Deal said he has a new term for bloggers who have lately been blasting him.
“You know what I call those folks that do that kind of thing? I’ve come up with my own term. They are political arsonists,” Deal said. “They go out and say these things. They start a little fire over here, they go over here and start another little fire over here, and when the fire goes out on its own causes, which you know the tinder for political fires is the truth. When there’s not enough truth to sustain the fire, and it goes out, they then say, ‘well, see, we told you we were right. If we hadn’t done what we did, that fire would still be with you.’ Well no, not necessarily. I believe that you have a responsibility to make informed and good judgment calls. It should not be a political arena in which we make judgment calls without knowing where all the facts are.”
One of the facts Deal shared with the audience is that just because Georgia isn’t a swing state doesn’t mean there isn’t a battle.
“There’s a battle going on with the Democratic Party in Georgia to try to gain a resurgence,” he said. “This is the election that will be the precursors to the 2014 election when folks like me and Sam (Olens) and others as constitutional officers will be hopefully on the ballot again. If the vote in 2012 shows a dramatic increase in Democrat turnout and Democrat votes versus Republicans even though we may still have a majority of the vote and even though our electoral votes in the Electoral College may still and hopefully will go to Gov. Romney, those differences in the vote totals of one side versus the other will be the primary indicator of whether or not we will see a significant effort of resurgence in the Democratic Party.”
Deal said he was pleased to note that most of the people in the room had raised their hands when asked if they voted.
“That’s a pretty good indication I don’t need to be talking to you,” he said. “You’re not in my 47th percentile. If we don’t get our friends and our family and folks who are of like-mindedness to go up and show up and vote, then we will have given the greatest psychological boost to our opponents in 2014 than anything else could do.”
Deal gave a shout-out to Republican Hunter Hill of Smyrna, who is challenging state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) in Tuesday’s election.
“I think he will make us all proud, and we would like to see him there in the Senate, and I hope you’ve seen fit to be able to support him,” Deal said.
Georgia has “a rather abysmal record” in K-12 public education, and progress must be made, Deal said.
Last year, a new method of calculating high school graduation rates was introduced called the cohort method.
“In the past if somebody just disappeared after the ninth grade and they didn’t show back up for re-enrollment there wasn’t a whole lot of way of tracking whatever happened to that person,” Deal said. “I guess people thought they went to Alabama. I can tell you where a lot of them went if they didn’t get a high school diploma. Especially if they were male and especially if they were black. They went to our prison system. That’s where they were, that’s where they went and that’s where many of them still are.”
That’s why one initiative the General Assembly took up was to stem the infiltration into the state’s prison system, he said.
The state is putting $10 million into new accountability courts on the front end, drug courts, DUI courts, veteran’s courts, mental health courts in an effort to keep people out of the system if they are willing to change their behavior, he said.
When the state switched to the cohort method of reporting graduation, a system 48 other states use last year, Georgia ranked 44 out of 48.
“We ranked 48th out of all states on SAT scores,” he said. “Now I used to say, ‘well, that’s because we’ve got more people, more students taking the SAT, and that’s true. Somebody showed me something the other day that took my excuse away. They said of the 19 states where you have the high participation in terms of numbers taking the SAT, out of the 19 high volume states, we ranked 16 out of the 19, so we have work to do.’”
The topic led Deal to address the charter school amendment. Opponents argue passage of the amendment would create a new level of bureaucracy of unelected people deciding whether to grant charters. Deal said the amendment simply reinstated what the General Assembly approved in 2008. The reason for the constitutional amendment is because of a 4-3 decision by the Georgia Supreme Court.
“The four justices of the Supreme Court who voted to say it was unconstitutional were all appointed by Democratic governors, so if you don’t think it matters who’s in the governor’s office, that’s a pretty clear example,” he said. “So it boiled down to one person. If one person had voted on the opposite side, we wouldn’t have been here on all of this difficulty.”
Opponents argue that the charter commission would be a non-elected board. Their solution is to let the Georgia Board of Education decide whether to grant a charter. But the members of the Georgia Board of Education, who are appointed by the governor, are also an unelected board, he said.
“At least the other board was appointed by the Lt. Governor, the Speaker and the Governor,” Deal said. “I didn’t have the sole say so about the independent charter school commission. These are folks that are not paid, like none of these folks that serve on our very important boards, they’re not paid, so this argument that we’ve created another layer of bureaucracy seems to me to be very, very shallow in that regard.”
Then there is the argument that charter schools don’t do any better than the regular public schools. Deal went on to describe the three types of charter schools. There are charter schools created by local school boards.
“Some of them do very well, some of them not so good,” he said.
There are charter systems like Marietta City Schools, where the entire school district is a charter system.
“Some of those do very well, some of them not so good,” Deal said.
And there are those charter schools created through the independent charter school commission, he said.
“When the argument is, ‘well, charter schools don’t do any better than the public schools out of which the children come, they’re lumping in the locally-created charter schools, they’re lumping in the system-wide charter schools, and then the very small number of independent charter schools,’” he said. “I think there are only 11 charter schools that were created by the independent committee.”
Deal said he’s given up on the idea that Georgia will ever reduce the number of counties in the state, a total of 159.
“I have not given up on the idea that in education, public education, charter education or otherwise that we can achieve better results, greater efficiency if sometimes we work to allow ourselves to move across school district lines, maybe even county lines,” he said.
