Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

I'm traveling until January 9. Take care of each other.

Senatorial, or Senatorial like a fox?

Democratic Senate candidate Dale Cardwell is going to... oh hell I'll just paste it from the political insiders:
Cardwell told the AJC on Monday that he will scale a 320-foot pole at Corey Tower in downtown Atlanta on New Year’s Day and remain there “until my message is heard.”

The former television journalist for WSB-TV said that he will stay up there on a platform for as long as it takes for people to “realize and discuss how much trouble we are in in our country.”

Those problems, he said, include a concentration of power among special interests who control too much of Washington.

So, Cardwell is going to sit, eat, sleep and chat from the top of a 2-and-a-half foot by 6-foot platform 320 feet up.

About a half dozen things come to mind on this, but none of them come anywhere close to appropriately describing this act of... I don't even have a descriptor. Awesomeness? Potentially dangerous lunacy? Shameless media stuntery? Populist bravery?

And now I've realized that I actually have a press release on this:
At 10:00 am EST, on January 1, 2008, United States Senate candidate Dale Cardwell will be raised on an outdoor platform to the top of the Corey Tower in downtown Atlanta, one of the highest landmarks in the Southeastern US.

There, on a 2 _ by 6 foot section of the metal base---320 feet above the city---Cardwell will live 24 hours a day until “the public realizes we’re all in trouble”.

I've got an email into the campaign. So far my only question is: Wait, what?

UPDATE: I just spoke to Cardwell. The beginning was him going over his talking points about PAC money and his 23 years as an investigative reporter at Channel 2. Basically he says the federal government has been stolen by big-money corporations that run the political process. And since every candidate pretty much takes PAC money (which he has promised not to do) you can't trust them.

Also, you can watch video and chat with him on the tower through www.dale08.com.

"Somebody has to rise above the din and the mis-information and say... we have to run the political action committees out of Washington." That's where the interview picks up:
Me: How is sitting 320 feet in the air gonna help that, though?
Cardwell: There's two reasons you have to take PAC money You have to create name recognition. Then you have to create an aura of trust based on running television commercials. ... I have to make myself and my message known to people who do not know who I am. ... There's two ways of doing it: You can sell your soul to the special interests and take their PAC money or you can find another way to get people's attention. I found another way to get people's attention.

Me: Are you worried that people are going to say that this is an act of lunacy? (He was big-time ready for this one.)
Cardwell: Actually the act of lunacy is a 16 percent approval rating for Congress. Lunacy is not being able to secure our border. Lunacy is not being able to balance our budget. Lunacy is not being able to fix healthcare. ... It's not lunacy it's determination. ... I'm going to create a level of trust between myself and the public and they're going to know that I'm telling them the Democrats have sold us out. The Republicans have sold us out. And you've got a Harry Truman independent Democrat at the top of this tower telling people that we've got to take action to take our government back.

Me: Who's idea was this?
Cardwell: It was my idea.

Me: How do you determine when the message has gotten across?
Cardwell: I think I'll know based on the interactive conversations I have with regular, every day Georgians. ... I want to gain people's attention, wake them up to the fact that we are burdening our grandchildren with our debt. ... Their current politicians won't tell them the truth about these issues because they depend on the special interest PAC money. ... I'm never going to take the money.

There you have it. I should have asked him how he's going to go to the bathroom up there. And "lunacy" was a bit strong on my part. Maybe.

I hope, for Mr. Cardwell's sake, that the voting public has more than the attention span it takes to say "Huh, will you look at that," and then go back to eating Cheetos and watching reality television.

But, then, that's the problem he's fighting, isn't it? A culture where only media saturation bought with dump trucks of money can be successful. Fight fire with... a different and less expensive kind of fire, I guess.

At any rate, it remains an excuse to whip out this little gem of awesomeness, appropriately titled "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger:


Lip Dub - Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger from amandalynferri and Vimeo.

$46 flights

Yesterday we ran this piece about the Macon airport, and the $2 million a year federal taxpayers are kind enough to give the airline there to fly back and forth to Atlanta, which would otherwise be a 90 minute drive.

Of course, that's not the only federal subsidy at the airport. It's gotten money to fix runways, money to upgrade the terminal, money for security, etc.

I once tried to add up federal and state subsidies for the entire airline industry, nationwide. I couldn't do it. There were just too many subsidy programs and too much money.

