There is both more and less to this than meets the eye, but Deal has done the right thing even if largely assisted by a rising din of citizen protest and negative publicity threatening Georgia with yet another black eye. No other state, many much harder hit with budget problems than Georgia, has ended citizen access to their historical documents, foundational laws, museum-caliber artifacts, property/deed records and so forth. Much less, in the larger share of what the archives do, quit tending to the preservation and protection of the reams of new such materials piling into such places every day.
In reality, of course, all Deal did was give back $125,000 of a $733,000 budget slash not yet implemented in order to keep the archives open until June 30, 2013 to the public 17 hours a week on two days — as now, and a pretty miserable availability to begin with, but better than “appointment only.” Basically this is not new money added to the archives, only less taken away. It doubtless will be made up elsewhere in the budget trimming with some other department additionally victimized. No “real money” was involved and five of the last 10 remaining archives personnel are being terminated anyway. Two more will stay on, making five left instead of the previously planned three. That is largely to man the information counter it is presumed. It is there, and paying added light bills, where most of the money transfer goes.
It’s sure not enough to restore the archives to intended and previous functionality. According to Dianne Cannestra, president of the Friends of the Georgia Archives, that would take $5.4 million. Before being moved from downtown Atlanta to a new $19 million building in Morrow, doing all the cataloging, preservation, dealing with the public took a staff of about 80. When Deal took office it was already down to about 40. Now, until next July 1 at least, it will be five — with one of them the maintenance person.
SO, FOR THE MOMENT, it is the old gimmick of making things look bigger with mirrors. More long range Deal well may have done the archives an immense favor — although even that is a “gift” bearing close public examination. The governor says he plans to ask the General Assembly to transfer the Georgia Archives from the supervision of the office of the secretary of state to the University System of Georgia. At that point, the budget, staffing and policies of the archives would be controlled by the regents.
It is easy to grasp that this would be a far more hospitable and informed environment for the Georgia Archives than being at the mercy of the whims of elected politicians. Indeed, this would be an extension of a trend already visible where things involving the state’s cultural or intellectual life are put into the hands of those who actually know what both terms mean. That’s no rap against the executive and legislative branches of government; it’s just acknowledging their interests and focus are on law/order, economics and similar.
Indeed, the state’s libraries are already under direction of the university system. When the state last year decided it couldn’t afford the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and shut it down, guess who got all the contents/artifacts from the museum to put into storage? The university system. Indeed, colleges and universities actually teach stuff like art, music, literature, history. The legislators and bureaucracy concern themselves about other things.
Deal made it very plain that, with legislative approval, it will then be entirely up to the university system what to do with the Georgia Archives operation, which besides public access has many, many functions and costs related to keeping track of what all governments in Georgia — local, county and state — have been doing and preserving their records, which are the property of the people.
THERE’S LITTLE doubt but that this will help the standing and funding of the Georgia Archives greatly. Morrow is already this part of the country’s center for archival research. Not only is the state facility there but also right next door is the Southeast branch of the National Archives, a configuration that is deliberate, provides considerable “tourism” to that community and explains why Clayton State University in that city — a part of the state university system — provides one of the South’s few master degree programs in archival studies.
As of next July 1, whoever is inside the Georgia Archives working will be faculty, university personnel and graduate assistants.
And they’ll be comparatively, but not entirely, free of political whims and budgetary fire drills.
Most Georgians to not realize that to considerable extent their state has four branches of government. Besides the usual executive, legislative and judicial found elsewhere, it also has university. This goes back to 1941 when Eugene Talmadge was governor and sought to make the University of Georgia over in his rednecked image: eliminating what little integration then existed, wanting to fire all foreign-born professors and so forth. This resulted in UGA losing all accreditation, including in medicine and law, and its enrollment plunging by 37 percent.
As a result the state Constitution was changed to give the regents autonomy over the system’s fate … and what has now grown to be a $7 billion budget.
That doesn’t mean there’s no state fiddling. The governor appoints the regents, though for terms of seven years meaning they might be around longer than he is but also tend to — horrors! — be college graduates who think for themselves. The General Assembly can raise/lower state monetary assistance (the trend has been a steady lowering for quite a while) although the regents can balance this out by increasing tuition, fees and other incomes over which only they have control.
AND THEREIN lies the most interesting aspect of a planned change in authority over the Georgia Archives, which will certainly be good for this important resource but perhaps bad for the university budget, which this year alone has seen it forced by state-level reductions to first raise tuitions and, second, pick what to downgrade in staffing and operations (the farm agents being the current choice as of lesser value).
As more and more former state-funded functions in things educational, cultural, intellectual and so forth are moved over to be paid for by this fourth branch of government, pressures on it increase. And lessen on the state’s political element, which now can concentrate funding more on items it prefers and increasingly claim larger and larger pieces of its main revenue pies — income and sales taxes.
This, in the process, puts not only more pressure on tuition, at a time when the HOPE scholarships are already failing to keep pace, but increasingly makes the lottery itself more of a primary revenue source for higher education, libraries, archives and all such things. Remember, the people told the General Assembly in a constitutional vote that lottery proceeds could only go to … education. To keep enough money available to fund its related operations, like libraries and archives, the regents would just shift dollars around ... and raise tuition.
When considering that Deal just pretty much ordered the supposedly independent lottery board to hire his budget director as the new gaming czar, that opens some interesting cracks into seeing what might come next.
The university system is going to constantly need more money, and may well not be finished yet in being “given” additional functions that the governor’s mansion/Golden Dome types want to shed to give themselves more spending room. It can be made up from tuition only to the extent that the lottery brings in ever-growing heaps of profits to pay for that very same tuition/fees. Budget directors do not buy a Lotto ticket to balance their budget.
WHILE THE LOTTERY has been growing in play and state winnings pretty much every year, it hasn’t been enough to keep pace with the political budget juggling demand — keeping pace with the possible student demand is not the true problem.
With a bottom-line type rather than a gaming whiz in charge, don’t be surprised to see future moves to add to the income stream. Casinos and racetracks are no more impossible to have appear than, say, alcohol sales on Sunday.
Perhaps one day in the future your children — not your grandchildren — can study the paper trail of how this came to be by researching documents to be found in … the Georgia Archives.