Deal was asked where the charter schools get their funding.
He pointed out as public schools, charter schools get their funding the same way regular public schools do. There is a difference between how it worked when the original independent charter schools were established and under the proposed amendment, however.
Previously, the charter would receive its state allocation for funding and since the local school district didn’t pay for educating the child who was no longer in its system, the state took an “appropriate amount” from that local school district’s money to offset the fact that it was getting to keep its ad valorem tax for education, he said.
The proposed amendment, Deal said, “simply said that you would not take away any money from a local school district even though they had however many students that moved to an independent charter school. They keep all of their local ad valorum tax money and the entire funding for the independent charter school would come from the state.”
Keep in mind charter school teachers are public school teachers included in the teacher retirement system and eligible to participate in the teacher health benefit plans, Deal said.
“The only difference is the administration. It has to be a non-profit entity that has created and applied for the charter. Can they contract out their services? Yes they can. Can public schools now contract out their services? Yes they can, and yes they do. I quite frankly think one of the better things that some school systems in the public education system arena are doing is that they’re contracting out some of their accounting and administrative services.”
Deal said just because the TSPLOST was voted down does not mean transportation improvements in the state come to a halt.
“There is a plan and of course it is to do with the resources we have to achieve the best results,” he told the Journal after his talk. “With regard to the I-75/575 corridor, we will continue to proceed with the reversible lane project.”
Deal is referring to the $950 million, 30-mile Northwest Corridor project along Interstate Highways 75 and 575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties.
“We now have a public private partnership in which the private contracting community will be putting their money and their resources in as a partner in the building of the project, and that is a new approach too, one that I am very excited about,” he said.
As for the projects on the TSPLOST list that did not get funded, one of the biggest ones is the I-285 interchange, he said.
“We are making that a top priority,” he said. “We’re going to hopefully put as much state funding with our federal component to that to make that project move forward in spite of the TSPLOST not being passed. We are going to be looking at our TIPs, our transportation improvement project list all across the state, and here again we have to prioritize. In the past, there have been a lot of nice-to-have projects in there. Now we have to focus it on the ones that are most essential to produce the best benefits for the taxpayers and the transportation needs of our state.”
Deal believes another TSPLOST vote in the future will not occur, saying, “I have not had any discussions with any legislator who has indicated any interest in seriously pursuing renewing that option,” and “I personally do not at this point in time unless something significant happens I do not see a vote on that again.”
One woman asked whether she could count on Deal to ensure that Georgia will not set up an insurance exchange under the new health care law. Insurance exchanges are state-regulated and standardized health care plans, and Deal ultimately said he sees “no reason for the state of Georgia to enter into any exchange program.”
By 2014, the federal health care law will require individuals to buy health insurance. But Deal said the end result could be pushing more Georgians into Medicaid, which would essentially bust the state’s budget.
“We’re already seeing some of those others beginning to enter our system and it’s costing us millions of dollars,” he said. “That is going to be the No. 1 economic challenge for the state budget, is how do we pay our cost of Medicaid?”
Deal said that when Georgia accepted federal stimulus dollars “several years ago, before I became governor,” that money came with federal strings that included locking the state into “a maintenance of effort” on Medicaid, and that the state can’t further restrict eligibility for the health-care program for the poor.
The only other way the state can cut its Medicaid spending, he said, is by cutting payments to providers who accept Medicaid patients.
“I have not heard a single medical provider who’s ever told me they’re getting rich off of Medicaid reimbursements. Most say that they’re losing money,” he said. “So when we’re confronted with having that as the only other area of having some flexibility, then that becomes very, very difficult politically and practically, because we are seeing providers shrink in this state. We’re seeing more and more people saying, ‘We’re not taking Medicaid patients anymore.’
“That’s the point that the federal government doesn’t understand, it seems. They think that eligibility equates to access. It does not. In fact, their approach to eligibility is shrinking the access,” Deal said.
But if Georgia does not set up an exchange, and individual Georgians can’t get a subsidy to buy insurance through a federal-government exchange, Deal believes those people will probably turn to Medicaid.
“So we get hit from the backside,” he said.
One amendment on Tuesday’s ballot that is not getting much attention would allow the state to enter into long term leases, something Deal supports.
Like it or not, the state rents a lot of property and when a state agency wants to rent a building, the building sometimes needs to be renovated with partitions or heating and air conditioning. The landlord is not going to be agreeable to such changes which can sometimes cost tens of thousands, if they’re only going to get a one year lease. Landlords therefore include severe penalties for not renewing the lease after the first year, Deal said.
“So severe that it would be foolish not to renew rather than having to pay these real high penalties for non renewal,” he said. “And what it does is it distorts the bargaining ability of the state with private owners of property, the bargaining ability that you would normally have in the private marketplace of negotiating these things out over a longer time frame. It will save the state literally millions of dollars. I think it is the right thing to do.”
Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy said he was pleased to host Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal on Saturday.
“He energized the crowd,” Dendy said. “What he said about turning the numbers out in the state of Georgia — that’s exactly what we’ve done here in Cobb County. Lot of folks say, ‘Joe, why are you working so hard in Cobb County? We’re red.’ We’ve got to remain very strongly red too or else it’s going to give the Democrats an excuse to start energizing their forces.”