State of the State
By: Senate Minority Chair Elena Parent
I am Senator Elena Parent.
I am proud to serve my constituents in Senate District 42 and the people of the great state of Georgia as the Chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. It is truly an honor to work alongside my dedicated colleagues toward creating a better Georgia.
This legislative session provides opportunities to build on our successes. Successes like the Mental Health Parity Act and the expansion of post-partum healthcare coverage that we passed into law in 2022.
While we agree with Governor Kemp that Georgia’s best days are ahead, this is not a foregone conclusion or guaranteed outcome. We can make this vision a reality only if we deploy our budget effectively and implement policies that build an economy and a workforce for the future that includes every Georgian.
We all agree on the desired outcome, but we have very different ideas about the path that will take us there. It surely won’t be by putting relatively few dollars in Georgians’ pockets with tax cuts for some and one-time refunds. This is like expecting a car to drive several hundred miles when it is running on fumes.
The state government is a necessary partner for the success of the private sector. Investments in infrastructure like roads and transit, and people through education, must be made through the government because only government can leverage our combined tax dollars to grow the economy and create a brighter future for all Georgians.
We must strengthen our government agencies and programs we’ve neglected for too long so they can adequately serve all Georgians – because that’s what all Georgians need and deserve.
Georgia may be ranked the number one state in the country to do business, but too many Georgians lack livable wages, adequate healthcare and quality education. We’re not doing enough to ensure that all Georgians share in the prosperity our success is meant to bring.
We know Georgians are working hard. While unemployment in Georgia was at a record low in 2022 – an outstanding achievement – too many Georgians are working more hours for less pay, making it more difficult for them to meet their basic needs.
People are telling us that they are barely hanging on. In some parts of our state, utility bills are skyrocketing; there’s no transportation to get to school, work or to a medical appointment; access to routine or emergency healthcare is dangerously limited or nonexistent; children are struggling in under-resourced schools; and, the lack and cost of childcare options forces Georgia families to go without.
Georgia must be the best place to do business AND the best place to call home. At times, in pursuit of the glory of growing business investment we neglect to invest in the very people we need to make those businesses succeed. Failing to fund healthcare, childcare and transportation punctures the wheels that drive the private sector.
Georgia, we must do better.
As Democrats, our priorities are laser focused on introducing policy initiatives that invest in improving the lives of all Georgians and in building the vibrant communities we envision for the future.
I am glad Georgia has recovered well from the great recession and has a healthy and robust budget. But after more than a decade of budget cuts our state is beleaguered by persistent problems. It would be irresponsible and unethical to not marshal our collective community tax dollars for Georgians in places where they’re most needed and have the biggest impact on economic growth for all.
To achieve the future we envision, we must invest in our workforce — across the state — and fund a plan for economic inclusion. If our newfound business prosperity has only reached a few in Metro Atlanta, can we really call that success? We must work alongside Georgians across the state to co-design economic development plans and support investments in business, technology and STEM jobs that work for Georgians in every corner of the state.
Right now, we aren’t meeting that call. Georgia currently has a dangerous shortfall of primary care providers, nurses, counselors, licensed mental health professionals, qualified teachers, staff for government agencies and trained workers to be able to contribute to the advancements and opportunities brought by business and technological growth.
And we know these shortages and high job turnover rates are in no small part due to the fact that many people are not paid for the value of their work and the contribution they make to our economic eco-system.
It’s great that Governor Kemp is talking about good-paying jobs—something Democrats have been championing for years. But the reality is that without passing living wage legislation and significant wage increases for state employees to combat decades-long wage stagnation, that talking point, “good-paying jobs?,” is mere lip service. There are some state employees who are currently being paid so poorly, they qualify for the very same assistance programs they are tasked with helping people access. This is unsustainable, unconscionable and contributes directly to the high turnover and unfilled jobs across state government. If people are barely keeping up, how can we expect them to get ahead?
