Without a doubt, the events of the last few days have been marked by failure — failure to prepare, failure to coordinate and failure to lead.
For over a decade, Georgia has been led by conservatives who have repeatedly cut funding for essential government services, and this week, when we needed government to work, it didn’t.
In January 2011, when both were still new to office, Gov. Deal and Mayor Reed were caught flat-footed by a winter storm. At the time, Gov. Deal said, “I think we all have been tested in this crisis and that we learned some things. The real test is, can we take what we’ve learned and make sure the next time we are presented with anything close to that that the results are better?”
We now know the answer to this question is a resounding “no.”
This time around, the governor blamed the National Weather Service and complained:
“…we don’t want to be accused of crying wolf. Because if we had been wrong, y’all would have all been in here saying, ‘Do you know how many millions of dollars you cost the economies of the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia by shutting down businesses all over this city and this state?'”
The fact that Gov. Deal’s fear of hurting commerce for one day trumped his concern for the safety of citizens indicates that this crisis was not merely a test of Gov. Deal’s and Mayor Reed’s emergency preparedness.
This crisis was caused by a systemic failure in Georgia.
For too long, our state leaders have been slashing funding for vital public programs while our population continues to skyrocket.
As traffic problems in metro Atlanta continue to grow exponentially, planning and development for Georgia’s public transit and rail have been brushed aside.
Between 2009 and 2012, the state’s public health and emergency preparedness programs have been cut by $25.8 million, a nearly 13.4 percent decline. From FY 2009 to FY 2014, funding for both transportation and public safety has fallen by around 5 percent.
And these cuts are modest in contrast with those of other state departments and agencies.
While Georgia’s population continues to grow at the 16th highest rate in the country, our K-12 educational leaders have struggled to make do with 9.6 percent less money and nearly 9,000 fewer teachers than we had five years ago. The teachers who are fortunate enough to still have jobs haven’t received a cost-of-living raise since Gov. Deal took office and are forced to deal with furlough days, ballooning class sizes and fewer resources. In this, an election year, Gov. Deal has allocated a relatively small amount of additional money to education, but it’s already clear that some teachers will receive raises and some will not.
The grinding halt that gripped metro Atlanta was very real. But it was also symbolic of the deep freeze our elected officials have forced upon agencies and departments necessary for society to thrive.
The events of this week have put into sharp relief the fact that our governor and other leaders, under the guise of trying to create a pro-business environment, are failing the public with their Ayn Randian, slash-spending-at-all-costs approach to government.
If we want a stronger economy and better quality of life, we must invest in the future.
Simply put, companies do not want to do business in a state that doesn’t provide adequate basic services like education, healthcare, public safety and transportation.
For more than a decade, Georgia has served as a test tube for a failed radical right-wing economic agenda that has so starved government that it no longer works. The conservative wrecking crew in our state is out of control, and is cutting their way to crisis.
You have the power to demand that our leaders support and value a government that works for its citizens. We can’t afford to wait another day.