Georgia Tech finishes tops among Georgia universities for value

A new study found Georgia Tech the best value among the state’s public and private universities.

ATLANTA – Georgia Tech provides the best value among the Peach State’s public and private universities, according to a new study by a New York-based financial technology company.

The Atlanta school scored a college education value index of 83.71, well above the second-highest score of 57.90 posted by the University of Georgia, the report by SmartAsset found.

The scores were based on factors including student living and tuition costs, student retention rates, the average starting salary of graduates and the availability of scholarships and grants.

The main category that separated Georgia Tech from the rest of the pack was the average starting salary of $74,500 for Tech graduates.

Closest to that figure was $63,500, the average starting salary for graduates of Atlanta’s Emory University. However, Emory’s tuition of $51,306 per year topped the list, accounting for the school placing third on the SmartAsset list.

The University of Georgia’s second-place showing among the 10 schools listed in the report was attributable to the average starting salary for UGA graduates – $55,700, behind only Georgia Tech and Emory – combined with its reasonable tuition and student living costs.

Not surprisingly, the private universities listed – Emory, Oglethorpe University and Mercer University – charge the highest tuitions. As a result, they also offer the largest scholarships and grants, partly offsetting the costs of attending those schools.

Besides Georgia Tech and UGA, Georgia State University scored highest among the public universities, placing fourth on the list just ahead of Oglethorpe.

The full report can be found at Student Loan Calculator (2021) – Estimate Your Loan Repayment | SmartAsset.com

Georgia Democrats discuss Biden’s infrastructure plan

ATLANTA – President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan would provide an overdue fix to deteriorating highways while ramping up investment in modern transit including high-speed rail, three members of Georgia’s congressional delegation said Wednesday.

Freshman Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Suwanee and Nikema Williams of Atlanta and veteran Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Stone Mountain addressed an online roundtable of state and regional transportation agency heads and metro-Atlanta local elected officials. All three are members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The bill, which Biden unveiled last week, calls for repairing and upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems, but would also include other infrastructure needs like broadband, water and wastewater projects.

It would move well past rebuilding the interstate highway system begun by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the transportation committee’s chairman, who addressed the group at the start of the discussion.

“We’re not doing Eisenhower 8.0,” he said. “We’re moving into the 21st century with our infrastructure.”

DeFazio said the legislation would create lots of good paying union jobs, more than enough to make up for the jobs lost when Biden canceled the controversial Keystone Pipeline.

In fact, DeFazio cited a report from Moody’s Investors Service that predicted a return of $1.50 for every $1 the federal government spends on infrastructure improvements.

The bill faces an uphill battle in Congress. While progressive Democrats are urging an even bigger infrastructure package, Republicans are digging in to oppose the legislation because it would be paid for with higher taxes on corporations.

Johnson said the U.S. can’t afford not to spend the money.

“We should not be 13th in the world investing in our infrastructure,” he said. “We have to have a government willing to make the initial investments.”

Williams said her vision for transportation is centered around providing equity by revitalizing transit stations in low-income communities to attract economic development.

MARTA is doing just that with a $50 million upgrade of the Bankhead rail station in conjunction with a planned 90-acre Microsoft campus. The fiscal 2022 state budget the General Assembly adopted last week put $6 million toward the project.

“We’re really aligned with the initiative the [House] committee and the president are putting together,” said Jeff Parker, MARTA’s general manager and CEO.

Bourdeaux said chronic traffic congestion in metro Atlanta is hurting economic development in the region. More transit options would go a long way toward solving the problem, she said.

“We do have to widen roads,” Bourdeaux said. “[But] all of us are interested in transit and new ways to do things.”

Environmentalists win trust fund protection in otherwise disappointing legislative session

ATLANTA – When the dust settled from this year’s General Assembly session, environmental advocates were looking at some success but mostly disappointments.

Lawmakers finally voted to protect state trust funds for environmental cleanup activities after years of failed efforts.

But two bills that passed the General Assembly would prohibit local governments from regulating poultry plant processing wastes or adopting building codes based on the source of energy to be used.