Georgia, we must do better.
I am pleased that the Governor’s budget proposal includes a $2,000 wage increase for teachers. But, we have the finances to do better and it’s not enough to save an education system in crisis.
Democrats propose a $10,000 increase for teachers and law enforcement – plus the establishment of regular increases moving forward. The Governor’s budget robs Peter to pay Paul by, for example, covering a shrinking percentage of school bus transportation expenses. This means local government has to foot the bill and will have to raise property taxes to cover the shortfall.
We need to overhaul the public school funding formula, invest more in transportation, and expand broadband internet. We cannot keep shifting education costs to local districts, especially in rural communities that simply cannot afford to shoulder this burden.
From pre-K through higher Ed, Georgians need and deserve access to quality education because it is the foundation for our state today and tomorrow. Without an educated pool of workers, we will have to compete harder to attract qualified people from other states that do a better job of teaching and training. How can we expect to support a strong and resilient workforce if we don’t invest in the education and resources required to get there?
Georgia, we must do better.
I am so grateful that over the last two years, more Georgians than ever before have had access to affordable healthcare coverage and that we worked together to make mental health a priority. However, we are facing a dire situation as hundreds of thousands are on the brink of losing the Medicaid coverage they qualified for during the pandemic. That coverage will now be yanked away from them as the public health emergency ends officially in a few short months.
Another ongoing problem is the continued threat of hospital closures, particularly in rural areas. 47% of the 70 rural hospitals in our state are at the risk of closing due to financial stress. Expanding Medicaid as 40 other states have already done would go a long way to stabilizing these institutions by using federal dollars, saving Georgia resources.
Georgia consistently ranks among the worst in the country for healthcare access, mental health, maternal and infant mortality, and elderly care. This is costing us lives— and it is the express result of the actions and inactions of those who hold the majority in this capitol.
Georgia, we must do better.
Democrats have plans to expand healthcare coverage and access, reduce costs, and continue to fight and defend the right to make our own healthcare decisions.
As Democrats, we’re also prioritizing affordable, safe housing because no one should have to choose between paying for food or a place to lay their head at night. We need to protect people from evictions and negligent landlords and expand housing options for people trying to get back on their feet – those who are working hard to simply stay afloat.
We’re prioritizing public safety and common sense measures to reduce the violence that the flood of guns in our streets creates, and that threatens us and our law enforcement daily. Governor Kemp is right about gang recruitment, but many youth are vulnerable because he underfunded public education and afterschool programs in affected communities.
More school counselors and broader access to mental health services are important initiatives we support yet they are not enough to keep our communities safe.
Governor Kemp talks about the crime and violence in our streets. But let’s be honest about what’s really on. Georgians can now carry a gun WITHOUT a permit because of a bill the Republican majority passed. We need policies and laws that require common sense use of these weapons. Guns should be locked in the presence of minors so they can’t take them to kindergarten, high school or to our streets to settle some score. We also need to invest in community-based violence-prevention measures to protect our young people.
We’re prioritizing environmental health and safety so that our children and children’s children can continue to have a beautiful state to live in.
Last year, you saw Democrats leading the charge to protect Georgians from the harmful effects of ethylene oxide emissions and coal ash. That’s why Democrats plan to protect air quality, ensure that new building projects are environmentally smart, and help farmers implement water efficiency best practices so that future generations of Georgians can thrive.
Georgia, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is. And, the great news is that we have $7 BILLION in undesignated cash on hand. How we allocate these funds will determine Georgia’s future. We are prepared to work together to create a Georgia where thriving is a reality, no matter what community you live in.
We are ready to fight for you and for your rights – whether you live near or far, whether you were born here or not — no matter when you decide to start a family, no matter who you vote for, no matter your income, age, gender, race, religion, or creed. We will fight for you and the Georgia we all deserve. A Georgia where everyone can thrive.
Let’s get to work.