Posted: 11:38 am Thursday, January 16th, 2014
By Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy
The $20.8 billion budget that Gov. Nathan Deal outlined yesterday isn’t quite complete. And the hole that needs to be filled could involve Georgia’s largest hospital.
Chris Riley, Deal’s chief of staff, told us his boss is in talks with Grady Memorial Hospital’s chief executive about filling a possible hole in the hospital’s budget.
Grady received roughly $90 million in DSH funding each year but that amount could be halved in four years due to changes from the healthcare overhaul. And without a Medicaid expansion, which isn’t happening any time soon, the funding cuts won’t be offset by Washington.
Suddenly, the state has another health care void to fill. Riley said there’s flexibility built into the budget to plug the hole, but how much — if any — is needed is not immediately known.
“The governor is very concerned about it, and we will be continuing to talk to Grady about what kind of assistance the hospital requires,” said Riley.
Gov. Nathan Deal has mentioned Site Selection magazine’s pick of Georgia as the nation’s No. 1 place to do business in just about every appearance the last few months. He cited it in three different speeches on Wednesday alone.
We get the feeling he may not be making much hay about the magazine’s January edition.
Under the “rankings that matter” category, Georgia comes in at No. 2 in one category (career readiness certificates) and 11 in GDP. But it’s in the bottom half of the nation in three of the magazine’s other categories: 32nd in business tax climate, 38th in health and 47th in high school graduation.
Over at the WABE(90.1FM) website, Denis O’Hayer has an interesting clip illustrating the gulf that exists between the two top authorities over education in Georgia – Gov. Nathan Deal and School Superintendent John Barge, who is one of Deal’s primary challengers.
O’Hayer asked Deal if any of the education spending increase in his 2015 budget proposal was a reaction to a lengthy letter that Barge sent to him and other lawmakers last week, objecting to years of education spending cuts. This was the governor’s reply:
“We had already prepared our budget far beyond the time frame in which the school superintendent saw fit to send us a letter. He did not provide us very detailed information in his budget presentation. It was just generalities. We had worked on a concept of how to fund public education. Unfortunately, his input was not forthcoming at an appropriate time, when we were preparing the budget.”
Deal was asked to elaborate, and he did:
“It’s not very conceivable that writing a three-page letter to the governor and the members of the General Assembly at a point in time when you know that the budget has already been prepared and, as we say, locked. And that’s when it came….It’s always good to hear from our state school superintendent, even if he’s late.”
O’Hayer quickly caught up with Barge, who said he felt locked out of the budget process:
“We had our budget meeting with him just like any other agency head. We had our scheduled time. He did not schedule our time with him until December. So I was not invited to present our budget to him until December. And we did it at our assigned time….It was later this year than normal.”
More on the topic of cuts in spending on education: Today’s print column tells of a forum held by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, featuring eight candidates for state school superintendent – a replacement for John Barge.
One of them was former DeKalb County school board member Nancy Jester, who insisted that talk of reduced spending on education was nonsense. “We need to put to rest that our funding has been cut – because it hasn’t,” she said.
One of her allies this morning pointed us to a line from Gov. Nathan Deal’s state-of-the-state speech: “[D]uring my administration, funding for education has increased by over $930M.”
But James Salzer, the AJC’s budget master, says Jester might run into trouble if she uses that line in certain parts of Georgia.
No legislative leader would agree with her statement, Salzer told us. The biggest complaint from school groups are the “austerity cuts” that began during the 2000s.
Essentially, governors and lawmakers couldn’t fully fund the formula used to determine how much schools get for each pupil. It depends who you talk to, but schools estimate they have been shorted somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 billion over the past decade.
For years the “austerity cuts” have been listed in budget documents.
The U.S. House easily passed a bill Wednesday to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year, to the tune of about $1.1 trillion.
In the Georgia delegation, the vote breakdown was similar to December’s bipartisan budget deal: The Democrats were all in favor, while the three Republicans running for Senate gave it a thumbs-down. (This was despite Jack Kingston’s status as a top appropriator who inserted a big get for the Savannah Port project into the bill.)
One lawmaker who moved was Rep. Austin Scott, a Tifton Republican: He voted for the budget deal but against the spending bill that filled in the details.
Scott, via a spokeswoman, informed us that his objection to the spending bill had to do with process. It was written in secret and published Monday night before being whisked to the floor, sans amendments, for a rapid vote. Said Scott:
“While the overall budget agreement is a step in the right direction, my primary goal is to get back to an open appropriations process to allow for amendments and proper debate.”
On the Democratic side of the U.S. Senate race, Michelle Nunn’s five campaign vows caught the notice of the GOP’s Washington apparatus.
The National Republican Senatorial Campaign sent along a detailed research note illustrating alleged contradictions in her pledges. For example, Nunn vows to “End Secret, Unlimited Special Interest Spending in Elections,” but the NRSC points out that the president’s Organizing For Action is backing Nunn. OFA is organized as a nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors, but it has done so voluntarily.
Some of the objections are a bit of a stretch, such as pooh-poohing Nunn’s pledge to meet with all 99 fellow senators because she accepted campaign donations from Senate Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, who are not known for being warm and fuzzy to Republicans.
The GOP opposition research group America Rising also jumped in on the action, pointing out that Nunn pledged to forever ban members of Congress from becoming lobbyists (they currently have to wait a year after leaving office), even as her campaign donors include members-turned-lobbyists James Symington, Michael Andrews, Vic Fazio and Georgia’s own Buddy Darden.