Anyway, I glanced at USA Today at lunch this afternoon, and, lo and behold, this was their cover story:
Imagine an aviation system in which planes fly two-thirds empty, fares are as low as $46 and the government pays up to 93% of the cost of a flight.

You don't have to look far. That system exists in the USA — and quietly is expanding even as most of the nation's 2 million daily air travelers see fares tick upward for increasingly crowded flights.

Each day, about 3,000 passengers enjoy mostly empty, heavily subsidized flights, financed by a 30-year-old program that requires the government to guarantee commercial air service to scores of small communities that can't support it themselves.

It's called Essential Air Service, or EAS, and it's designed to keep airports open in rural communities. The idea is that this is crucial for economic development. The program runs about $110 million a year, according to the USA Today numbers, which I think is in line with what I reported earlier this year when I first learned about EAS grants.

Any way, guess who USA Today picked as one of its top examples. Yep:
In October, the DOT agreed to one of the program's largest subsidies ever — $2 million a year to Atlantic Southeast Airlines. That pays 60% of ASA's cost to fly two round-trips a day between Macon, Ga., and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, 81 miles away.

The airline projects that passengers will pay an average of $78 for a one-way ticket — and that flights, typically on planes with fewer than 70 seats, will run 83% empty. That means the DOT will pay $145 per passenger for the 19-minute flight.

"That's a tremendous waste of money," aviation consultant Michael Boyd says, noting that Macon residents can easily drive or take a bus to Atlanta. Groome Transportation, for example, runs hourly vans from Macon to the Atlanta airport. Cost: $31 a ticket.

The nearly $1 billion that Congress has poured into the program since 1999 has helped increase the number of communities with subsidized flights this year to 147 from 100, including 45 in Alaska. That's 28% of the nation's commercial airports.

The increased funding means the government pays an average of $87 per passenger on subsidized flights outside of Alaska, where planes often carry few passengers but deliver mail and supplies to the state's remote islands. The subsidy in 1995 was $49 per passenger.

Also mentioned in the article: Congress recently re-approved funding for it. And Congress rejected cuts suggested by the U.S. DOT, which operates the program. That is correct. A federal department asked for less money, and Congress said no.

I would like to note one other thing, though, for the sake of fairness. I spoke with someone in the airline industry about this earlier this year (can't remember who) and he or she made an interesting point. Air travel may be heavily subsidized, but so is driving.

After all, who do you think built all those roads?

Sam Nunn and why I don't get politics

Jim Galloway at The AJC sat down recently with former Sen. Sam Nunn (who is from Perry, by the way). Nunn is partnering with other "middle of the road political figures" to try and bridge the considerable gap between political parties in this country and force candidates to address the issues, instead of pandering to the extreme left or right.

But what blows me away is that Hamilton Jordan, whom Galloway says is a political strategist and former chief of staff to President Jimmy Carter, while complimentary of Sen. Nunn, also says he is "really sticking his neck out here."

And the headline the paper gave this story is one of the saddest I've ever seen in politics: Nunn's unity bid a gamble.

Folks, if attempting to bring people together to debate real issues is a gamble, we have taken a serious wrong turn in this country.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Water, health care, education, taxes, transportation

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has some polling out on the upcoming legislative session:
Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed list health care and water as the top issues “for the Governor and the Georgia General Assembly to deal with.” Right behind were education (almost 18%), property taxes (13%) and transportation (12.4 %). ...

Israel said the results of the poll, conducted by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research, December 17-18, among 823 Georgians who are likely voters in the February 5 presidential primaries, with a margin of error of +/-4%, largely mirror the priorities of the Georgia Chamber’s Board of Directors.

No huge surprises there. It sounds like the speaker's push on property tax reform has really brought that issue to the forefront, but I could be off on that. Maybe folks were this fired up about it beforehand.

I do wonder - were they asked straight up what their top issues were, or were they given a list to choose from. I would like to think that a high percentage of likely Georgia voters could tag water as an important issue with no prompting. I would like to think that.
Republican respondents to the poll ranked water and property tax reform, in that order, as their top two concerns, with health care third, and transportation and education tied for fourth. Democrats surveyed gave a clear edge to health care (32.4% rated it their top issue for legislators’ attention) followed by water and education.

