does this research avoid the moralconcerns regardingembryonic stem cells, its possibilities are awe-inspiring: Wounded soldiers could replace muscle and bones blown away by a land mine, quadriplegics could walk again and diabetics could produce their own insulin. And this is just one example of the innovative research being done in Georgia in regenerative medicine. With the right leadership, investment and marketing, Georgia can become a worldwide leader in this area.
Taking advantage of new opportunities requires an economic environment that supports innovation and entrepreneurship. But Georgia’s outdated tax structure and a lack of investment capital are causing massive brain drain. Seventy-five percent of Georgia companies receiving start-up venture capital investment are no longer in the state after 10 years, according to a recent Georgia Tech study. It’s not just a loss of jobs, tax revenues and the intellectual capital of these companies. It’s also a devastating loss of community and philanthropic leadership. Imagine Georgia without a Robert Woodruff, J.B. Fuqua or Bernie Marcus.
Why can’t Georgia recruit venture capital firms just as strongly as it recruits other businesses? Stop being the only state in the nation to prohibit pension fund investments in venture capital.
Use these funds to incentivize the nation’s leading firms to open offices in Georgia. Combine this with eliminating the penalties on savings and investment in the tax code, and supercharge economic growth, job creation and innovation in the state.
Georgia is a glass half empty or a glass half full. It will take visionary leadership for the state to blaze a trail in the new economy, to attract smart money and smart people to innovate, create and enhance the standard of living of every Georgian. Without visionary leadership, we will continue to merely react to each new crisis. And that, for Georgia, is stagnation.

McCutchen is president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
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