State of the State highlights transportation, education

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal said during Wednesday's State of the State address that he aims to "give Georgians a state that's even better tomorrow than it is today."

The governor unveiled plans to improve transportation, decriminalize cannabis oil and rescue troubled schools.

"Our state is strong and getting stronger every day, but for every milestone we reach, for every victory we attain, for every improvement we achieve, new challenges await," Deal said.


Deal announced his new Education Reform Commission, a group of legislators, educators and others who will review the state's education system and recommend potential improvements by the end of the summer. The commission will also examine the outdated Quality Basic Education funding formula, a model that "is older than every student in our classroom and some of their parents."

"Our students are now using iPads and Androids. Why tie them to a desk when technology can take them to the moon and back?" Deal said.

The governor also said this year's budget and next year's proposed budget include an infusion of more than $1 billion for K-12 education. It is the largest percentage of a state budget to education of any Georgia governor in the last 50 years.

Deal addressed the recently approved charter school amendment, which is "making a positive difference," and said he is proposing a new Opportunity School District amendment to rescue failing schools and the students who attend them. The model has been used successfully in other states, including Louisiana.

"Let's stop making excuses. If we want to break the cycle of poverty, let's educate those children so that they have the skills to escape poverty," Deal said. "If we want our young people to have hope, let's give them the greatest beacon of hope we can confer on them -- a quality education that leads to a good job, a stable family and the stairway to the future."


On the heels of last week's child welfare reform recommendations, Deal said he hopes to create a Department of Community Supervision to enhance communication among all the groups that serve troubled families, such as DFCS, Pardons and Parole, and the Department of Juvenile Justice.

He also proposed several upgrades to DFCS, including mentor programs for supervisors, higher pay for caseworkers and training for foster parents.

"By caring for our caseworkers, we can better care for our children in need," Deal said.

Medical marijuana

"One of our most vulnerable populations is our children who are suffering from seizures," Deal said. Cannabis oil trials on such children are already underway at a state medical college, and Deal said he now hopes to bring medical marijuana to all families who need it.

"This year, I hope to sign legislation to decriminalize cannabis oil in Georgia so that families who need it and who obtain it legally will not be prosecuted for possession of it," Deal said, adding that he does not support recreational marijuana use. "We want to find a pathway to bring our children home from Colorado without becoming Colorado."

Deal said he will form a study committee to help determine the types of medical conditions that can benefit from cannabis oil and how to bring the product to Georgia.


Deal also shared his plan to alleviate the state's traffic woes, including more than $1.1 billion worth of new interstate lanes, "the largest interstate expansion since the 1980's."

The governor said his transportation investment proposal will address road maintenance and repair, freight corridor and other improvements. He admitted it will be expensive, but stressed the urgency, saying "we can debate how much it will cost to do something, but let us not forget how much it will cost to do nothing."

Deal said he hopes to become less dependent on federal revenue for transportation projects because it will "avoid the regulations and extra costs associated with federal involvement; we will get more for our money in new roads and it will be one of the best signals that the state of Georgia is willing to spend our money to solve our problems."

Georgia's gas tax, Deal noted, has remained the same since 1971, but the average vehicle's fuel efficiency has doubled in that amount of time, meaning the state collects half as much in that excise tax as it did 40 years ago.

But he did not address the way he intends to get the funds needed to improve Georgia's roads, which senate Democratic leader Sen. Steve Henson (D-Tucker) called "frustrating."

Deal said after the speech that transportation funding will be "a very complicated debate and discussion." But Deal said he thinks members of the legislature will introduce bills to raise revenue for transportation, and that he intended "to respect the role of the General Assembly, and I have respected that role. I get a whole lot more done when I let them do their job and I do my job along with them."

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