Friday, November 30, 2007

I just got off the phone with Sen. Brown

As usual, state Sen. Robert Brown didn't want to talk about his health, and he didn't want to meet in person, but he sounded quite strong over the telephone.

He didn't share much politically, either, but said he's not sold on the speaker's tax plan and his office is working on legislation aimed at water conservation, but it's not ready yet.

The Q&A will be in one of the weekend editions of the paper if your interested.

Chambliss, the FEC and dead people.

Tom Crawford over at Capitol Impact has the full story (subscription or free trial required), but U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss' campaign got a letter from the Federal Elections Commission questioning some of his contributions.

The FEC is concerned that the campaign may have exceeded per-person and per-group maximums. The Chambliss campaign says that's not the case, that it's a routine matter of different people with the same names giving donations, and donations needing to be "reattributed" to the general or primary elections.

There are maximums for both, but you can give that maximum during both the general and the primary.

Anyway, the campaign has until Dec. 17 to respond to the FEC and avoid an audit, which campaign spokesman Justin Tomczak says it will do.

The Capitol Impact article also has some interesting analysis of the Senate race itself, so I recommend reading the full article. You can get a free week's trial if you're not ready to subscribe.

Also, it's proved hard to verify independently, but back when he was running for the U.S. House of Representatives, Chambliss apparently got a donation or donations from a deceased person. Nothing illegal about that: You're allowed to will future contributions to political candidates. Just thought it was interesting.

I picked that up in this USA Today article and this chart.

But it's such a broad period, and so little information is given in the chart, that I haven't been able to find the actual donor.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Roth... he played this one beautifully.

Insider Advantage has the scoop: The Speaker is laying out what seems to be a major compromise on his tax plan. The details:
* It will be phased-in over time, beginning first with an effort to eliminate the school property tax on homesteads and the car tag tax which all Georgians must pay on their birthdays.

* To make up for the $2 billion in “lost” revenue, the sales tax would be broadened to embrace services that are not now taxed. However, the broadened tax would only apply to consumer services. There would be no new taxes on business transactions because there would be no property tax cut for businesses.

* Finally, cities and counties, which would continue to have the power to levy property taxes, would see new restrictions on their taxing and spending powers. Property tax assessments could rise no more than 1 percent per year. Local spending would be capped at the inflation rate plus 1 percent.

First: Eliminating school taxes on homesteads means you wouldn't pay school taxes on your primary home. So you'd still pay them on other properties, and businesses would pay them, too. And you'd still pay city and county taxes on your primary home.

Democrats have been all about increasing this homestead exemption in the past, so I wonder what they think of this.

Second: As always, what I don't know could fill a warehouse, but it seems to me like Speaker Richardson just got rid of a lot of the things people oppose about his plan. Or at least delayed them. Things are so much easier to do in little bites.

I imagine local governments will still have issues with the cap. Some have tried to impose a similar cap on state government here in the past, which other legislators have opposed, saying it's dangerous to set limits like that because emergency needs arise.

County commissioners, etc., will probably make the same argument. I wonder if they might be placated, though, if the state allows local governments to spend SPLOST dollars on day-to-day government instead of just capital improvements.

It will be interesting to see what the school board folks think of this tomorrow (see below), since they'd still have control over some property taxes, but would have a larger state source for funding, too. This could be some fantastic timing by the speaker.

UPDATE: I spoke to Dublin state Rep. DuBose Porter, the Minority Leader in the House, about this new development:
"Until you see the enabling legislation it's hard to tell what this does. The plan that Democrats have had was to start off-setting the ad valorem taxes... on your personal residence. And certainly that's the part that's appealing to us. The rest of it we would just have to see before we would know."

Rep. Porter said he's not sat down with the speaker to discuss the tax plan. As for the Democratic tax proposal that was promised the other day (according to the Political Insiders) that will be revealed "right before the session," Porter said.

"There's no question that some tax reform needs to be done," he said.

UPDATE 2: I don't want to steal too much from Insider Advantage (please read their whole story), but I want to call attention to this quote from the speaker:
“When we have had a year or operations of that, if the money is coming in in sufficient quantities, then we can look at doing other things like eliminating all property taxes for all homesteads (removing the city and county tax levy), or removing education taxes for all properties (including business, commercial and rental property).”

There's that word homesteads again. This shift to just giving the tax break on a person's primary home makes a huge dent in any arguments that this plan will benefit rich property owners at the middle class' expense.

Any questions? Yes. Mr. Speaker, why do you hate school children? Oh, and thanks for coming.

There are more than a few days I wish I was a member of the Capitol press corps. Tomorrow will be one of them. From the speaker's office:
ATLANTA – Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) will address the Georgia School Board Association’s Winter Conference on FRIDAY, November 30, 2007 at 3:45 PM at the Hotel Renaissance Waverly in Atlanta, Georgia. The Speaker will present his GREAT Plan for Georgia, a proposal to eliminate all ad valorem taxes.

You gotta love the speaker. Later in the day he'll be discussing gun control with the NRA. Then he heads to Georgia tech for a speech on fair play and excellence.

Last night's debate

I watched most of the Republican youtube debate last night. The questions and answers, on video of course, are here.

If you prefer, CNN has a written transcript up, too.

I really liked the way Sen. John McCain answered question 15: How many guns do you own?

The other candidates, given a chance to respond, did their best to come off as gun lovers. McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, gave this answer:

"For a long time I used a lot of guns. ... I don't own one now."

What does that say, you think?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Taxes! Soon the Dems will weigh in.

The Political Insiders tell us that the House Democratic Caucus got together in Atlanta today. I thought I smelled patchouli.

Anyway:
Fifty-five of 73 lawmakers showed up — an impressive fraction. The speaker’s bid to do away with all property taxes took up much of the conversation — and we were told after the fact that House Democrats will offer up a counter-proposal sometime before the Legislature convenes in January.

Since I'm so smart, I'll take a stab at what that will be. Please note, this isn't reporting, it's guessing.

First: The timing. If it's going to be before January, it's got to be soon. You can't compete with Christmas. I'll say Dec. 13.
UPDATE: Strike one. Rep. Porter says it will be just before the session.

I'm thinking the proposal will include a sizable increase in the state's homestead exemption - maybe even enough so residents won't pay property taxes at all on their primary home. Chances are they'll also call for an end to austerity cuts for school systems, too.

You may also see the Dems pick and choose from among the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute's recommendations, some of which are already in line with the speaker's plan, some of which aren't. Those include:

- Doing away with various sales tax exemptions.
- Expanding the sales tax base by including services. (That could give you a BIG chunk of funding for schools.)
- Increase cigarette taxes.
- Create a state earned income tax credit similar to the federal one to reduce taxes for the working poor.
- Modernize tax brackets and rates, which the GBPI says have not changed significantly since the 1930s.
- Adjust income tax for inflation, allowing personal tax exemptions to keep pace with the economy.
- Insert a "property tax circuit breaker," which would cap the amount a person can pay in property taxes based on income. For example, property taxes could be capped at 5 percent of a homeowner's income, with the state making up the rest through an income tax refund.
- Close corporate tax loopholes.
- Re-implement the estate tax.

