Georgia's Constitution could get a significant makeover in 2017 if three measures passed or proposed Wednesday win the approval of voters.
First is Gov. Nathan Deal's Opportunity School District, which would allow the state to intervene in perennially failing schools. The plan won the requisite two-thirds majority in the House Wednesday, with 11 Democrats and the chamber's lone independent voting for it and four Republicans opposing it. We've discussed that plan at length here , so for today I'll move on to the two newer ideas.
On the House floor Wednesday, shortly before debate began on the OSD resolution, Insurance Committee Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus, said he would not allow a bill mandating insurance coverage of autism treatments for some children out of his committee. The legislation is a major priority of the Senate -- it was given the number Senate Bill 1 to reflect as much -- and was the source of late-session discord between the two chambers last year. Instead, Smith said he will propose a constitutional amendment for the 2016 ballot that would establish a 0.2 percent sales tax statewide to cover treatments for all autistic children from birth to age 18. Smith said it was "time (for senators) to either put up or shut up" and address the issue comprehensively. Senators likely view his proposal as a poison pill to keep the issue from being solved at all; Smith's proposal would ask Georgia voters to tax themselves, per his numbers, $200 million to $300 million per year.
Part of the given rationale for mandating autism coverage is that early treatment not only improves a child's chances at a normal life. It also stands to save taxpayers a large amount of money in educational costs. Because of the latter, I originally thought the state should put up the money for the treatment, since it stood to reap much of the financial benefit. But one GOP legislator who supports the mandate -- and is no one's idea of a moderate squish -- makes the argument that a mandate, while not ideal, is better because it at least preserves a degree of cost competition among insurers. If the state becomes a single payer for the treatment, he said, there will be an artificially high floor for the price of the treatment, and ultimately the collective cost would be higher than it has to be.
The third measure, revealed to the AJC late Wednesday, is a proposal to allow as many as six casinos to be built across the state. The sponsor, Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, says as much as $250 million per year could be raised to supplement lottery funding for the HOPE scholarship and the state's pre-K program. From the AJC story :
"Should it pass, local governments would have the option of asking their voters to allow a casino to be built. The state would be divided into five zones and no more than six casino licenses would be allowed, each overseen by the Georgia Lottery Corp.
"To prove themselves committed and capable of pulling off the kinds of resorts envisioned, casino developers would be required to invest $1 billion in the Atlanta-area casino and $200 million for a license in other parts of the state."
I am naturally skeptical of casino proposals, and not only because I don't think government should be encouraging people to gamble away money their families may need. (And state-sanctioned casinos producing revenues for the state would almost certainly be promoted by the state.) But beyond that question of morality, I'm unconvinced that casinos actually spark development and economic activity outside their own walls. A lot of people, when they hear "casino," think "Las Vegas." But if you've ever been to Tunica, Miss., or Atlantic City, N.J., you've seen places that don't match the glitz and glamour of Vegas. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but I doubt very many people who grow up in Tunica want to stay in Tunica.
That said, it could be different if the casinos are built in places with other significant tourist development, so that they are economic supplements rather than economic stimulants. Savannah, for example, or some of Georgia's recreational lakes (e.g., Lanier or Oconee) might have enough other critical mass to pull that off.
What say you? It's been a while since I've done a poll on the blog, so I've added one here. Cast your vote below, and let's see what our little unscientific survey yields.