As 2015 gets going, we’re checking in with WABE reporters on some of the stories and trends they’ll be watching.
The state legislature will have to wrestle with transportation issues this year. Michelle Wirth says a funding problem is looming.
“The question is whether or not the Republican-controlled legislature will raise taxes in order to make up a $1-to-1.5 billion funding gap for transportation needs in the state,” she says. “Last year was an election year, so this is the year they do the tough stuff.”
Common core standards will still be an issue, says Martha Dalton. And then there’s school funding, and the question if the state will change the formula for how it pays for education.
“It’s never been fully-funded since it was developed in the 80s,” says Dalton. “There are a lot of old components of it, for example, it doesn’t have any technology funding included in it, because in 1985 there weren’t any computers in the classroom.”
We’ve heard about property values going back up, but Steve Goss says the housing recovery isn’t happening for everyone.
“If you look into the metro region a little bit deeper, you’ll find that parts of Dekalb, central and south Dekalb, and Clayton County have not recovered,” he said. “And it’s puzzling to me why those areas have not in some cases not recovered at all.”
Another housing question from Steve–though this dips into transportation, too–is how aging populations in metro Atlanta will fare.
“If you’re poor, and older, and live in the suburbs, in most cases you’re going to be stuck,” he says.
Martha Dalton says it’ll be interesting to see how Obama’s executive action on immigration will affect Georgia businesses, and how the state government will react.
“Whether there will be legislators here that try to introduce bills to sort of dismantle parts of it, or to sort of nullify parts of the action,” she says. “It hasn’t been that well received here among a lot of legislators.”
The Department of Labor hopes to see Georgia’s unemployment rate continue on a downward trend.
“Georgia’s unemployment rate has been dropping over the past few months, but it’s still noticeably higher than the national rate,” says John Lorinc.
After the protests around the country, following the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by police, Michell Eloy says she’s watching for police changes in Atlanta.
“I know the Atlanta Police Departments and a number of other police departments in the area have talked about adopting body cameras,” she says. “I don’t know if they’re necessarily going to change their police tactics or anything, but there has been talk of at least an effort to be a little more transparent, so I think it will be interesting to see if they really move forward with that.”
And Candace Wheeler wants to see what happens next with the protests.
“Here in Atlanta there’s been a significant activist community. And so I’m really interested in seeing what sort of things they push for in the New Year,” she says.
The Georgia legislature may start to settle some of the questions about all the possible new cities in Dekalb County.
“It should be really interesting if we do end up with a lot of new cities, how the county government itself is going to look, and how it’s going to provide services around all these kind of islands of cities,” says Lisa George. “We’ve just started to see a few other piques of interest in cityhood in other areas, is this going to start a trend?”
And even if it gets through the legislature, voters will still have the final say.
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“It should be interesting to see once the defense gets their opportunity to present their witnesses, what will happen,” says Rose Scott. “Will some of the defendants opt to take a plea or work out a deal?”
Florida is suing Georgia in the Supreme Court over water. Molly Samuel says it won’t be settled this year.
“But it’s going to be interesting to see how that fight starts shaping up,” she says. And that’s not the only water fight in the state. “There have been disputes with Tennessee that it looks like the Georgia legislature may be trying to stir up again, trying to get some of that Tennessee River water.”
Depending on what happens, Georgia could be searching for new sources of water, says Denis O’Hayer.
“Will the state accelerate its drive to develop reservoirs?” he asks. “That’s a long-term project, could take years, but an adverse decision in the Supreme Court could push that ahead.”
Rose Scott is watching death penalty policy in Georgia, and how what happens around the country could affect the rules here.
“All of the issues surrounding Georgia’s lethal injection drug that they use for executions, and also the mental disability standards that the state requires for those on death row not to be executed,” she says. “The Supreme Court may take up more cases as it relates to other states, and that could affect Georgia.”
A bill to legalize medical marijuana for kids with seizure disorders came close to passing in Georgia last year. Michelle Wirth says she thinks this could be the year some kind of legislation does gets passed.
“There is some opposition in the law enforcement community, but after what happened last year, I think lawmakers really seem to be committed to passing something this session,” she says.
With the CDC and Emory here, Ebola will continue to be a local story, says Michell Eloy.
“Our friends and neighbors, essentially, are the people who are over there, or who are here, making big advances in terms of what this disease means, how to fight it, how to treat it,” she says.
Federal air pollution regulations are stirring up controversy in Georgia, says Denis O’Hayer.
“The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed some new rules for coal-fired power plants, and those are being fought already by state officials, including the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities,” he says. “Georgia Power of course, is opposing those. It’s trying to take some of its coal-fired plants offline and already has in some cases. That may intensify the drive for solar.”
The EPA is wading into fights over clean water, too, says Molly Samuel.
“The EPA is trying to make some changes to the Clean Water Act, and farmers are concerned that that’s going to affect them,” she says. “And also when it comes to coal, and a coal byproduct called coal ash, there are concerns about that polluting groundwater, and the EPA has just ruled on that.”