How problems in the state mental system can affect you

Even if there's no one in your family with a mental illness, or if you have plenty of money to get them treatment, imagine this:

You have a heart attack. You're headed to the emergency room, but when you get there, there's a problem. It's been evacuated because a deranged 21 year old set fire to it while awaiting a transfer to a mental facility that won't take him because it's over crowded.

As The AJC reports, it ain't far-fetched:
The average ER wait for a mentally ill patient at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale has increased from 20 hours in 2006 to 29 hours this year, Patricia Ryding, a Southern Regional administrator, told commission members. In the past four months, the waits have averaged 34 hours, she said.

One violent, agitated 7-year-old girl waited at Southern Regional for about 24 hours before being sent to Central State Hospital, a state-run facility in Milledgeville. The mental hospital denied admission for the girl even though Southern Regional doctors determined she met medical criteria for a psychiatric stay, Ryding said. The girl was sent back to Southern Regional.

And this month, a violent 21-year-old man waiting for a transfer set a fire in a room in Southern Regional's emergency department, forcing an evacuation, Ryding said.

Relax, sir. We're just going to fingerprint your brain.

State Sen. Cecil Staton, the most powerful and popular Middle Georgia politician according to the world's most scientific measurement, has brought a Senate committee down to Jones County today to discuss Brain Fingerprinting.

No, really.

As goofy as the name sounds, if half the stuff on the company's Web site is true, this could actually be a crime-solving tool. And apparently the Iowa Supreme Court accepted this technology, to some extent, in over-turning a conviction.

Apparently:
Brain Fingerprinting testing is a scientific technique to determine whether or not specific information is stored in an individual's brain. We do this by measuring brain-wave responses to words, phrases, sounds or pictures presented by a computer. We present details about a crime, training or other types of specific knowledge, mixed in a sequence with other, irrelevant items. We use details that the person being tested would have encountered in the course of committing a crime, but that an innocent person would have no way of knowing. We can tell by the brainwave response if a person recognizes the stimulus or not. If the suspect recognizes the details of the crime, this indicates that he has a record of the crime stored in his brain.

OK, sure. For all I know this technology is going to become the biggest thing in crime fighting since, well, finger fingerprinting. But surely the guys behind it can come up with a name that doesn't sound like the basis for a bad Philip K. Dick story.

Jones County Civic Center Board Room at 161 West Clinton St. in Gray, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. if you want to stop by.

I'll probably call Sen. Staton and ask him what they decided. All jokes aside, he's a serious man who will probably have some well thought out comments on this issue.

UPDATE: Spoke to Sen. Staton. He said the technology is pretty interesting, but "we're just looking at it."

He said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is "not too thrilled about it," which I would take as meaning there's not much chance for this moving forward unless they change their minds.

"They're saying they're happy with DNA and polygraph. ... They want a lot more study to be done," Staton said.

But apparently Dr. Larry Farwell, the inventor, told the panel that he is in negotiations with the federal government to use this technology in anti-terrorism investigations, so keep an eye out for national news if that goes through.

By the way, in response to Vic's comments on this post, I ran Dr. Farwell through the Georgia State Ethics Commission Web site. It doesn't look like Farwell has donated any money to state Sen. John Douglas, who is chairing this study committee, or to Sen. Staton. I also did a word search in their contribution disclosures for "Seattle," which is where the company is based, and didn't come up with anything.

As for Vic's other concerns, I'll leave those for another day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Taxes!

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation has put out an op/ed on the Speaker's tax reform plan:
Like love and marriage, tax and spending go together like the proverbial horse and carriage. Absent spending controls, any major “reform” proposal in Georgia’s tax code – particularly a shift in revenues among different levels of government – becomes a masquerade that would increase the size of government. The American tradition of limited government cries out that you can’t have one without the other: Fiscal reform requires spending controls and transparency.

And about 6 minutes before I got that email, I got one from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (a similar government think-tank) announcing the grand finale, so to speak, of their tax "reality check" tour. The details are here.

Last chance to be heard on Georgia Power rate increase

Though I have no idea how much listening to the public the PSC does on stuff like this, I didn't want this to be lost in the shuffle:
The Georgia Public Service Commission will hold its third and final scheduled round of hearings Thursday on Georgia Power Co.'s request to increase its base electric rates.

The hearings resume at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, and 10 a.m. Friday, and, if needed, 10 a.m. Monday, according to a news release.

The hearings will be held in room 110 at 244 Washington St., S.W. in Atlanta. Public witnesses will be heard first, followed by the company's rebuttal testimony, the release stated.

Georgia Power filed its request June 29 with the commission seeking a $406 million rate increase for 2008, which would add $6.67 to the typical household's average $84.55 monthly bill, the release stated.

The company also requested additional rate increases for 2009 and 2010.

The Grady meltdown

Man, and I thought Macon was messed up.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On Iraq

I spoke with Sen. Saxby Chambliss today about his recent trip to Iraq. He held a conference call, but since he was in Macon I sat in the room as he spoke. It'll be in tomorrow's paper, but here's the top of the story:
The situation in Iraq remains difficult, but the surge strategy is working, and "virtually every part of Iraq today, it has returned to some sense of normalcy," U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said Monday, fresh from a Thanksgiving holiday trip to Iraq.

A lack of political progress in the country remains frustrating, but there are encouraging signs that major leaps forward are coming soon, Chambliss said. The Georgia Republican, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi have promised to pass legislation calling for new provisional elections as well as de-baathification reforms that would loosen restrictions now barring former Baath Party supporters of Saddam Hussein from holding government positions.

Both pieces of legislation are seen as key to calming what has been a very tense political situation. But those promises didn't come without "strong messaging," Chambliss said, from the American delegation, which included Arizona Sen. John McCain and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"Time will tell," Chambliss said. "They have committed to do everything that they can to see that both of these pieces of legislation are passed by the end of this calander year. Will that happen? I can't guarantee that. But they were more forthright and more positive about the political side than I've seen in any of my previous visits."

If it doesn't happen by January, Chambliss said he expects "a strong message coming out of Congress that it's time for a change in the (Maliki) administration."

As for American troop levels, Chambliss said the goal is to "be at pre-surge levels by July 1 of next year." Currently there are about 162,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense's Web site. The Associated Press puts the pre-surge number between 130,000 and 135,000 troops.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top American general in Iraq, is due to make another report to Congress in March. Future policies will follow, keyed to political developments, Chambliss said. At any rate, America is likely to have some sort of military presence in Iraq "for some time to come," Chambliss said.

