Voters have the opportunity to set a new course for Georgia as they choose a new governor and eight other statewide officeholders on Nov. 2.
These newly elected officials will decide how older Georgians fare in these rocky economic times, magnified by a budget shortfall expected to reach about $2 billion by 2012.
Here are the issues that are most vital to older people in the upcoming election:
- Long-term care. Few issues affect the quality of life for older people as directly as state spending on home- and community-based services. State programs that provide relief for family caregivers, housekeeping aid and meal deliveries can determine whether people stay in their own homes or move into institutions. Some 20,000 older Georgians are on the waiting list for services.
"It's much cheaper and cost-effective and a better quality of life to keep folks home rather than putting them in a nursing home," said Roy Barnes, the Democrat who wants to return to the governor's office. He supports more in-home care.
Nathan Deal, Republican candidate for governor and 10-term congressman, supports programs that "encourage taking care of people in less costly settings." He suggested the possibility of tax incentives to encourage people to buy long-term care insurance so the government doesn't end up shouldering the burden later.
- Health care reform. If it isn't scuttled by legal challenges from Georgia and other states, implementing the new health care law will be a major undertaking for elected officials. A key component is how the state administers its insurance exchange — the marketplace that will offer a choice of plans — and establishes the rules for options and pricing. The next governor will be the point person in answering those questions long before 2014 when most of the changes take effect. The new insurance commissioner will regulate rate changes, complaints and fines.
Deal voted against the health care law; Barnes supports it but says it is a "work in progress" and some aspects should be modified so states are not overwhelmed.
"Our state is one of those that needs more competition in the private health insurance market, and I look forward to working with our new insurance commissioner to try to figure out what we can do to get more competition," Deal said.
Barnes said the reforms could allow companies to form "pools" to forge the greatest buying power, possibly across state lines.
- Budget crisis. Both Deal and Barnes identified health care and education among their top priorities. Deal predicted the next governor would "have to find savings" to meet the state's obligations in those areas. Barnes said, "We're beyond what we can cut in most areas" and said the state must do a better job of collecting taxes that are owed, particularly corporate income taxes.
- Utilities. Utility bills are a monthly problem for older people on fixed incomes. The size of those bills could be affected by the candidate who fills the open seat on the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates rates and services for utilities such as electricity, gas and telephone. The PSC's mandate is to balance a fair rate for consumers with a fair profit for utilities. The new board member could influence how vigorously the consumer's side of that equation is represented.
The statewide races on the ballot: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, school superintendent, and commissioners of agriculture, insurance, labor and public service.
For details on where the candidates stand on the issues, check out AARP's voters' guide.
Drew Jubera is a freelance writer living in Atlanta.