Dr. Ricardo Azziz, the president of Georgia Health Sciences University, said policymakers don’t often talk of social services as economic development programs but they should. Even Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, brings money to a community that circulates in that local economy, he said.
“At the end of the day, we know that if you have health insurance, your health care and your health improve,” he said. “If your workforce is healthier, then prospective employers will be hiring healthier people.”
On the other hand, the uninsured are an economic drag, he said.
“There is this fallacy that somehow the uninsured do not affect ‘my life,’” he said. “They cost money to treat. They cost five times as much as if you had provided coverage.”
His comments came at a conference on the state budget sponsored by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an Atlanta think tank.
While GHSU has a greater than $2 billion impact on the state’s economy, it can’t attract more researchers, for example, without adequate taxpayer money to invest in infrastructure, Azziz said.
“You can’t get a scientist to come if you don’t have the laboratory first,” he said.
Former University Chancellor Erroll Davis stressed that tax money put into education pays long-term dividends because college graduates pay 72 percent more in taxes than workers holding just a high school diploma.
“Look at one simple fact: The more educated you are, the more taxes you pay,” said Davis, who is now the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools.He expressed frustration with the education portion of Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget proposal for next year.
Deal is recommending increasing K-12 education spending by more than $200 million and by over $110 million for higher education for the balance of this fiscal year and all of next year. But the money only covers increased enrollment and automatic seniority pay raises for teachers and doesn’t replace funds cut from prior years.
The governor hailed his plan as the end to years of belt tightening in the state’s schools.
“One has to pause when it comes off as a positive that we’re going to sustain massive cuts that we had last year,” Davis said.