Mike Berlon in the AJC: “Georgia deserves better”

Below is Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman Mike Berlon’s Op-Ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution printed January 29, 2012.

Georgia faces significant challenges, but not one is more important than our job crisis.

We’ve lost more than 300,000 jobs, third-highest in the nation, since the beginning of the Great Recession. Georgia has one of the highest rates of bankruptcy filings and foreclosures. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia has the third-highest poverty rate and, every single month for more than four years, Georgia’s unemployment rate has exceeded the national average.

When people worry about their jobs, they have to worry about their homes, their children’s education — everyone’s future is impacted by the lack of available jobs in our state.

Our leaders believe the solution is to cut corporate taxes and give additional tax credits to big Wall Street businesses, yet Georgia already has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the country. While other states are adding jobs and growing their economies, businesses avoid us and turn to our neighbors like Tennessee and Florida.

Georgia deserves better.

The real solution to the state’s job crisis is not lowering an already scant tax rate. Let’s instead concentrate on things that create a pro-business environment. We need better transportation options to move our goods from manufacture to market, and a better-educated workforce to attract more companies.

We need to convince business leaders that if they open a new plant in our state, their kids, and their workers’ kids, will attend a good school and achieve the American dream.

Instead of laying off our teachers, let’s respect them. They deserve better pay; our students deserve better outcomes. Instead of unacceptably low graduation rates, we should challenge our students with better schools and teachers who are valued, not discouraged.

Instead of combining colleges to save money, we should invigorate them to attract the best and brightest from other states, while keeping our own best students close to home. Instead of misguided HOT lanes on I-85 that restrict an entire lane of highway from commuters, we should explore better mass transportation so that moving around the city is trouble-free, not troublesome. Bold leadership created Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, now the busiest airport in the nation.

Our state can do big things. We’ve done them before. However, we need strong leadership that attacks our problems head-on, not stumbles with tired policies that don’t work. Our HOPE scholarship and pre-K program were once a model for all states to follow.

Last year, both of these programs were cut to provide tax incentives to companies that still aren’t hiring in Georgia.

It’s been a lost decade for the average Georgia resident. It’s time to find a real solution to these problems. There is a difference between being outstanding and standing out.

Let’s pay our teachers, renew our schools, respect our students and fix our roads. Let’s put Georgia back to work. Let’s make the real choices that will make us outstanding again.