Sunday Solutions, Jan. 1, 2023

Happy New Year! We’re back and hoping you’ve had the holiday week you hoped for. We are diving right back in with fresh news on the Okefenokee mining permit fight, updates on a few things and some food for thought as we head into the new Georgia General Assembly. Now about those resolutions…


Paddlers navigate the water trail to Minnie’s Lake in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tom Wilson Credit: Tom Wilson

Wetlands protections return. Will they affect Okefenokee mining fight?

Not everyone’s taking a holiday break. On Friday, the Biden administration announced a final rule to restore Clean Water Act protections for streams, wetlands and other critical waterways. In a statement, the Environmental Protection Agency said it’s working on a “durable definition” of Waters of the U.S. to protect waterways, farmers and economic opportunities. Whether the order affects the battle over mining near the Okefenokee isn’t clear. The nearly 600-acre mining site sits about 3 miles from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which protects the giant freshwater wetlands area and the Okefenokee Swamp. Lawyers say it might bolster arguments against the mine since earlier decisions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers placed mining permit jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The Current’s environment reporter Mary Landers breaks down what the complicated rule and update means, what it could mean and what it doesn’t mean.

The rule change wasn’t the only news from the swamp. A South Georgia lawmaker says she’s planning to address the mining issue with new legislation. A similar effort died with the last legislature, but the topic is still fair game since permits remains under review by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.


Dueling health insurance portals

Under the heading of “so nice we have it twice,” Georgia launched an online healthcare insurance website using state funds it would’ve used to exit the federal Affordable Care Act marketplace if it could’ve. Plans offered appear to be the same, but the Georgia site lists resources for state services, as well. Read about it here from a story from Capitol Beat News Service. At least 1.3 million Georgians don’t have health insurance, according to the state site. Open enrollment through either GeorgiaAccess.gov or the federal marketplace at healthcare.gov ends Jan. 15. Compare for yourself.


The container ship CMA CGM Marco Polo heads down river from the Georgia Ports Authority’s Port of Savannah Garden City Terminal in May 2021 in Savannah, Ga. Credit: Georgia Ports Authority

Considerable

  • It’s got to come in somewhere: GPB News reports that Fitch Ratings economists are still bullish on Georgia’s ports in the face of a recession because, one says, “even in a recessionary or tempered growth environment, a lot of that cargo still has to come through.”
  • Do school scholarship programs or vouchers cripple public schools? Moving public school tax dollars to private school use is always a hot topic in Georgia, and it will be again as the legislature opens in a week. We’re watching a case in Ohio where more than 200 public school districts are suing the state over its school voucher program, EdChoice Scholarship Program. Here’s a story from NBC4 in Columbus, Ohio, to explain the the suit, the program and the arguments.
  • It’s alive — theater, that is: Covid and the job shuffles have taken a toll on live theater performances, but there are signs that a revival is on the way, and it’s fueled by new younger, audiences. New data from Civic Science show that more than half of Gen Z adults and a chunk of millennials say they attend a theater/musical at least every few months. New audiences are younger than 35, more than making up for the loss of the oldest generations. The drive for in-person entertainment is fueled by young adults and those who make less money but are most likely to go to a movie theater. If you’ve been to a movie lately, you know that spending choice is an investment in itself.
  • What can be the deadliest part of a storm? Isolation: Last year’s cold emergency in Texas underscored what data already showed: Social isolation in extreme weather can be deadly. A story from the nonprofit climate site, Nexus Media News, tells us why our day-to-day connections may make the difference when times get tough. Researchers found that the more connected people were with neighbors, church communities and colleagues, the more likely they were to know about resources and services offered during extreme weather.

Credit: Unsplash

New state law brings … food

A new law recognizes that our love for food truck fare does not stop at county lines and businesses often need to expand their consumer bases. Now food truck owners can get one county permit in a county and it’ll suffice for other counties where it may travel. Until now, truck operators had to buy separate permits for each county, prohibiting their ability to do business in neighboring areas.


Audit finds research and development tax credits don’t always work directly but may help indirectly.