The trust fund legislation follows a constitutional amendment Georgia voters ratified overwhelmingly last November requiring all revenues the state’s dedicated trust funds collect to remain inside those programs rather than be diverted into the general fund budget.

The late Georgia Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who died in November 2019, championed the constitutional amendment for years to prevent Georgia governors and legislative leaders from raiding the state’s Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste trust funds during economic downturns when money is tight.

While Powell had those two environmental trust funds in mind, the final version of House Bill 511 added other trust funds to the protected list, including the

  • State Children’s Trust Fund, which goes to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
  • Wildlife Endowment Trust Fund, a tax on hunting and fishing licenses that supports state wildlife programs.
  • Georgia Trauma Care Network, which funds trauma care services through a fine on “super speeders.”
  • Transportation Trust Fund, which supports road projects through the state’s motor fuels tax.
  • Georgia Agricultural Trust Fund, which goes toward marketing the state’s farm products and state-run farmers’ markets.
  • Fireworks Trust Fund, a sales tax on fireworks that goes toward trauma care and firefighter training.
  • Georgia Transit Trust Fund, a per-ride tax on ride-sharing services that helps fund public transit improvements.

“When we in this General Assembly create and pass a dedicated fee to go to a certain purpose … it should go to the purpose it was intended for,” Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, the bill’s chief sponsor, said during a committee hearing on the measure.

The constitutional amendment ratified last fall includes a 10-year sunset date to give lawmakers a chance to make sure the services each trust fund pays for are still needed.

It allows governors and legislatures to suspend the dedication of trust fund revenues during economic emergencies to free up those funds for general spending needs.

Also, the total amount dedicated to the trust funds during a given fiscal year may not exceed 1% of the state’s budget from the previous fiscal year.

While celebrating the win on trust funds, environmental groups and minority Democrats criticized two “preemption” bills the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed during the last two days of this year’s legislative session.

One of the measures prohibits local governments from regulating poultry processing plant wastes farmers spread on their fields as fertilizer.

The legislation was spurred by complaints from residents in several Northeast Georgia counties of foul odors emanating from farm fields.

Rep. Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta, said waste being spread on the fields that is supposed to be limited to liquid but sometimes contains byproducts, including chicken carcasses.

“The smell is awful,” she said. “It’s been a problem people have really complained about.”

But Sen. Tyler Harper, R-Ocilla, the bill’s chief sponsor, said a late change the Georgia House of Representatives added to the measure requiring farmers to submit a nutrient management plan should give the state the tools to go after violators.

“It ensures those that are bad actors get their act together and do it right,” he said.

The other preemption bill stems from actions a handful of cities in other states have taken requiring builders to use only renewable sources of energy to power new commercial and residential buildings.

Republicans pitched the legislation as giving home- and business owners freedom to choose how they want to power their properties without government interference.

“Many homes in my district are warmed by petroleum gas,” Rep. Beth Camp, R-Concord, said during a committee debate on the bill. “If a municipality makes a decision to terminate a form of energy, they’re telling people what they can and can’t do in their homes.”

But opponents said the bill essentially was a solution looking for a problem. While Georgia cities including Atlanta, Athens and Savannah, have set goals for reducing reliance on fossil fuels, none have banned gas.

“Nobody’s going to prohibit a gas hookup,” said Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club. “The bill was just a showboat.”

Environmental advocates also were disappointed with the lack of progress on addressing the 29 ash ponds Georgia Power is working to close at 11 of the utility’s coal-burning power plants.

For the second year in a row, Republican legislative leaders wouldn’t give a hearing to Democrats’ bills requiring the installation of liners for the 10 ponds being closed in place to prevent groundwater contamination.

The only legislation that did get a hearing, a proposal to tighten monitoring requirements for coal ash, passed the House but wasn’t taken up in the Senate.

“Toxic coal ash is sitting in groundwater around the state, and yet the Georgia legislature failed to pass legislation addressing this problem,” said Jennette Gayer, director of Atlanta-based Environment Georgia.

But Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, chief sponsor of the monitoring bill, said the solution environmentalists are seeking for coal ash is problematic.

“Liners are good if they never, ever have a default or deterioration,” he said. “But one small pinhole or a crack and you lose what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Baseball’s All-Star Game pulling out of Georgia in protest of new voting law

Major League Baseball is pulling the 2021 All-Star Game out of Truist Park in Cobb County.