"I think it's hard to say what the presence may be. ..." he said. "We're sitll in Germany. We're still in Korea. ... I would hope it would be a minimal number, but whether a minimal number is 25,0000 or 50,000, I think it's just very difficult to say at this point."

Nothing says "we're going to be here a while" like referencing Korea. Or building a 104 acre embassy with it's own pool and food court.

Chambliss' comments on the Maliki meeting were similar to Sen. McCain's. And his comments on street-level safety improvements echoed U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall's sentiment following his own Thanksgiving trip to the region.

They are also backed up by this excellent New York Times story about a family returning home to Baghdad. It includes both good news:
The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. ... for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city.

... and reminders that everything is relative:
Mrs. Aasan sent Abather to get water from a tank below their apartment. Delaying as boys will do, he followed his soccer ball into the street, where he discovered two dead bodies with their eyeballs torn out. It was not the first corpse he had seen.

I didn't include it in the article because I didn't collect enough info, but Chambliss said Blackwater has handled his security detail on at least some of his six trips to Iraq.
"My experience with them has been very good. ..." he said. "I have no idea about the incidences that they've been implicated in."

It's frustrating to write these stories. When you have to look up how to spell "Maliki," that's a pretty good indication that you have no business writing about the situation in Iraq.

In fact, until I'm standing in Iraq, I probably have no business writing about Iraq. Which, in and of itself, probably justifies the trips members of Congress take over there.

You wonder what the motivation is when a politician's press people call newspapers around the state, as both Chambliss' and U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall's folks did, to make sure people know their bosses went to the Middle East for Thanksgiving. But there is no substitute for seeing something with your own eyes.

Still, something tells me that Jim Marshall serving up turkey and dressing on an air craft carrier is unlikely to win the war on terror. And that Saxby Chambliss' experience in the streets of Baghdad is quite different from an American soldier's, or an Iraqi citizen's.

For the record, so did I

So Sen. Barack Obama smoked some pot as a kid, and yet still managed to become a U.S. Senator and run for president. Shocking.

But what interests me about this story isn't Obama's admission, it's former Gov. Mitt Romney's response:

On the campaign trail on Saturday, GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney said Obama's earlier comments set a bad example for young people.

"I agree with the sentiment that nobody's perfect and most of us, if not all of us, in our youthful years have engaged in various indiscretions we wouldn't want to have paraded in the front of a newspaper," the former Massachusetts governor said in New Hampshire. "On the other hand if we're running for president, I think it's important for us not to go into details about the weaknesses and our own failings as young people for the concern that we open kids thinking that it's ok for them."

I've got news for you, kids: It is OK to have weaknesses and failings, though I'll let others opine whether occasional drug use counts as either. In fact, it's pretty much required. The trick is to overcome them, and keep over coming them, because you're going to have them as adults, too.

Keeping them to yourself is unlikely to help others, though it might help your political career. But, then, so might lying.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Being thankful for free speech... sort of

I take free speech for granted. I spend almost no time thinking about it, or appreciating it, or wondering what it would be like to be thrown in jail for opening my mouth.

And I open it. A lot.

It is amazing to me that free speech is attacked the world over. Why would anyone want to oppress their fellow man? It's like trying to hold back the tide, except of course the tide doesn't bleed when you shoot it.

God bless the men and women who know that rights are never granted. They are claimed, too often with deadly consequence.

I hope for the day when we can all take free speech for granted.

Iraq contracts and impossible "facts"

Since I'm surely the only person who has discovered Yahoo! News...

The investigation into war contracts is underway:
The U.S. military and prosecutors have launched 83 criminal investigations into alleged contract fraud, including a total of $15 million in bribes.

$15 million in bribes. Wow. Greed is an ugly thing.

Also, where do "scientists" come up with stuff like this:
Overall, scientists say only about 10 percent of the species of life on this planet have been seen or catalogued.

If you care about new species of sea anenomes that can walk the ocean floor, the full story is here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Definitely not sour grapes

Bluestein has the latest on the transgender/voter fraud case in Riverdale. Seriously, how can you not follow it?

My favorite part of the story, from third-place finisher, and election fraud accuser:
(Georgia) Fuller did not return calls seeking comment, but her attorney said that voters in Riverdale tend to favor female candidates - particularly if they are incumbents.

"It gives her an unfair advantage," said Michael King, the attorney who filed the lawsuit. "It's not just sour grapes. The people need to know whether the election is fair."

Which is better: not commenting for yourself, or having your attorney promise you're not a sore loser?

Mud bottom

This is absolutely amazing:
At 9 p.m. Monday, the lake level had fallen to 1,052.64 feet, the lowest level since the Chattahoochee River was dammed up and the lake was filled almost 50 years ago, according to the corps.

I know there's a serious drought, but we should have done better. We should have seen this coming and acted faster.

And "we" means state, local and federal governments, the media, the people and those freaking mussels down in Florida.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BLLIP

Did you know you can sift through an online database of state owned land, property and leases?

It's called the Building, Land & Lease Inventory of Property.

I'm having some trouble getting the actual leases and deeds to pop up on my computer, but I think that's because I need to download a plug-in.

That sounds like a you problem

And all of a sudden I didn't care about taxes or water:

Election challenged, transgender person accused of fraud for running as a woman.

Now THAT's political news. But I can't help but wonder - what does it say about the losing candidate bringing this complaint, that she couldn't beat out a transgender candidate in a local election in the south? In fact she placed third.

Maybe the people of Riverdale are some of the least judgemental folks in the world.

The article I linked doesn't make it clear, but only one of the two candidates filing the complaint, Georgia R. Fuller, ran against the transgendered candidate. The AJC has election results from the race posted online.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Text books for water

Here in The Telegraph newsroom we have just solved two of the state's biggest political problems. Wasn't really that hard, either.

1. Metro Atlanta agrees to use its sales tax revenue to pay for rural school systems, making up the funding disparity at the heart of the lawsuit brought by the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia.

2. In return, south Georgia sends all of its water to Atlanta.

Crack political reporter Matt Barnwell even boiled the program down to a bumper sticker: Text books for water.

Stop the presses, I agree with Bill Shipp.

Sort of. And I was a lot nicer to the speaker when I said it. Of course, Shipp is the dean of state political reporting, and I'm basically some jack--- with one session under my belt.

Mr. Shipp today, on the speaker's tax plan:
You may ask how dumping Romeo's GREAT tax plan would help and honor the speaker. Think about it. Glenn would walk away from such a defeat as a martyr. I can see the news now: The man who tried to kill property taxes is cut down by his treacherous colleagues. The brave soul who tried to defy the status quo is left beaten and bloody. Of course, Glenn would rise up bigger than ever and return to the political scene by popular demand. As a candidate for governor, he would never let voters or his opponents forget: "I tried to lower your taxes, and they wouldn't let me. Elect me governor, and I promise to wipe out the evil property tax."