Interesting to see health care ahead of transportation for both parties. If you confined the poll to Atlanta, where most of the traffic is, I wonder if you'd see those trade places? And I wonder what the legislature will actually do about health care this year with water and tax reform already hot issues sure to generate headlines?

A not-so-secret secret: Reporters don't write too good about health care because it's super complicated (which is a problem in its own right) and because an awful lot of us don't have families and seldom see a doctor. The press, myself included, often fails you on this issue. It's hard for us to understand property taxes, too, because reporting jobs don't often pay well enough for reporters to own property and also support our heavy drinking habits. But I digress.
A separate, internal survey of members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, in response to the question, “For your business, what issue do you believe is the most important issue that must be addressed during the 2008 legislative session?” shows water, education, and transportation reform and funding far and away as the most important priorities for the organization’s leadership.

The Georgia Chamber’s leadership responded that water management was their number one priority for the upcoming session (32 percent), followed by education/workforce development (19 percent) and transportation (15 percent).

Georgia’s business leaders are markedly more optimistic than voters in general when it comes to the future of the state. Georgians seem evenly split on the whether or not Georgia is “heading in the right direction or the wrong direction,” while members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s Board overwhelmingly (90.5 percent) believe that “Georgia’s business climate is generally heading in the right direction.” When asked, “A year from now, do you think business conditions will be better, the same or worse,” 84% of the business leaders said better or the same.

Now, why does that last bit make me nervous?
The InsiderAdvantage/Georgia Chamber poll showed a picture of optimism among Republican voters while Democrats and Independents were more pessimistic, almost 70% of likely Democratic voters saying the state was heading the wrong direction and 62% of Independent voters.

There's also a bunch of stuff about the parking lots gun bill (Georgia agrees with the chamber, it's bad) and some stuff on the presidential elections. Huckabee gets it on the Republican side, Clinton and Obama for the Dems.) But I'm not going to post all of that. If I find the information on the Chamber's site or Insider Advantage tomorrow morning I'll link it.

UPDATE: The presidential poll. And the gun stuff.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Go fish

We had a story about this yesterday, but now it's official: Perry will be the site of Gov. Sonny Perdue's Go Fish headquarters.

The governor's offic also announced the location of the 10 "mega-ramp" that will be part of the bass fishing trail Perdue expects to lure larger, and tourism-dollar-drawing, tournaments to Georgia. I can only list 9 because I accidentally deleted one and then my computer locked up.

Life is full of mystery:

- Laurel Park - Hall County on Lake Lanier
- Wildwood Park - Columbia County on Clarks Hill Lake
- Richard B. Russell State Park - Elbert County on Lake Richard B. Russell
- Veterans Memorial State Park - Crisp County / Cordele on Lake Blackshear
- Earle May Boat Basin Park – City of Bainbridge on Lake Seminole
- Jaycee Landing - Wayne County and City of Jesup on the Altamaha River
- Robert Baurle Ramp – Augusta / Richmond County on the Savannah River
- Gum Branch Access - Hart County and the City of Hartwell on Lake Hartwell
- Tugaloo State Park - Franklin County - Stephens County and the City of Lavonia on Lake Hartwell.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wait, wait, wait. Demand affects supply?

George Israel, the former mayor of Macon and current President and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, apparently disagrees with the the lieutenant governor and speaker of the house (and maybe the governor) when it comes to the underlying causes of Metro Atlanta and North Georgia's water shortage:
The short answer is that we have grown as a state and the water supply has not. Thus, we find ourselves embroiled in mini-disputes: state against state, county against county, rural vs. urban and, our old nemesis, north Georgia vs. south Georgia, none of it the least bit productive.

That's taken from Israel's Dec. 20 column on the chamber Web site.

But I thought Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said this in the Dec. 14 Marietta Daily Journal:
"The Corps has truly mismanaged the watershed," he said.

The lieutenant governor denies that rapid growth has anything to do with the drought.

"The reason we're here is not rapid growth in Atlanta. It's not Atlanta taking all the water. It truly is because of a drought. The drinking water for a third of the citizens in our state comes from Lake Lanier, and it's critical that we put drinking water ahead of feeding mussels and endangered species down steam," he said.

He is working on a plan for communities in the event the drought continues, a plan that involves irrigation ponds and intergovernmental connectivity. Improving and expanding the state's reservoirs is another need.