ATLANTA – Major League Baseball announced Friday it is pulling this summer’s All-Star Game from Georgia in response to the General Assembly’s passage of an election bill that has been heavily criticized as voter suppression.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred Jr. wrote in a prepared statement.

“In 2020 … we proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

Baseball’s decision to relocate the All-Star Game from Truist Park in Cobb County follows corporate criticism of the law by Atlanta-based companies, primarily Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed the voting bill along party lines on the afternoon of March 25, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law later that day.

The sweeping measure overhauls the absentee voting process and early voting in Georgia. It replaces the current signature- match method for verifying absentee ballots with a requirement that absentee voters provide a driver’s license or one of several other forms of identification.

The law expands opportunities for early voting on weekends, a provision Kemp and other Republicans have pointed to in arguing the legislation is not aimed at restricting voting access.

The provision that has drawn the strongest criticism prohibits people who aren’t poll workers from handing out food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places. Republicans have said the provision is intended to prevent illegal electioneering by candidates or campaign workers within 150 feet of the polls.

Democrats around the country – notably President Joe Biden – had called on Major League Baseball to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta since passage of the election law.

But in Georgia, Democrats have responded by opposing the move because of the economic consequences of losing the game.

“Disappointed MLB will move the All-Star Game, but proud of their stance on voting rights,” 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams wrote on Twitter. “Georgia GOP traded economic opportunity for suppression.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms expressed similar sentiments and warned further fallout from the voting law could follow.

“Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All-Star Game from Georgia is likely the first of many dominoes to fall, until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed,” Bottoms wrote.

Georgia Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna, whose state House district includes Truist Park, said she was disappointed by the move.

“The American Rescue Plan exists because of the very Georgia voters who will be most impacted by the economic brunt of the decision to pull the MLB All-Star Game,” she said. “At the same time, I absolutely understand the disgust and frustration with our leadership in Georgia that ultimately led to this decision.”

Kemp released a statement after Friday’s announcement accusing Major League Baseball of caving in to “fear, political opportunism and liberal lies.

“Georgians – and all Americans – should fully understand what the MLB’s knee-jerk decision means: Cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and truth do not matter.”

Both Kemp and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston attributed baseball’s decision to lies from Abrams about the new law.

“This decision is not only economically harmful,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “It also robs Georgians of a special celebration of our national pastime free of politics.”

In a news release, the Atlanta Braves wrote that businesses, stadium employees and baseballs fans will all be hurt by the decision.

“The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities, and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion,” the release stated. “Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times, and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.”

The new voting law has drawn the largest national outcry against Georgia since the General Assembly passed religious freedom legislation in 2016 that critics slammed as discriminatory. It drew boycott threats from local and national businesses, including the film industry, and then-Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it.

Manfred said Major League Baseball still plans to celebrate the memory of Braves Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron, who died in January, as part of the All-Star Game festivities.

A decision has not been made on a new host city for the game.

Staff writer Beau Evans contributed to this report.

Georgia labor department tops $20B in unemployment benefit payouts

Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – The Georgia Department of Labor surpassed a major milestone last week.

The agency now has paid out more than $20.2 billion in unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic began in Georgia more than a year ago. That’s more than the department had paid out in the 82 years prior to the virus.

“We have issued payments to over 1.5 million Georgians during this pandemic while also continuing to support reemployment services looking to get many of these individuals back into the workplace,” state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday.

While more and more Georgia businesses have been ramping back up in recent weeks, the number of unemployment claims is still on the rise. Last week, jobless Georgians filed 39,282 initial claims, an increase of 14,493 over the previous week.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the labor agency has processed nearly 4.6 million first-time unemployment claims, more than during the last nine years combined prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The job sector accounting by far for the most claims in Georgia last week was accommodation and food services with 16,315 claims. The administrative and support services sector was next with 4,064 claims, followed by manufacturing with 2,336.

The labor department has 228,512 job listings posted online at https://bit.ly/36EA2vk for Georgians to access. The agency offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume and assisting with other reemployment needs.