Today’s Courier Herald Column:
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood gave Governor Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and the rest of Georgia news they wanted to hear. After touring the Port of Savannah with the duo, LaHood addressed the delegation and reporters in tow saying “We’ll figure out how to get the federal dollars to make this happen. It has to happen.”
The endorsement is as much the beginning of a process as the culmination of one. LaHood promised to convene a meeting of relevant and interested parties in Washington to identify funding sources for the project. Thus far, only $600,000 of the roughly $600 Million needed has been appropriated to the Army Corps of Engineers, and that was for the final permitting and planning. Construction dollars have not been committed.
With Supercommittees and various “Gangs” in Washington wielding budgetary axes, the funding is still not guaranteed. But when the President’s cabinet member says “It has to happen”, one could reasonably expect that it will happen.
Deal and Reed have been pursuing the funds since Deal’s inauguration, with Reed being the friendly face in Washington when calling on the Democratically held White House and other executive agencies. The united front of Republican and Democrat, Atlanta and Savannah, has impressed many along the way. With Deal a Republican and Reed a Democrat, the victory can be said to be one of bipartisanship. That oversimplifies the issue. In reality, two men of very different political backgrounds and bases of support have worked together toward a common shared goal despite the differences.
It’s what is usually done when something “has to happen.” In today’s political environment, however, it’s also tragically rare. The ability to work with others across an aisle toward common purposes used to be considered a valued skill. The act is viewed as “compromise”, and is commonly considered an act of weakness, treason, or selling out core principals. Partisans on both sides like to play all or nothing games, and are often now content to view gridlock as the ideal condition where no harm can be done until their side has a supermajority and can deliver 100% of their agenda.
The reality is that we, as a state and as a nation, have many items that have to be done. The U.S. is currently spending well over a trillion dollars per year more than we take in, with the national debt now standing at a cool $15 trillion. Spending on entitlements and interest on the debt is growing, yet already consumes all tax dollars collected. The entire discretionary portion of the budget is financed with borrowed money. This cannot continue, and the budget deficit trends must be reversed. It has to happen.
Our nation has known for 40 years that we needed to end our dependence on foreign oil. We’ve largely ignored the problem, with one side demanding “drill here, drill now” but without offering meaningful alternative energy solutions nor conservation measures. The other side wants layers of carbon credit trading and an end to most domestic energy sources of both oil and coal. Meanwhile, we send hundreds of billions of dollars per year to countries that wish us harm while spending hundreds of billions more to send troops overseas to protect oil supply routes. For our national and economic security, we must adopt a sound and comprehensive energy policy. It has to happen.
At the state level, Georgians in the Atlanta area face some of the worst traffic and commute times in the nation. The quality of life that has attracted so many to the region for decades is deteriorating into gridlock. Yet no major regional infrastructure program has been initiated in the last two decades as the problems grow worse. If Atlanta is to continue to grow, then there must be a coherent regional traffic plan. It has to happen.
Georgia’s education system remains among the nation’s worst. Employers looking for a skilled labor force need a labor pool that meets more than just basic physical requirements. We will not attract employers to turn around higher than national average unemployment numbers without being able to provide 21st century skills though our K-12 schools, technical colleges, and universities. It too has to happen.
Government is not the sole solution in any of the above issues. But the limited government we have should be functional, competent, and dedicated to the overall policies that create an environment that lets individuals prosper. Too many within government are now more interested in protecting their fiefdoms, and of making sure that the other guy doesn’t win that we all end up losing. This can no longer be considered acceptable. Governor Deal and Mayor Reed have demonstrated how to work across party lines to accomplish big goals. Others need to follow their lead. This has to happen.