Me on Sept. 12:
If this thing passes, the speaker has pushed through the most sweeping statewide reform since, what, desegregation? If it fails, that's almost better. He gets to say he tried. Of course, if it succeeds and everything goes haywire he's got trouble. But at this point I'd say it's got a long way to go to pass.

Anyway, "I tried my best" is not a bad platform for a Republican to run for governor on. Though, personally, I don't think the speaker will run for governor, choosing instead to become a long-lived speaker and avoid the microscope that comes with a statewide campaign.

For the record, I still don't think Richardson runs for governor in 2010. But what I don't know could still fill a warehouse.

Also, for those that read Shipp's full column, Constitutional referendums aren't subject to a governor's veto. Made the same mistake myself a while back.

For the physics challenged

I raised an eyebrow when Gov. Sonny Perdue said Atlanta's growth had nothing to do with Atlanta's water shortages, though he later recanted that to an extent at the recent pray-for-rain service.

Apparently Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson said much the same thing to Creative Loafing last week.

Seriously, folks, there are few truths in this world. But until someone rocks my world by throwing out that whole "matter can neither be created nor destroyed" concept, this will remain one of them: more use + same or less supply = eventual shortage.

Politicians might lie to you, but math never will.

Virtual hat-tip on this goes to griftdrift.

UPDATE: From Bert Brantley, in the governor's press office, who gets all numbery on me:
I don't think anyone is saying that consumption is not part of the issue, that's why we are doing all the things we are doing to encourage conservation. But, when you look at the numbers, there is no way you can blame "out of control" Atlanta growth for draining Lake Lanier.

Every day, the Metro Atlanta region consumes a total of 540 cfs (cubic feet per second), which includes water from all the different sources in the metro area. Just over half of that (275 cfs), is directly withdrawn from the Chattahoochee River, which has Lake Lanier as its headwaters. In order to achieve the 5,000 cfs daily goal at the Woodruff Dam (at Lake Seminole), the Corps of Engineers must release enough water at the Buford Dam (at Lake Lanier) to account for the uses downstream and the
needs of the Florida mussels. The releases vary every day, depending on a lot of different factors (mainly inflows into the basin, i.e. rain).

There are times when the releases are as low as 1000 cfs, though that is pretty rare in these days of little rain. The high mark this year was last week, when on the 14th and 15th they released 4066 cfs and 4061 cfs respectively. The usual amounts are in the 3000 cfs to 3500 range cfs when we are not getting rain anywhere in the basin.

So, if Atlanta did not exist and did not consume one drop of water, the amount released from Lanier would only be a fraction less than what is needed for other downstream needs. So, that's why when the Governor is asked if Atlanta's growth has drained Lake Lanier, he answers that other factors are clearly more to blame than the region's consumption.

Round house kicking an election

This pretty much had to be posted:

The Political Insiders hipped me to the Mike Huckabee ad we all should have seen coming.

Looking around this morning

PeachCare: Really, again?

Pettys on taxes and context.

My story on the speaker's tax plan and numbers.
My advice on this one: Just forget about the numbers. Decide what you think about the philosophy behind the tax plan, about what should and shouldn't be taxed, and how this plan will affect you. Then either run every legislator who votes for it out of town if it doesn't work, or build them a monument if it does.

Friday, November 16, 2007

OK. I'm sorry I ever said anything bad about Oprah

Anyone who drinks vodka cranberries, eats fried alligator and gives cookies to school children is OK with me.

Ricidulous, exhaustive Oprah-is-in-Macon coverage.

"Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon.

I flipped between the Democratic debate and the Oregon-Arizona game last night. And of course there were an awful lot of foreign policy questions at the debate.

And I came back to something I've wondered often: How come, in this allegedly Christian country, I seldom, if ever, hear politicians invoking The Golden Rule?

Is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" reasonable policy for a nation state?

Or is humanity so base that "fight the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them over here" is really the better policy?

And which one is the self-fulfilling prophecy?

We're all trying to do as we should,
but that doesn't always rhyme with doing just what feels good.

- Widespread Panic

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. And so on.
Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

- Kurt Vonnegut, 2004

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Candidates to Vote Smart: Stick it.

Project Vote Smart's Political Courage Test results are up, and basically everyone you've heard of declined to participate, or they're answers are "pending," with the exception of John Edwards.

Well, I take that back. I'd heard of Chris Dodd.

The idea was to ask them questions they wouldn't want to answer and see if they have the courage to answer. The questions look pretty reasonable to me. An example from Edwards' response:
Discuss your proposals for Iraq.
There is no military solution to Iraq; we need a political solution. All of the parties in Iraq need to take responsibility for their country, and that will only happen when American troops are really leaving. We should immediately withdraw 40,000 to 50,000 combat troops and bring home the rest in nine or ten months. We need a diplomatic offensive involving all regional parties, including Iran and Syria. As we withdraw our combat troops, we will most likely need quick reaction forces across the border to prevent genocide, regional spillover of a civil war, or an al Qaeda safe haven.

I found this interesting, though: Apparently there are like a million people who have announced a run for president of the United States. Something tells me, though, that Jackson Kirk Grimes of United Fascist Union faces an uphill battle.

His picture is not to be missed. Hard to believe he's single.

HOLY #$@% #$%$%#!

EDIT: As a matter of fact, I am a moron. Scherer was mis-spelled. Thanks to the commenter for correcting me. As for the rest of the comments, I can't vouch for them, but I suggest everyone read them.
---
Sorry for all the cussing today, but you wanna talk about a sentence that just hits you in the face:
China, South Africa and India host the world's five dirtiest utility companies in terms of global warming pollution, according to the first-ever worldwide database of power plants' carbon dioxide emissions, while a single Southern Co. plant in Juliette, Ga., emits more annually than Brazil's entire power sector.

That would be Georgia Power's Plant Scherer, which is just north of Macon.

The story's from The Washington Post. Thanks to Neill Herring for sending it my way.

UPDATE: From Jeff Wilson, a Georgia Power spokesman:
Plant Scherer emits more carbon dioxide than any power plant in the U.S. because it's the single largest coal fired plant in the U.S. The more coal fired generation there is, the more CO2 that would be emitted. There's currently no industry technology that will reduce carbon dioxide, but we're continuing to look for technologies that will do just that. ... Coal generation is one of the cheapest sources of electricity.

We're going to invest $2 billion in the next 3 year (statewide)... to install additional environmental controls.

A little analysis

I went to Atlanta Tuesday for a legislative preview jaw session put on by The American Constitution Society. That's a liberal/ progressive/hippie/commie group of lawyers that serves as a "bookend," as one member put it, to the Federalist Society.

The Federalist Society is a conservative/traditional/ hard-hearted/fascist group of lawyers on the other end of the Republican spectrum. Don't we all love labels.

