The road ahead

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2008

By this time next year, you may think 2008 wasn’t so bad after all.

Sure, the economy went into a nosedive. Unemployment rose, and so did bankruptcies and foreclosures. It could have been worse. At year’s end, there was a break in the clouds.

The price of motor fuel plummeted. SUVs and trucks started selling again. The chatter about more efficient but expensive vehicles and costly alternative fuels went suddenly silent.

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Mainly, however, the old saw, “You can’t spend your way out of debt,” was about to be cast aside in favor of a new way to prosperity: “bailout.”

Both Washington and Atlanta appeared ready to spend, spend, spend and borrow, borrow, borrow to get the economy rolling again.

As it prepared to say good-bye, the Bush administration handed out nearly a trillion dollars to banks and automakers. In the case of the banks, the Washington politicians had but one question: “Do you want this in 20s or 50s?” A few additional questions were attached to the car deals, but not many.

A couple of prudent souls sounded warnings to the incoming administration. Their concerns were drowned out, however, by the controversy over inviting the Rev. Rick Warren, an anti-gay preacher, to deliver the opening prayer at Barack Obama’s inauguration. In the ever-expanding world of cable TV, news of gay nuptials ranks ahead of national bankruptcy every time.

Back here in Georgia, Gov. Sonny Perdue prepared to wave his magic wand over a spending package for public works, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the CCC boys closed their camps and marched off to World War II.

Perdue’s secret spending package may contain a couple of Bush-like booby traps, which the governor must disarm before he performs his full magic act.

Georgia has already been spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave in Savannah. In fiscal 2005, the state’s debt service soared past the $1 billion mark for the first time ever, and it has kept going up even as revenue dwindles. Georgia is now spending more than 1 percent of its total budget on debt. That means you and your children and their children are required to shell out $200 million-plus every year just to keep Georgia’s credit cards current.

Then there’s the other issue: Where did all this borrowed money go? It sure wasn’t plowed into the schools. Public education has taken a $1.6 billion cut in state funding since Sonny showed up. Higher education has taken an even colder bath. Perdue also shelved a massive water-usage plan, just before Georgia was engulfed by a record drought. Then there’s transportation. Sonny didn’t bother to fix transportation; he just sat on his hands and watched the economy sour. Cash-strapped motorists cut back on driving—and, voila! The traffic seemed to clear, giving us another example of Sonny in action.

Perhaps Sonny hopes to turn to the Obama administration for the same kind of don’t tell-don’t ask help that Washington gave Wall Street. The president-elect has said he hopes to help state and local governments that can’t make ends meet without crippling services. That category would certainly include Georgia.

However, Georgia joined the Old South in opposing Obama for president, and we re-elected a Republican senator known in some circles as “Shrub’s Stamp.”

Said senator also has a hurt knee from the Vietnam era and may not be able to join Obama’s inner circle for a round of hoops every morning.

Aw, but we groan too much. Those problems can be addressed. If Washington can come to the rescue of Morgan Stanley and Chrysler, surely it can help out Sonny and Georgia.

But, if you need any help with the White House, don’t bother Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Just ring up state Sen. David Adelman (D-Decatur), who is said to be the incoming president’s main man in Georgia. Don’t worry, governor, Adelman doesn’t hold grudges. If Adelman had been Georgia’s main WH guy a few years back, the Peach State might have saved several military bases from closing in the middle of a war.

Take this down: 2009 may be another tough year. But at least there is a glimmer of hope things will get better and a promise that a new national administration will feel our pain. You can take that premonition to the bank, if it’s still open.