Now that the holiday leftovers in the fridge are dwindling and many have put away the decorations, we prepare for the first work week of 2015 with high expectations.
Though 2014 may not have brought us everything we wanted, an improving economy gives hope that the year to come can fulfill a hefty wish list.
So with that in mind, here are a few items we’d like to see for Georgians in the year ahead:
Learn the ropes fast in DC
When Congress convenes its new session this week, Republicans will control both chambers, and hold one of their largest majorities ever in the House. That contingent will include quite a few new faces, several from Georgia. The retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss started a domino effect that will send a new senator, David Perdue, and four new representatives to Washington in a Georgia delegation that now includes 10 Republicans and four Democrats.
The loss of longtime Washington figures like Chambliss and Reps. Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston could cost the state seniority among the leadership and on various committees. Here’s hoping the new guys — Perdue and Reps. Jody Hice, Buddy Carter, Barry Loudermilk and Rick Allen — can move up the ranks quickly and keep Georgia interests high on the agenda. And though each needs to be a loyal party member to do so, we’d like to see independent thinkers emerge from both sides of the aisle who can break the partisan stalemate that has gridlocked the nation’s capital for too long.
Hit the roads, Jack
Georgia legislators already are floating ideas to pay for the state’s much-needed transportation and infrastructure fixes. The failure of a regional sale tax to fund such improvements has left the state’s coffers running dry even while roads and bridges crumble.
To that end, state leaders are willing to entertain the notion of raising taxes, which makes most Republicans break out in hives even at its mention. A study committee has floated a few ideas: A 1-cent statewide sales tax, which would seemingly replicate the T-SPLOST most voters rejected; a hike in the state’s gasoline tax, which hasn’t gone up since 1971 and ranks among the nation’s lowest; and more toll or road usage fees.
No one wants to pay more to drive on the roads, but it does no good to enjoy cheap gasoline prices if too much of it is burned sitting in traffic. Georgia can’t boost its economy and lure new industries and jobs without addressing its transportation grid. That means the money has to come from somewhere.
Get on the same textbook page
For too many years, the school superintendent has been singing a different tune than the governor and legislature. Recent occupants of that office have been incompetent, ethically challenged or both, or in the case of the last one, John Barge, at odds with the rest of the state’s leadership on key issues.
Richard Woods enters the office with hopes of a fresh start. He and Gov. Nathan Deal need to agree on education policy that uses taxpayer dollars wisely and embraces innovation that can move Georgia schools forward. Earning a high school diploma needs to be made more challenging, yet the opportunity to attend Georgia colleges and technical schools needs to be made easier for those who qualify.
Whatever the specifics, state leaders need to get on the same page for the sake of students, parents and teachers, and give education professionals a key voice in all decisions.
Build more than new ballparks
Finally, we’d like to see Atlanta’s professional sports teams spend a little more effort on fielding a winning team and a little less spending tax and ticket-buyers’ money on building new palaces. New stadiums for each both are underway, but the teams’ lack of success in 2014, and emerging details about their new ballparks, leave a bad taste.
Construction costs keep rising for the Falcons’ new edifice, though the team promises not to add to the state’s or city’s tax investment. Yet those costs likely will be passed on to those who buy tickets in the future.
Meanwhile, the team laid a Falcon-sized egg in the barely 20-year-old Georgia Dome with a second straight losing season that cost coach Mike Smith his job, leaving team officials again searching for a leader and an identity, not to mention a defense.
Arthur Blank has brought welcome energy to the franchise, but we don’t want to see him turn into the latest team owner whose impatience with his play toy leads to knee-jerk decisions. He needs to follow the game plan of successful team owners in cities like Green Bay and Pittsburgh: Find good football men, hand them the reins, then get out of the way.
As for the Braves, their furtive plan to move to Cobb County revealed in late 2013 gets uglier by the day, both in terms of cost and logistics. When it was learned the team wouldn’t be able to use parking space at a nearby mall during games, they bought out an auto parts business a half-mile away for such use, only because that company wanted no part of the whole scene.
The first traffic jam fans encounter headed to the new ballpark will not be pleasant, nor will the tax bill Cobb residents will face when the bills come due.
On the field, the Braves fell flat last season, then fired their general manager and began trading away players to rebuild the roster with younger, cheaper talent. Thus, lame-duck Turner Field — which isn’t even 20 yet — will field a lame-duck team for the next two years before the lights go out. It doesn’t do much to raise fans’ hopes.
That’s our short list for 2015, knowing it won’t all be achieved. Here’s hoping we can look back in a year and see some progress on each.