I always learn something when I go to these things. State Sen. David Adelman, state Sen. Kasim Reed, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver and Jim Galloway, the AJC's senior man on state politics and one of The Political Insiders, were all on the panel.

Obviously, the Speaker of the House's GREAT plan was a big topic of discussion, and Reed predicted that "everything is going to be thrown under the bus of (HR) 900." Adelman said he doesn't expect the resolution to make it to the floor of the Senate, and that "at a minimum" it will be held there for further debate next year (2009).

Adelman also said something that I thought rang true about politics in general here in Georgia. Here in Georgia we "are governed through the lens of a Republican Primary," he said.

That means that, because of the way districts are drawn, Republican primaries decide many legislative seats with the Democrat having a real chance. So how issues will play in a Republican primary is really all that matters, politically, in some districts. Adelman noted that the GREAT plan "probably plays pretty well."

As for Democrats: "There will be very few Democrats who must vote for this and very few who must vote against this," Adelman said.

That's choice, and choice is power. It may allow Democrats to get a bread crumb or two if they allow the Speaker's proposal to move forward. Remember, that takes a two-thirds vote, which means some Democrats would have to back it, or the caucus could band together and block it.

Reed said this is how PeachCare legislation was allowed to move forward during this year's session - because the Speaker knew he needed Democrats to help him over-ride the governor's veto.

All very fascinating political analysis. Please remember, these folks are all Democrats, but I was told Republicans were invited. Not my fault they didn't show up.

Interestingly enough, Sen. Adelman, a founding member of the ACS, said the group grew out of the legal battles that followed the 2000 presidential election.

Attorneys for Gore, one of them being Adelman, were impressed with the organization shown by the Republican Party's legal team, he said. Turned out they had a networking group, so the further-to-the-left group organized one of their own.

I thank them for inviting me, feeding me and giving me a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. I like to keep a copy of the Constitution in my car, but that's a subject for another day.

Insider Advantage

I added Insider Advantage to the links box. More and more, I'm noticing that a lot of the stuff they used to make you pay for is free. If you're a political junkie, much of it is must-read, with good context about who's doing what and why.

Dick Pettys, who covered state government for The Associated Press for many years, writes most of it.

Also, just a quick word about what is, and isn't, in the links box. For the most part, it's what I read daily, with a couple of national political sites thrown in. But several blogs are left out because they're not based in Middle Georgia. There are a lot of good ones out there, so I tried to make that the line.

Mark me down as officially not giving a $&!% about Oprah

Seriously, I just don't care.

But I will say this: If she leaves Macon without writing a check, or agreeing to do a little fundraising for, or giving a little publicity to, the Tubman African American Museum, that's a failure on all of us here in Macon.

The Tubman is supposed to have one of the greatest collections of African American history artifacts in this country. They've been building that new building for what seems like forever. It could be a linchpin for the downtown museum district, and downtown in general. They need somewhere south of $10 million to finish it. This is the time.

Is that me stepping out of my position as a reporter and giving an opinion? You bet it is. Get it done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good. Very good.

After a too long absence, Macon's satirical voice is back.

And he made fun of Erick Erickson, which is always gold.

A new state department on water?

I probably won't have time today to flesh this out, but the Speaker caught my attention with this today:
ME: Beyond any reservoir plans, or increased capacity plans, are we going to see any legislation to require, for example, low flow toilets in new buildings? Or to replace that kind of stuff in state buildings? Are we going to see any conservation legislation this year?

RICHARDSON: I'm not going to pass legislation to tell people you've got to have a low-flow toilet. I'm quite convinced that all that causes is people to flush three times. ... I'm sure the makers of low-flow toilets would disagree with that. ... I certainly don't know how you tell people that they've got to do that. Because the next step is you're going to tell them how many times they can flush a day. The real problem is a much bigger problem of the scope of how we address water. We didn't address this (in the past). ... We can't wait until there's a drought to plan for water development. ... What we're going to do now has nothing to do with this drought. There is no way that we're going to make a difference if it doesn't start raining. But what we've got to do is prepare for the next one. And I think there are some conservation measures to be put in. I think we could change our policies on EPD, with wastewater treatment, to point discharge instead of sprayer irrigation. I think we can change some really basic things that have to do with leakage. ... you do realize that leakage in existing pipes is somewhere between 10 and 12 percent loss per day. Just leaking out of pipes. And that's a problem. ... I do see a possible piece of legislation in addition to the reservoir piece that might look into the viability of creating a water resource division to work with Environmental Protection Division. Clearly Environmental Protection Division has not done an adequate job of protecting Georgia's water resources over the last 10 or 15 years.

I know I heard our environmental reporter, Heather Duncan, talking with someone about the point discharge thing recently. Basically, the EPD's water plan seemed to suggest less support for land application (aka spray irrigation) than the department had in the past. But that language was eventually removed from the plan.

Obviously, point discharge (fancy name for dumping treated water into a creek) gets the water back where humans can use it faster, but it kind of doubles back on the idea that the ground will filter out impurities if you use land application (fancy term for spraying it on the ground and letting it percolate to the water table). It should be noted, though, you have to treat water to a higher standard with point discharge than is required for land application.

Also, in hindsight, I wish I hadn't used low-flush toilets as an example. In Australia they have half-flush toilets with two buttons: One for the full flush, one for the half. Makes so much sense that I really don't know why everyone doesn't use them.

Now this is just cool

Whoever thought this up is a public relations genius. From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue will host a celebration at the Governor’s Mansion for the Columbus Northern and Warner Robins American Little League teams that won the Little League World Series in 2006 and 2007, respectively, SATURDAY, November 17, 2007. The teams will play a friendly Wiffle Ball game on the front lawn of the Governor’s Mansion with equipment donated by the Atlanta Braves.

That is just brilliant. I am in awe at Sonny Perdue's ability to be awesome in matters that don't really matter at all, but are still pretty cool.

UPDATE: And a good p.r. move that really could matter:
ATLANTA—Governor Sonny Perdue announced today the Governor’s Water Conservation Contest, open to all students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. The contest is designed to encourage students to think creatively of ways to conserve water by designing a plan that promotes water conservation.

And then I got to the fine print (which was actually just written in normal sized print):
The plan should include a unique way for communities to conserve water. The implementation of the plan must cost less than $2,000 total to be considered.

I hope some kid comes up with an idea that revolutionizes water usage in this state, but it's cast aside because it would cost $2,500.

Growth, taxes, water and assumptions

In covering the Speaker's tax plan I've tried to ask, in a number of ways, this basic question: Why, when we're having such pressing water and traffic congestion issues, is tax reform geared toward producing economic and population growth the top priority?

Or, to put it another way, are we saying Georgia isn't growing enough? Really?

My point in the question is not that growth is bad, it's that I don't buy the assumption that growth is always good. Most politicians I've covered over the years have had that as a core philosophy. They say things like "If you're not growing, you're dying."

