In my duties to the General Assembly, I am fortunate to have a position on the House Appropriations Committee, which funds our state budget. Unlike the federal government, the Georgia Constitution does not allow us to borrow money to budget for deficits and shortfalls; we are required to pass a balanced budget each year. Within the Appropriations committee, I am one of 11 members of the General Assembly who serve on the Human Resources subcommittee, which funds critical state programs for mental health disorders, depression, addiction recovery, behavioral disorders, disabilities, foster care, and more. This committee assignment has given me great insight and knowledge of the importance of the programs the state offers to Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens and who have the most needs. These programs save lives. Earlier this year, when state agencies were tasked with identifying 4% and 6% budget cuts, the outcry we heard, over and over again, was that as a result of these cuts, people would die.
As we move forward and try to look beyond the serious and dire issues of today and also simultaneously consider those that we will face tomorrow and after that, right now it is estimated that we may have a $4 billion hole in our state budget for 2021. Over the weeks, I have been in communication about the budget with Appropriations Chairman Terry England and Human Resources Subcommittee Chairwoman Katie Dempsey, who are both working tirelessly to prepare for our work to pass a budget in the coming weeks. The simple truth is, the longer we live in “lockdown” and generate less sales tax and income tax, and therefore less revenue to the state, the more likely that the four billion dollar number grows to a larger number. There is no possible way to overstate the seriousness of this issue. The larger that number grows, the more cuts we will be forced to make on our state budget, which will impact the Human Resources programs that undeniably save lives of countless Georgians each and every year. Right now our news is focused on the devastating economic impact the virus has caused Georgians who have lost their jobs and businesses and soon will face evictions and countless bills they cannot pay; but the “back-end” impact to our budget will undoubtedly cost human life. The higher the impact on the state budget, the higher the number of lives that will be lost as a result.
This is a no-win situation, but it is also more complex than the ridiculous and rampant narrative that screams: “if you are in favor of Georgia opening to begin economic recovery then you want people to die”. Tragically, human lives are going to be lost through the virus infection, as well as through the aftermath of the economic implications. There is no “right answer,” and everyone is entitled to their personal belief of what “right” looks like, but can we please at least agree that there are two sides of this coin? Just because the other side of the coin is something we face in the future does not mean that it is unworthy of consideration today. The lives that are lost then are just as precious as the lives we lose today. We must embrace a balanced response to this crisis, and let us work together as a state to move forward with responsibility, but also move forward so that we may minimize the lives lost today and tomorrow.