More state tax credits arrive

Also, starting today, there will be a new menu of tax credits from the state. A summary of each:

  • Georgia taxpayers who contribute to nonprofit organizations that help foster children about to age out of the foster care system. More than 700 young men and women age out of the system each year;
  • Dollar-for-dollar income tax credit on contributions to public safety initiatives in the taxpayer’s community;
  • The Jack Hill Veterans’ Act provides income tax credits in exchange for contributions to scholarships for service-disabled veterans through the Technical College System of Georgia Foundation;
  • Georgia’s rural hospital tax credit expands through House Bill 1041, which increases the annual statewide cap on the credit from $60 million to $75 million.

Do tax credits work? The jury is out on the newer ones, but an audit released last week says the state’s Research & Development Tax Credit’s impact may not be evident. A story from Capitol Beat News Service explains that the credit resulted in minimal additional spending on R&D (56 cents of impact for every state tax dollar avoided in the program), but the credit was a public relations aid to recruiting new businesses to the state.


Credit: Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels

Child poverty and minimum wage

As Covid-era child tax credits in the American Rescue Plan sunset, discussion about federal and state minimum wage caps rises again. Last week, a States News Service analysis showed that states that haven’t raised the hourly wage above the federal minimum of $7.25 have the highest rates of children in poverty. Georgia isn’t the worst state, but it’s one of a few with child poverty rates of more than 20%. Here’s the look at the states, the status of the wage and what could be next. It’s a conversation to take on as we look to fill new thousands of new jobs and skills throughout Coastal Georgia.


Your second cup

Simply this: Thank you for supporting The Current and Sunday Solutions this year. We resolve to bring more in-depth reporting and data from credible sources to help you navigate your new year and meet your own resolutions.



Restored wetlands protections may not prevent mining near the Okefenokee

The regulatory definition of “waters of the U.S.” is reset, but it may not raise the bar on protections for the Okefenokee.

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Georgia establishes its own health-insurance portal, Georgia Access

The new Georgia Access site also includes links to companies and brokers that offer dental and vision plans, basic information about Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, and links to state health-care agencies that assist with mental health.

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Economists: Port of Savannah to weather expected recession well

As “essential infrastructure,” ports are expected to fare well in 2023 even if a recession hits, according to Fitch Ratings.

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Knowing your neighbors could save you from next climate disaster

Last year’s cold emergency underscored what data already showed: Social isolation in extreme weather can be deadly. Researchers found that the more connected people were with neighbors, church communities and colleagues, the more likely they were to know about resources and services offered during extreme weather.

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New laws for new year affect food trucks, tax credits, online sales

The food truck legislation does away with a current requirement in Georgia law that food truck operators obtain a permit and inspection in every county where they do business.

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Audit finds Georgia R&D tax credit a poor return on investment

UGA Vinson study: 95% of what businesses are spending on research and development would have been spent even if the credit didn’t exist.

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Analysis: 1 in 5 children in poverty in Georgia, 8 states that haven’t raised minimum wage

Raising the minimum wage would not lead to as fast or drastic an improvement, but a 2019 Congressional Budget Office analysis found that increasing the amount to $15 an hour would lift more than 500,000 children from poverty. And the Economic Policy Institute estimated in 2021, that if Congress passed a $15 minimum wage increase by 2025, up to 3.7 million people wouldn’t have to live in poverty — 1.3 million of those being […]

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Expert: Teddy Roosevelt’s failed Bull Moose campaign may portend future for GOP, Donald Trump

As Donald Trump launches his third run for the White House, it is useful to look back at another ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt, whose campaign to regain the office from his successor, William Howard Taft, divided the Republican Party and ensured the victory of Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the presidential election of 1912.

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Georgia bases land priority projects in national defense bill

State’s congressional delegation had to mount a lobbying campaign to save the Combat Readiness Training Center in Savannah, an Air National Guard facility for military pilots the administration was threatening to close. It received full funding for the coming year.

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General Assembly to renew debate over mining near the Okefenokee

A South Georgia lawmaker is preparing again to stop an Alabama-based company from mining titanium near the Okefenokee Swamp.

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