OK. That's catchy as hell, but can you back it up?

What I don't know could fill a warehouse, but Neill Herring, environmental lobbyist and mass-emailer extra-ordinaire, sent me this today. It's by a scientist named Russell England, for The Marrietta Daily Journal:
Georgia's population stands today at about 9.5 million.

If growth rates of the past dozen years are maintained, population will double to about 19 million in just 26 years (2033) and double again to 38 million by 2059.

From an ecological perspective, it is imperative that we stop state-sanctioned efforts to promote additional growth before we make some realistic attempt to determine what an optimum population might be.

I can't vouch for those numbers, though the current population figure is in line with census and other figures. And I don't think it's reasonable to expect the current growth rate to continue. But establishing an optimum population, not just for the state, but for areas of the state, sounds like a good idea.

New tax news from the Speaker

UPDATE: This puts the speaker's comments into a little bit clearer relief. It's from the audio of his pre-rotary club press conference today:
ME: Is there an end game you're willing to bring to a vote other than a complete repeal of property taxes?

RICHARDSON: I'm willing to reform the property tax system in Georgia. Our end-game is to reform property taxes. As to what that will be, I don't know. The will of the legislature will have to be seen. But I'm willing to listen to different ideas. One of the more amazing things that's come out of this process... is that counties and cities and schools will say that "Well, we admit that we need to have discussions about tax reform." ... And then there's this dead silence, where I say to them, "Well, tell me what you have proposed." ... I'm willing to listen and to get all ideas on the table and if we have to change the final product to give relief, then we're going to do that.

---
At least I think it's new. But first, a quote from Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's remarks to the Downtown Macon Rotary Club today: "Government is nothing more than you."

I used to say "Government is control of infrastructure and taxes." But I like his better.

EDIT: In the interest of space, I'm linking the full story here and excerpting. It's better written than yesterday's breaking version:
There may be more room for compromise on Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's tax proposal than he's indicated previously.

In Macon on Wednesday to pitch his tax reform plan, Richardson dropped several hints that he's willing to accept a final tax bill that falls short of wiping out local property taxes across the state and replacing them with an expanded sales tax on goods and services.

"I'm willing to reform the property tax system in Georgia," the speaker said when asked specifically about a compromise. "Our end-game is to reform property taxes. As to what that will be, I don't know. The will of the Legislature will have to be seen."

Bainbridge in a fog

Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson, who is in Macon today to talk about his tax plan, had to cancel a similar presentation in Bainbridge this morning. He was flying there, and there was too much fog to land, according to a prospective attendee and to his office.

Which led to this one liner, from Amy Henderson at the Georgia Municipal Association:
Afterwards, one guy said to me that this shows exactly what it would be like under the GREAT plan: Bainbridge seeking funds and the legislature in a fog, unable to locate the city.

A couple of presidential things

State Sen. Chip Rogers, who is Fred Thompson's Georgia campaign director reports the National Right to Life Committee has endorsed Thompson in his bid for the Republican nomination.

If I was a little smarter I'd be able to tell you how big of a deal that is. The Political Insiders discuss a caveat here.

Also, Project Vote Smart, is going to release something called the "Presidential Political Courage Test" Thursday. Could be interesting.

Project is always a good starting point when you want to learn about a candidate's position, though I always try to check the official Congressional records, too.

From their press release:
This comprehensive test of all Presidential candidates, examines each one’s willingness to provide citizens with issue positions on the concerns citizens most want them to deal with. A ten-year study of all presidential, congressional gubernatorial and state legislative candidates conducted by Vote Smart identified courage as the missing piece in candidates’ campaign strategies.

The Test asked all 202 presidential candidates, “Are you willing to tell citizens your positions on the issues you will most likely face on their behalf?” Those saying yes, were then asked to demonstrate that willingness by answering a few questions of obvious concern to the public which may not have been stamped as “safe” by campaign pollsters and consultants.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cardwell: A T.V. guy in a politician's suit

In the interest of equal time, and to move Vernon Jones off the top, Dale Cardwell was in Macon yesterday.

By the way, I'm going to be at a legislative preview session for the American Constitution Society, if anyone's interested. It's at the Faculty Library at Emory Law School, 6 p.m.

We probably won't talk about taxes or water at all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

That is eight kinds of awesome.

Check out what Vernon Jones' campaign theme song is.

Warning: It might make you tackle a wall.

Sonny Cash

I don't know, does this even need comment?

Gov. Sonny Perdue, at the Georgia game Saturday.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sorry, ma'am, but by order of Coach Richt, you've been blacked out.

To quote one of the AJC's fine legislative reporters last year:
"The governor could be having sex with the Lt. governor on the floor of the Senate right now, and I wouldn't write about it today."

Why is that relevant today?

Before the Auburn game in 1901, a sign hung in the Georgia locker room. It said "Beat Auburn or quit the game."

That game ended in a 0-0 tie.

Bradley's got a nice piece on the series history.

Also worth your time, this quiz on the series history.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"I always wanted to be a soldier."

I'm working on a Veterans Day package for Sunday's paper, so I've been interviewing a lot of soldiers lately. This afternoon I spoke to Lt. Col. Mark London, who was in Iraq with the Georgia 48th for about a year in 2005 and 2006.

Talking to these guys used to make me feel small. These days I just feel proud.

Col. London was talking about the way forward in Iraq, and about how he and other soldiers tried to spend a lot of time with children. His wife, and others, would send shoes, clothes, soccer balls, etc., over and the soldiers would hand them out, he said.

From Col. London:
It's real hard to change the minds of adults. They don't really know what freedom is about. ... They don't really know what freedom is. But these young kids, they love Americans. They love soccer over there. We gave them soccer balls. We gave them shoes. ...

I really think that's going to make a huge difference there in 10, 15 years. ...

I always wanted to be a soldier. ... I think that everyone should serve this country in some capacity. Not everybody's made to be a soldier, you know. But there's other ways to serve. Peace Corps. And helping out the homeless. There's so many ways that people can serve.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Carville and Matalin

UPDATE: Here's the link to Matt's story and the transcript of the conversations.

Matt Barnwell and I sat down with James Carville and Mary Matalin tonight in separate interviews. Alas, due to space issues, the text of those conversations will run only online, and not in the paper itself. I shouldn't have typed in all those sales tax exemptions. Probably would have had room otherwise.

I'll link the transcript tomorrow, but it's really a lot more entertaining if you just watch the interviews.

In the first two interviews (which I transcribed) we ask them each the same 8 questions about politics and love.

The second section, with Carville, is more free-form. Carville makes a great point about the under-stated importance of state legislative races and their sway over congressional re-apportionment in the second interview.

Carville 1:


Matalin 1:


Carville 2:

Timberrrrrrrr!

I just noticed something. If you look below on the list of exemptions that go and stay under the Speaker's tax plan, you'll find "sale of equipment in harvesting lumber."

