Hoping the Atlanta region will regain its ‘Can Do’ swagger in 2013

By Guest Columnist TERRY LAWLER, executive director of the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta

As we approach 2013 and the potential “fiscal cliff”, the metro Atlanta region is facing some challenges and opportunities during the coming year.

Regardless of what Congress does, here are some of the challenges the Regional Business Coalition (metro Atlanta’s chambers of commerce), local businesses, employees and metro Atlanta residents will be experiencing in 2013.

WATER:

The Army Corps of Engineers will rule in 2013 how much water metro Atlanta can withdraw from the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola-Flint River basin. We can expect Florida, Alabama and some environmental groups to challenge those findings in court again.

Terry Lawler

The metro Atlanta region is expected to have a 100 million gallon per day shortfall in water supplies over the next 20 years. Businesses, local governments and residents must support a mix of conservation and investments in water storage to meet this challenge. Be looking for an announcement in the near future from the Regional Business Coalition and our partners on further efforts to address metro Atlanta’s present and future water needs.

TRANSPORTATION:

Don’t expect to hear any discussion of another regional T-SPLOST in 2013. Emphasis on transportation investments will focus on managed lanes and public/private partnerships as well as maintaining our existing infrastructure and highway safety.

MARTA’s new general manager will have to show a willingness on MARTA’s part to be more fiscally efficient and address the KPMG audit findings recommending reductions in expenses of approximately $25 million a year.

Xpress bus will need additional funding from the state in 2013 if it is to continue to offer existing services in outlying metro Atlanta counties.

Georgia will continue to meet its financial obligation to fund the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project; but will the federal government do the same?

HEALTH CARE:

The Patient Protection and Affordability Act, or ObamaCare, kicks in January 1, 2013. The greatest changes will occur on or before January 1, 2014 so anticipate lots of activity in the health care arena in 2013.

Whether or not to extend Georgia’s “bed tax” to help pay for indigent health care in Georgia’s hospitals must be decided in early 2013.

When all is said and done, someone will have the bear the estimated $800 million annually to provide hospital services to Georgia’s Medicaid patients.

EDUCATION:

Georgia continues to fund K-12 education well below full-funding levels, and efforts will be made in 2013 to increase K-12 funding.

Teachers haven’t seen pay raises in years. They will continue to face furloughs, and many are choosing to retire instead.

While lottery funds have grown, funding for HOPE scholarships haven’t kept pace with the rising cost of higher education. More cuts will be coming to HOPE if additional sources of revenue aren’t found.

SACS accreditation issues continue to plague our local boards of education and must be addressed in 2013. The region will be negatively impacted if we all don’t work together to address these unacceptable practices by our local boards of education.

Our children deserve better. Metro Atlanta deserves better. Georgia deserves better. And with the passage of the Charter School Amendment, expect to see more local schools seeking charter school status from the state in 2013.

WORKFORCE:

Metro Atlanta colleges graduate the sixth largest number of graduates in the nation annually.

What will we do to leverage this workforce and not become a “brain drain” community of our talented and educated young adults? And speaking of our workforce, as the economy of metro Atlanta continues to improve (and it will in 2013), where are we going to get the labor force needed to fill these new jobs, both skilled and unskilled?

Plus, Georgia’s immigration law continues to sprout unintended consequences that need immediate attention by our legislature.

LOCAL TAXATION:

The elimination of the “birthday tax” on new automobiles takes full effect in 2013.

Numerous counties have announced, or will be announcing, local ESPLOST and SPLOST referendums in 2013.

Will they be successful like past local SPLOST’s or go the way of the 2012 regional T-SPLOST?

SERVICE TO COMMUNITY:

The metro Atlanta unemployment rate continues to be higher than the national rate.

Foreclosures, though down, continue to plague families and limit existing metro Atlanta housing values from rising. Families continue to suffer during our slow climb out of the “Great Recession.” In 2013 the need for community volunteerism and financial support for human services will remain high.

Inspirational author Ray Davis said, “A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.”

In 2013, we will find a way to address the regions water, transportation, health care, education, workforce, taxation and community service challenges and become a better community for it.

With everyone working together to solve our problems, creating enough jobs that get people back to work and getting home values to start rising again, we will regain our “Can Do” swagger.

If we do all of that, then 2013 will indeed be a very good year.

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