By Bill Crane, contributor
“While this is only the first part of the Golden Ray and the St. Simons Sound incident, there remains a lot of work to do, threats to the environment, hazards to the people and to the Port of Brunswick continue to be addressed through a unified command,” said U.S. Coast Guard Captain John Reed, Charleston sector Coast Guard commander.
While an ongoing review and investigation unfolds of a fire and the subsequent capsizing of the South Korean automobile transport tanker, the Golden Ray, off the Georgia coast, you can bet millions that the ship’s owner, automobile manufacturer/shipper and insurer were all hoping that there were some very experienced hands at the wheel the night that this massive cargo ship fell over on its side.
The Port of Brunswick is one of the busiest automobile import facilities on the eastern seaboard. The shipping channel into and out of the port is narrow, surrounded on both sides by sand bars as well as St. Simons Island/Brunswick and Jekyll Island. Hard to imagine that the massive craft, with 4,200 vehicles still on board was piloted by a crew of only 24 sailors. The ship’s pilot hails from Brunswick, most of the remaining crew are South Koreans. It may be months before we know how the ship ran aground, if the fire damaged navigation systems, or operator error grounded this massive ship on a sandbar, still causing ongoing environmental and economic injury, though thankfully without any serious injury or loss of life.
Georgia emerged from the depths of the Great Recession with a seasoned team at the helm, Governor Nathan Deal had nearly two decades of legislative and leadership experience in the U.S. Congress and Georgia State Senate, former Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle presided over the State Senate for three terms and 12 years and House Speaker David Ralston joined the body in 2002 and was elected Speaker in 2010. This experienced team led Georgia to become the best place to do business for six years in a row now, as well as record levels of employment, and industry relocations, while conservatively managing the state’s fiscal affairs, resulting in the highest bond ratings possible to service our state’s relatively modest debt. None of these accomplishments occurred easily or by accident and of those three team captains, only Speaker Ralston remains on the current field of play.
Georgia and our U.S. economy may again experience choppy waters in the not too distant future. During the past two sessions of our General Assembly, growth in the Georgia economy allowed for record budgets, including a one-time pay raise of $3,000 heading for the wallets of Georgia educators. Now with a tougher economic climate looming, it may be time to trim those sails a bit. Governor Brian Kemp is requesting state agencies identify and prepare their budgets with a reduction of four percent for the coming fiscal year and six percent for 2021.
The largest component of most every state agency budget is the salaries of its employees, typically consuming 65 percent of each dollar. Lay-offs are generally rare in state government, though furloughs did occur during the prior recession within several state agencies and local school systems. While the state owns most of its real estate, maintaining those structures and paying utility expenses typically consumes another 10-15 percent. You are now at 75 to 80 percent of the available budget dollar, leaving 20 percent to make cuts from…and those dollars are the agency program or mission expenses. A 4 percent cut is actually more like a 20 percent cut to the agency program, followed by the request of deeper cuts the following year. This calls for experienced hands chairing the House Appropriations and Senate budget committees, as well as steering the legislative process and budget differences between the Executive and two legislative chambers to a successful and prudent conclusion. So would you prefer the experienced surgeon, pilot or ship captain, or a newbie in training learning the ropes? A less seasoned legislative branch also enables a more entrenched and less responsive bureaucracy.
Having lived through several prior recessions, especially the DEEP trough of 2006-2010, I understand and appreciate the benefits of having steady, seasoned and senior hands on the wheel. Sensing turbulent economic times ahead, I want Georgia to have captains and a spending Skipper who can help us smoothly sail through the tightest channel and choppiest waters, in part because they have already done this before. Think about it. Prayers for the crew of the Golden Ray and their families.