So the timber/lumber industry will be paying a tax they've been exempt from if this thing passes.

And, though I didn't list it below in my far-too-quick-and-dirty breakdown of how much money the Speaker has to replace in property taxes, a chart from the Speaker's office subtracts out the $16.65 million in property taxes generated each year by timber.

My reading of that (and surely the Speaker's office will correct me if I'm wrong) is that timber is still subject to property taxes.

So they still pay property taxes AND they lose a sales tax exemptions. Whammy. Who'd the timber industry piss off?

UPDATE: Clelia Davis, spokeswoman for the Speaker of the House, is on the case 24-7. She notes that timber companies WOULD get the benefit of NOT paying taxes on their land any more. The tax that stays (and raises $16.65 million a year) is the tax on the timber itself, when it's harvested. She also notes that, because timber is a raw material, there will continue to be no sales tax on the sale of timber to manufacturers.

"So it's not really a double whammy," she said.

Speaker coming to Middle Georgia

Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson is bringing his pass-my-tax-reform road show to Cordele tomorrow, where he will speak to the Georgia Forestry Association's regional meeting at 6 p.m. at South Georgia Technical College.

He'll be at Rotary Club here in Macon next Wednesday for lunch.

The tax exemption list

UPDATE: There's supposed to be video of the Speaker's press conference today about the tax plan available on the tax plan Web site. Scroll to the bottom to find it. Fair warning, though, it looks like it could take several minutes to download. Also, I'm not entirely sure it's there.

---

The Speaker's office provided me with a list of sales tax exemptions (on goods) that would stay and that would go if the GREAT plan passes as is. I typed it in below, with a little comment in the ()s.

There are more than 100 exemptions currently on the books (the actual number kind of depends on how you count them), but some of the specific ones are lumped together here, according to the Speaker's office.

Don't know if anyone else has published the actual list. I had to type it in off a fax.

Exemptions that will go away (that means these things aren't taxed right now, but WOULD BE under the Speaker's plan):

Exemptions for property/services to households:
- sale of lottery tickets
- rooms and lodging over 90 days (Whammy. That means you pay sales taxes on apartment rent.)
- sales of water through water lines
- personal property brought into Georgia
- credit allowances for trade-ins on property
- charges for public transportation
- charges for long distance telephone service
- sales of food for home consumption (remember, though, the Speaker has talked about an offsetting income tax credit for people under a certain income threshold.)
- sales of sod grass

Exemptions related to health care:
- purchase of medical equipment - Medicare and Medicaid
- sales of prescription drugs and medical devices (again, with a potential income tax credit to offset)
- sales of certain equipment used by diabetics

Exemptions related to farming and fishing:
- sales of equipment uised in harvesting lumber
- sales of agricultural machinery
- sales of LPG used for horticultural purposes (LPG = liquified petroleum gas)
- sales of certain dyed diesel fuels
- certain sales of LPG and other fuels
- certain sales of electricity

Professional and business services:
- fees for service rendered by repair professionals

Exemptions related to non-farm business:
- sale of electricity used in manufacturing
- sale of machinery used in manufacturing
- sale material handling equipment used in warehouses
- sale of machinery used to reduce pollution (The environmentalists will love this one.)
- use of cargo containers for international shipping
- gross revenue from coin operated amusement machines
- rental of films when admissions is charged
- exemptions for clean rooms
- sales of machinery used in aircraft engines and parts
- sales of replacement parts for machinery
- certain sales or leases of computer equipment
- film production and digital broadcasting


Exemptions that would remain in place (They aren't taxed now and STILL WOULDN'T BE under the Speaker's plan):

Exemptions related to health care:
- sales to hospitals
- sales to non-profit hospitals and nursing homes
- sales to non-profits serving the mentally retarded
- sales of certain medical equipment and prosthetic devices
(Looks like the health industry keeps its exemptions and patients lose some of theirs. Not sure how much that matters, given the fact that costs are passed along anyway. Then again, savings aren't always passed along, and I'm pretty sure hospitals have a better lobby than patients.)

Exemptions related to farming and fishing:

- sales of raw materials used in farming and ranching
- sales of machinery used in farming and ranching

Exemptions related to education:
- sales of school lunches in public schools
- sales of school lunches in private schools
- sales to private elementary and secondary schools
- sales to the University System of Georgia
- sales to private colleges and universities
- sales of tickets to school athletics and other events

Professional and business services:
- sales by parent-teacher organizations (Your kid's bake sale is still tax exempt.)

Exemptions - government agencies and non-profit organizations:
- sales to federal, state and local governments
- property furnished by governments to contractors for government work
- exempt sales by Girl Scouts
- exempt library non-profits, wheelchair sales and gas sales

Exemptions related to religious entities:
NONE (It just says none on the list. I'll figure out what the means and get back to you).

Exemptions related to non-farm business:

- sale of property manufactured for export
- sales of raw materials used in manufacturing (With an impact of about $3.2 billion a year, this was one of the biggest numbers on the sheet. It's also considered a key perk to keep businesses located in Georgia.)
- transportation charges for interstate and intrastate commerce.

Looking around this morning

Gov. Sonny Perdue is in Macon for a OneGeorgia meeting and a ribbon cutting. Coverage in tomorrow's paper.

Shannon did some good homework on donations to the Speaker of the House's PAC (MMV Alliance) and how they may have translated to tax exemptions under his new sales tax proposal. Like I said, it's good reporting, but I would have expected medical costs to go untaxed, or barely be taxed, regardless of the donations. You just can't pass this thing without senior citizens supporting it, and they spend a lot of medical care.

Salzer has a bit more about what will and won't be taxed under the Speaker's plan.


Bunch of elections coverage around the state, of course. I think the most interesting is from Statesboro, where Georgia Southern students tried a power play.

By the way, you can get a drink in Centerville restuarants on Sundays now. But not in Warner Robins next door. It will be interesting to see what kind of growth that brings to Centerville.

By the way, I'm interviewing James Carville and his wife, Mary Matalin, this evening. Any question ideas, send them to tfain@macon.com.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Even better

Bibb elections officials went home without posting final vote totals in the David Corr / James Timley race to the Web site, despite specifically telling us they would.

And of course there's no one there now to answer the phone, and the elections supervisor isn't answering her cell or home phone. And the chairman of the board of elections doesn't know the figures.

Yeah, we're just the newspaper. We only print like 70,000 copies. It's only the paper of historical record for Bibb County. We only do exactly the same thing every election. Why would we want actual numbers this time?

Hey, I appreciate it, man.

I'm covering a Macon City Council race here this evening. As usual, I called both candidates Friday, letting them know I'd need to speak to them tonight.

The loser - write-in challenger David Corr - no problem. Spoke to him several times. But the winner, incumbent James Timley, hasn't returned repeated messages on his cell phone, despite agreeing to take my calls when we spoke on Friday.

