As when Brian Kemp, the Georgia secretary of state, in regards to the slashing of $700,000 from the annual budget of the Georgia Archives and cutting the “staff” to three (it has been 60 before Gov. Nathan Deal arrived on the scene): “The building will be mothballed, if you will.”
Mothballed ... a precise even if politically taboo description not only for what has been done to the archives but also to a lot of what the state provided to its citizens before mid-2008 and then slowly erased after the Great Recession hit.
Georgia has been mothballing loads of services and facilities that citizens long expected their taxes to provide them as “perks” that actually are rather essential … like the parks and historic sites no longer accessible or turned into ghost towns compared to what they once were. Those “say bye-bye to … ” actions regarding places are actually more likely to catch some public/media attention than the more common “hollowing out” of services that has been occurring.
Here again Kemp, in the course of a printed opinion article defending the value of the archives as well as his department’s own myriad duties similarly sliced and diced despite it being one of the state’s few money-makers — it brings in three times as much in fees as it costs to operate —provided some “news” that most do not know regarding the “hollowing out” aspects of current state policy.
“OUR AGENCY budget,” he revealed, “has been cut by more than 25 percent, from $32.1 million in 2008 to $23.7 million for the coming year — an $8.4 million decrease.…. Our agency has reduced its workforce by 38 percent, from 350 to 216 employees. …
“Federal government requirements prevent us from considering cuts to the budget of the State Elections Division. … Our Securities Division is charged with protecting Georgians from financial fraud (and has been) reduced from $1,804,043 to $833,891 since 2008. …
“The Professional Licensing Boards Division … protects Georgians by ensuring almost 500,000 qualified individuals are licensed to work. Because of past reductions and increased workloads, Georgians are now waiting, on average, five times longer to renew a professional license and more than three months for a new license to be granted.”
This sort of hollowing out and retreat in quality of what taxpayers are provided regarding basic services has become commonplace with only portions visible. Even with teacher furloughs and classroom instruction reductions not all citizens understand that this is the result of state budget slashes more than it is any local property-tax losses. Same with what has happened to HOPE scholarships.
This is not meant to imply budget cuts/savings were not necessary or needed during a strained period but rather to point out, once again, that choices are not being made based on a priority of needs or even benefits. The archives are a good example — Georgia is now the only state without regular public access to its core, foundational documentation — being far more valuable and used than, say, the Go Fish Education Center in Perry.
THE BUDGETS involved are almost equal at present (the cost of admiring the value of dipping a hook in the water is $692,287 this year); that staff of state-paid employees is larger than at the archives.
And while there is not enough money to keep this, that or the other “frill” around, the state’s budget contains $10 million for a College Hall of Football Fame in Atlanta. And the governor just granted the owner of a private resort complex on Lake Lanier (and campaign contributor) some $5 million, or about seven times what it would have cost to keep the archives barely open, to drill a well so the enterprise could be freed of its municipal water bills. Plainly that, like the fishy amusement park, is way more important than keeping the New Echota Historic Site, memorializing the Cherokee Nation, or the Etowah Mounds, both the prime tourist draws in our part of the state, fully available.
However, it is in the less visible but much larger area of services rather than facilities that most of dubious dollar choices have come. It is not just public education but stuff like the highway patrol not being out there in the dead of night or not enough game wardens to make sure Bambi is safe from two-legged predators, not enough forestry personnel to knock down fires before they turn into monsters.
And there’s constantly more of the same coming, even though it is difficult for most citizens to anticipate. For example, the same new 3 percent budget cut ordered by the governor that shut down the archives affects pretty much everything ... well, except for Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital which has already been erased entirely. The University of Georgia, for example, plans to cut 130 jobs with about 70 in the Cooperative Extension service and network of agricultural experiment stations. The “hit list” is not out yet ... but Greater Rome has both presences.
ALL THIS is taking place against the background of the governor’s office boastfully and happily making the official announcements as, about every month, state tax collections are reported to be up. Apparently the economy is booming, too, as every time a new roadside stand opens the governor’s office issues that news thus seeming to indicate direct involvement and soaking up the credit for what local efforts achieved.
Frankly it has, to those citizens paying attention to all this — and most are not — gotten impossible to keep tabs on just what is being drained away. Fewer still seem to wonder why, if revenues are slowly rebuilding, nothing taken away during the “bad times” is even mentioned as a candidate for restoration in the “better times.”
It would probably take the combined efforts of every journalist in the state, plus an army of volunteers from interest groups and local governments made to look as though they are to blame, to actually compile what seems to be needed at this point in time. That is a full, detailed list of everything in Georgia that taxpayers had as 2008 began that since has been “taken away” as part of the “across the board” budget cuts so favored by recent governors. There is likely not enough newsprint or airtime to record all this, but the Internet has infinite space.
And then, with knowledge of what has been lost and how much it “cost” at that time, it would be possible for the people to determine, given the supposedly improved revenue picture, what each should be receiving as an “across the board” restoration in funding.
This isn’t saying that everything government previously did was worthwhile. No doubt some taxpayers consider the state archives a waste of money, just as others may believe the same about the state’s army of tax collectors — an area in which budget growth has been noticeable.
IT IS ONLY saying that the state has made a real mess of itself, and the image it projects with a financial approach in which only the bottom line instead of value and “bang for the buck” are given priority. And that its books are so confusing, muddled and kept out of sight that nobody can see what’s going on any more.
A state that reeks of camphor to cover up political decay has no future.