"We get about 50 inches of rainfall annually, which equates to about 50 trillion gallons. Total usage in Georgia for all water, meaning municipal, industrial and agricultural, is about 1.2 trillion. That's why we're going to have a statewide water management plan, and that's why we're putting together a reservoir program. If we manage the resources, and we are able to build the reservoirs to capture that rainfall, we can prepare for the future very easily, but we can't do it if we've got the Corps draining those reservoirs, OK? That's the problem we find ourselves in today."

And the speaker of the house reportedly said something similar to Creative Loafing in November.

And here's what the governor's press office had to say to me last month:
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.

Still plenty of water here in Macon. Everyone feel free to move here.

UPDATE: From Joe Fleming at the chamber:
I see no disagreement.

George Israel and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce have spoken often of the need for three key things to happen on water:

1) adoption this session of a meaningful statewide water management plan that balances the needs of our people and econony with the protection of our natural resources;

2) accountability for the Army Corps of Engineers and others (including U.S. Senators from Alabama) in interpreting their responsibilities and obligations under federal inter-state commerce laws and under the Endangered Specious Act; and

3) additional storage capacity/reservoirs wholly within the borders of Georgia, which would be free from the control of the Corps.

The extended drought north Georgia has suffered this year makes clear that these three priorities must be addressed soon, for short-term relief and long-term planning.

Joe also points to this link, in which Israel says:
"While Georgia wilts, and the state’s business and industry is being required to cut water usage, water is leaving Georgia at an alarming rate," Israel said, "protecting mussels in Florida, but endangering jobs and the economy in Georgia. It makes no sense."

So I guess it is the mussels who are to blame. We should bomb them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

If you're reading this, you lead a rich life

Yeah, I got nothin'. It's the day after Christmas.

Although, as I was reading this story yesterday, about how the Air Force is shifting civilian workers, impacting Robins Air Force Base, I thought: "This is why Middle Georgia needs a smart congressman, regardless of party."

No doubt U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, who is quoted in the story, retired Maj. Gen. Rick Goddard and former U.S. Rep. Mac Collins all believe themselves to be the man for the job. But you'll have to decide next year.

Also, it might be time to decide who you're going to vote for in the presidential preference primaries, which are coming up fast. The Telegraph is running the McClatchy profiles of all the major candidates, and the first two are up today.

Obama.

Biden.

Because of space and staffing concerns, we're running them on the editorial page, so the formatting may look a little different than you're used to online.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Looking around this Eve

I thought this was a fine interview with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. If you just want the summary:

GREAT Plan: Nope, but I am down with restraining local government spending and capping growth in property assessments.

Traffic: The DOT is messed up. But Abraham is the right person for the top job there.

Drought: It's the Corps' fault. And it needs to rain.

Pettys says Vernon Jones may drop out of the Senate race, which would be large for Democrats.

Georgia might pick up a seat in Congress after 2010. Bet that will be a pretty redistricting process.

And, finally, this sounds about right. There's a standing order in newspaper headline writing: If you can legitimately get sex, Elvis or BBQ into the headline, do it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

One more word on Tom Murphy

I've been covering former Speaker of the House Tom Murphy's funeral today, and I think my favorite comment has come from U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who was a Republican legislator in the Georgia House of Representatives during Murphy's rule.

Few things define a man's life so well as what his opponents say about him when he's gone.
"I was the minority leader for 8 years and he didn't like Republicans at all. But he respected every one, too. He's the toughest guy in business or politics I ever ran across, but he was also the fairest. He was as honest as the day is long and he could forgive. ... You can't say anything better about a person than that."
- U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson



















UPDATE: I thought this was interesting. It's a list of the 22 people who have lain in state at the Capitol.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Flower of the Forest

I've been in Atlanta today on a couple of things and happened upon the Georgia State Patrol Honor Guard practicing for Speaker Murphy's funeral tomorrow here at the Capitol.

I wish you could hear it. The building is filled with bagpipe music, Amazing Grace.

The piper, Dan Bray, is from Perry. He said he also played here as they brought Coretta Scott King into the Capitol after her death last year. The rest of the guard has gone to dinner, but Bray is still here, practicing over and over and over again.

Bray said that, tomorrow, he will play "Flowers of the Forest" as they carry Speaker Murphy's body into the Capitol. That, he said, was a popular funeral song during World War II.