That's annoying, but really not a big deal. Or at least it's not a big surprise. But check out his outgoing voicemail message:
"This is J.T. Um, I'm busy right at the moment, so give me a call back whenever you can. Thanks."

Doesn't even offer the possibility that he'll return the call. Nice. I'm tempted to post his cell phone number.

Gov. Perdue on inter-basin transfers

As the problems with Atlanta's ever-more-scarce water supply have come to light I've been asking around - local farmers, politicians and environmentalists - about how likely it is that metro Atlanta will one day pump water from Floridan Aquifer that sits below much Middle Georgia and pretty much all of Southern Georgia.

The general consensus was "not very," largely because of the logistical problem of pumping it that far.

Gov. Sonny Perdue was in Twiggs County today for a groundbreaking (Academy Sports is opening a distribution center near I-16 there). Being that he was standing above the aquifer, I asked him if he thought Atlanta would ever be getting some of his water from it.

"Don't think that will be an issue at all," he said.

Perdue added that the aquifer shouuld be serving the people "below the Fall Line" for a very long time.

UPDATE: But, via Cracker Squire, I see not everyone shares this optimism. Here.

Oh yeah, don't forget to vote today

Municipal elections are today. They've gotten short-shrift around here, which I apologize for. Most of the big races are Peach and Houston counties, which I haven't been well versed on in many years.

Don't forget to bring photo I.D., and here's Matt's rundown on the races.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Formerly breaking news on the Speaker's tax plan

UPDATE 3: Spoke to Gov. Sonny Perdue about this briefly while he was in Twiggs County this afternoon. He said he hasn't seen the full numbers from the Speaker's office, but he's "looking forward to looking at those."

UPDATE 2: Just go here. Dick Pettys is the man.

UPDATE: James Salzer with the AJC and Shannon McCaffrey at AP have some coverage up. As you can see from reading the pieces, there's still a lot to digest, a lot of questions to answer.

The Speaker is supposed to have a press conference Wednesday. It also looks like the GREAT plan tax Web site referenced below has been updated now. The formulas, or at least a version of them, for sending the money back home is there. Click on the presentation link and look at the last several slides.

---

Here's some amazingly half-assed reporting on some fairly important news: The Speaker's office is releasing a bunch of new numbers on the GREAT plan to replace property taxes with sales taxes.

This is no where near newspaper ready, so I'm really embracing the whole "hey, it's just a blog" thing on this post. Normally, this is not just a blog. It's a really, really careful-with-the-facts blog.

Any way, caveats done I'll start with this statement from Speaker Glenn Richardson's spokeswoman, Clelia Davis:

"The big news out of it is we do not have to replace $9.6 billion in property taxes. We only have to replace about $4.5 billion."

That's fairly incredible, of course, because one of the main arguments the negative nancies against this plan have been bringing out is that it just won't raise enough money to replace property taxes in the state.

Now, you get to this new number by starting at $9.6 billion, which seems to be a pretty good number for total property taxes charged each year in Georgia. Then you start subtracting things out, such as property taxes charged to cover bonded indebtedness and those dedicated in community improvement districts and tax allocation districts.

Those things were always going to stay in place.

You also take out the portion that goes to the state (it gets a quarter mill of your property taxes now), as well as what the state uses in state money to refund county governments that offer a homestead tax exemption.

You also take out the property taxes paid by utilities, which are charged under a different system, which presumably stays in place.

Then, the big change: There's going to be a bunch of new money raised for the local governments because the penny taxes they charge locally (the SPLOSTS, ELOSTS and LOSTS that cover capital projects and, in the cases of LOSTS, day-to-day operations) will now be charged on services and on goods that are currently exempt from the tax.

These local sales taxes, which differ by county, are the difference between the 4 cents on the dollar that goes to the state and the extra 3 cents on the dollar (in most counties) that, though it is collected by the state, already gets sent back to local governments.

But, wait, you say, isn't that still a new tax that's totally replacing property taxes and therefore shouldn't be subtracted out?

That's kind of what I thought, but these numbers need some serious analysis before ANY conclusions are drawn. Also, the actual numbers don't appear to be up yet on the Speaker's tax website. They should be by the end of the day, Clelia said. Click on the "presentation" link.

I'm working on some other things now, so will have to depend on my colleagues in the press to break this thing down for the morning papers. I'll turn my attention to it when I can.

By the way, Clelia said they're also releasing the formula by which the new sales tax revenues will be remitted back to local governments. That's going to be key if the Speaker is going to convince local officials and the proponents of so-called home rule to vote for this thing.

Farm bill in the Senate

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss' office called my attention to the fact that the farm bill is out of committee. I know far less than I should about it, and this post is for people like me.

Guess it's time to start paying attention, because it's an important bill. Here's the latest coverage I could find.

From Chambliss' news release:
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Ranking Republican Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today took to the Senate floor urging his colleagues to support the bipartisan Food and Energy Security Act of 2007. Sen. Chambliss worked closely with Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) to craft policy that will strengthen American agriculture. The bill was overwhelmingly reported out of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry last month with all but one member voting in favor of passage.

“Our entire Committee worked in a bipartisan fashion and to a large extent was able to accommodate the interests and priorities of almost every member of the Agriculture Committee,” said Sen. Chambliss. “It is my sincere hope that the Senate will agree with our committee and support this farm bill that will strengthen the nation’s food security, protect the livelihood of our farmers and ranchers, preserve our efforts to remain good stewards of the environment, and enhance our nation’s energy security efforts.”

Tomato plants

The last few weeks I've been interviewing a lot of veterans for a piece I'm putting together for Veterans Day, which is Sunday.

Today I spoke with former state Sen. Billy Harris, who was a tail gunner on a B-24 in the waning months of World War II. He was stationed in Italy, and returned several years ago with his family as a tourist.

Sen. Harris said he visited the air base that he and his squadron used. The insignia was still visible on the main building, but a family was living in part of it. Most of the area is now a vineyard, he said.

And what used to be the runway was planted with tomatoes.

Friday, November 2, 2007

That Gary Larson is a hoot.

So the Warner Robins Little Leaguers were in D.C. yesterday meeting Pres. Bush.

Check out his desk.













Look, I know it's ceremonial, and that the president surely has a working desk somewhere else. But it would just make me feel better if the leader of the free world had more on his desk than a telephone and a Far Side calendar.

On Earth and war

I've been out of pocket for a while, but I came across this quote in Sunday's AJC:
"It is worth pondering why a country with more military power than any other in human history, and that spends as much on its military as virtually the rest of the world combined, cannot bring security to a small country of 24 million people after more than three years of occupation."
- Johns Hopkins philosopher Francis Fukuyama

That is worth pondering. As for me, I just can't believe that, as humankind, we've been given this beautiful gift of a planet and we're fighting over it.