As Gov. Nathan Deal enters his seventh legislative session, we would have to say he’s been a pretty good governor overall. He’s shown courage — pulling out his veto pen last year on a disastrous campus gun proposal, House Bill 859, that every college president abhorred, and House Bill 757, “Religious Liberty” legislation, saying during his press conference to announce the veto, that the bill didn’t reflect Georgia’s welcoming image as a state full of “warm, friendly and loving people.” To be sure, it was a business friendly veto, and Gov. Deal has been all about business during his tenure.
That said, he’s also made his share of missteps. We’ll only mention two because the two are related. In his January, 2016 State of the State address, Deal said, “Over the past five years, members of this General Assembly and I have shown our appreciation for our teachers by making public education a priority, and we will do so again this year by appropriating an additional $300 million for k-12 education, which is more than is required to give teachers a 3 percent pay raise.
“We will distribute this money to your local school system under the existing QBE formula, but it is our intention that your local school system pass the 3 percent pay raise along to you. ”
Here’s what the governor didn’t say. That $300 million wasn’t enough spread over the state’s 181 school systems, many of which were still dealing with furlough days. Nor did he say that with the stroke of his budget pen he could have given teachers a 3 percent raise and not left it up to local systems, but that would have made the state put additional money into k-12 education. So it was better, he may have thought, to rope-a-dope teachers into thinking they were going to receive a raise because he said so.
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Instead, the pressure really fell on local systems, such as Bibb County, that had to raise taxes to fulfill Deal’s empty promise. That tactic may have been one of the factors that riled up teachers and their sphere of influence to vote against a Deal sponsored Amendment 1.
Now comes another Deal sponsored salary issue that could have the same local tax impact. Back in September, Deal announced a law enforcement reform package that includes a 20 percent pay raise for more than 3,300 state law enforcement officers. It is in his amended fiscal year 2017 and 2018 budget. It also includes an extensive overhaul of training and certification at a cost of $78 million. He is so confident it will pass muster during the 2017 session that the raises started Jan. 1.
While law enforcement officers employed by the state are receiving a well-deserved 20 percent raise, they make up a small percentage of the more than 27,000 law enforcement officers in Georgia. What about all the others, you ask?
That’s the same question Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills asked in a recent letter to Georgians proposing a statewide special purpose local option sales tax to pay local law enforcement what they deserve.
According to The Telegraph, “Sheriffs are seeking legislation in the upcoming Georgia General Assembly session that will mandate that starting salaries of full-time, certified officers be at least the starting salary for the Georgia State Patrol.” The gap is amazing. Sills said the starting salary for the State Patrol is $46,422 annually, compared to an average $29,900 for a deputy sheriff in the Georgia.
He says, law enforcement has reached a “crisis point,” not because of pay, but because of the recent attacks on officers. And he notes that local agencies lose trained officers to higher-paying state and federal jobs. But the risks of the profession can’t be discounted, particularly locally, and those risks are also borne out in the difficulty in hiring quality personnel. Bibb County Sheriff David Davis has 157 deputy vacancies.
Both tax increases for teachers and for law enforcement, if that happens, will be devoid of state legislative fingerprints. The party of no tax increases will still claim — inaccurately — that they did not raise taxes.
The bottom line is this, the governor has set in motion a chain reaction of events that will eventually lead to either a statewide or various local tax increases to pay for much needed and deserved raises for teacher and law enforcement personnel. Though his fingerprints and those of the General Assembly will be absent, they collectively held the pool cue that set the balls in motion.