Anthem Inc., the parent of Blue Shield insurance, will bring 1,800 jobs to Atlanta and invest $20 million in the half-vacant Bank of America tower in Midtown.
That's the same Anthem that threatened to pull out of Obamacare markets when the federal government sought to block its merger with Cigna. The Anthem whose Blue Shield of Georgia's huge premium increase caught the attention of Fox News.
Anthem told the feds that if the merger is approved, the company might stay in the Obamacare exchanges. It claims huge Obamacare losses but can spend $20 million to convert the Bank of America tower, once heralded as Atlanta's business icon, into an app-development center, so that customers can find it easier to learn about their rising premiums.
Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed attended the Anthem press conference. Deal with a straight face called Atlanta "the Silicon Valley of the South," citing the city's growing roster of health IT companies.
Silicon Valley companies develop out of their own resources, making startup plans and raising venture capital and inventing new products.
Under GOP business development plans, Anthem and other mature corporations receive Georgia tax breaks for each job created. Unlike innovative Silicon Valley startups, Anthem's a long-established company that seeks to limit its risks.
How the number of jobs created is determined was not disclosed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or if the state monitors if a company's number of promised jobs is ever realized.
Deal also cited Atlanta's "educated work force." The Anthem IT center at the Bank of America tower will be close to the company's innovation center at Georgia Tech's high-tech square.
While Georgia Tech and other universities turn out sophisticated high-tech workers, many of the city of Atlanta's K-12 public schools show up on the state's failing schools list. Deal's Opportunity School District plan would allow the state to take over these schools, fire their principals and teachers, convert them to charter schools.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and other business groups back the constitutional amendment. That's the same chamber of commerce that years ago backed the hiring of the late APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, who instigated a nationally embarrassing test cheating scandal. The Metro Atlanta Chamber's years-long effort to improve APS schools has come to naught.
Despite all the attention the Atlanta school district receives, it's the smallest in the metro area, and the only one that's failing, at least on the Southside. In Buckhead and other Northiside communities, the city elementaries thrive, although many families bail out before middle school and high school. Those Northsiders often get free rides at Georgia and Georgia Tech, while those poverty-stricken Southsiders often drop out before graduating high school.
Reed, who once threatened to take over the city schools, opposes the opportunity school district plan, which would allow Deal to appoint an administrator separate from the elected state school superintendent. Other Democrats crossed party lines to vote for the Opportunity School District when it passed the Legislature. The Republicans needed the Democrats' support because even with the GOP's blatant gerrymandering, it has not yet won a "supermajority" in the state House and Senate.
State teachers, school boards and PTAs also oppose the amendment. The National Education Association is paying for TV ads opposing what it calls a blatant power grab by Deal. Opponents of the plan say persistent poverty causes failing schools. Deal blames school boards for not allowing enough "school choice."
The last couple of years, Deal has scraped together enough money to give teachers meager raises, although some school boards have not followed through, as the AJC reported. Deal has also found money to close the gap in minimum funding for local school district. Nearing the final year of administration, Deal wants to change the formula for how the state passes along funds to local schools.
Business groups, including charter school companies, are funding ads supporting the Opportunity School District, based on the Louisiana model that allowed the state to take over New Orleans schools ravaged by Katrina. The ads include a pensive Deal, who speaks of his concern for kids mired in poverty.
That's the same Deal who's refused to extend Medicaid in Georgia, forcing lower-class citizens to have to buy from Anthem's Blue Shield if they want health insurance. Deal claims the state can't afford the Medicaid extension, although the feds would have funded it. The state can handle corporate tax breaks however.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution refuses to take a stand on the vital Opportunity School plan. The once courageous newspaper fears losing even more subscriptions and ads if it upsets suburban Republicans. As its print newspaper shrinks, the AJC's poorly organized AJC.com web site cuts off readers after five articles and is clumsy to navigate.
Trying to connect all of the dots makes me think of the Blood, Sweat and Tears song, "Spinning Wheel.."
"What goes up must come down
Spinning wheel got to go round,
Talking 'bout your troubles it's a cryin' sin
Ride a painted pony let the spinning' wheel spin."