Murphy served in the Navy, I believe.

Bray said he will also play "Danny Boy" because Murphy "was proud of his Irish heritage" and, at the family's request, Amazing Grace.

I looked up "Flowers of the Forest" in a couple of places. It seems to be an old Scottish song, possibly commemorating the Battle of Flodden, during which thousands of Scottish soldiers fell to the English. There are several versions of the words, none are believed to be original. The oldest I could find were written in the 1720s, though they are modernized here:

Sorrow and woe for the order sent our lads to the Border.
The English for once, by guile won the day,
The Flowers of the Forest, that always fought the foremost,
The pride of our land lies cold in the clay.

I like that. The public viewing of Speaker Murphy's body runs from noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow in the Capitol rotunda. There will be a visitation from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at West Central Technical College near his home in Bremen.

The address: 176 Murphy Campus Boulevard in Waco.

On Saturday the late speaker's funeral will also be open to the public at West Central. It begins at 11 a.m.

By the way, I'd been waiting for this piece.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A billion here, a billion there...

Telegraph reporter Keich Whicker, who may be the only guy here who hates hippies and wasteful government spending more than I do, sent me this link to a Heritage Foundation breakdown of the Top 10 examples of government waste. This was No. 1:
1. The Missing $25 Billion

Buried in the Department of the Treasury’s 2003 Financial Report of the United States Government is a short section titled “Unreconciled Transactions Affecting the Change in Net Position,” which explains that these unreconciled transactions totaled $24.5 billion in 2003.[2]

The unreconciled transactions are funds for which auditors cannot account: The government knows that $25 billion was spent by someone, somewhere, on something, but auditors do not know who spent it, where it was spent, or on what it was spent. Blaming these unreconciled transactions on the failure of federal agencies to report their expenditures adequately, the Treasury report con­cludes that locating the money is “a priority.”

The unreconciled $25 billion could have funded the entire Department of Justice for an entire year.

By the way, the [2] in that quote leads to this footnote:
[2]See U.S. Department of the Treasury, 2003 Financial Report of the United States Government, pp. 126, at fms.treas.gov/fr/ 03frusg.html (March 28, 2005). Unreconciled transactions totaled $3.4 billion in 2004.

I couldn't find the 2003 report, but did find it for 2007. It's 186 pages and can be downloaded here. If you've never read a treasury or GAO report, you're in for a treat.

A quick search of this report turned up reference to a "$6.7 billion adjustment for unreconciled transactions." It also turned up this disconcerting, if not surprising, paragraph:
With respect to disbursements, DOD and certain other federal agencies reported continued weaknesses in reconciling disbursement activity. For fiscal years 2007 and 2006, there was unreconciled disbursement activity, including unreconciled differences between federal agencies’ and Treasury’s records of disbursements and unsupported federal agency adjustments, totaling billions of dollars, which could also affect the balance sheet.

And this:
Although progress has been made, serious and widespread information security control weaknesses continue to place federal assets at risk of inadvertent or deliberate misuse, financial information at risk of unauthorized modification or destruction, sensitive information at risk of inappropriate disclosure, and critical operations at risk of disruption. GAO has reported information security as a high-risk area across government since February 1997.

And this:
For fiscal year 2007, federal agencies’ estimates of improper payments, based on available information, totaled about $55 billion. The increase from the prior year estimate of $41 billion was primarily attributable to a component of the Medicaid program reporting improper payments for the first time totaling about $13 billion for fiscal year 2007, which we view as a positive step to improve transparency over the full magnitude of improper payments.

Wait, did we just get out-flanked... by Alabama?

I can only find one news outlet with a story so far, but U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson are hopping mad about some last-minute language that got dropped into the federal omnibus spending bill.

Apparently it... well I'll just let them tell it because I know very little about the process:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., blasted an omnibus spending bill over its inclusion of language that could restrict the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in its efforts to update its outdated water control plans for the drought-ravaged river basins that serve Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Isakson and Chambliss voted against the spending bill, which passed the Senate Tuesday evening by a vote of 76 to 17.

Voicing their disapproval on the Senate floor, Isakson and Chambliss criticized the broken appropriations process in Congress that allowed the language to be inserted into the spending bill without any debate or consultation of senators from affected states. The language could block the Corps from meeting its statutory obligations and unnecessarily injects Congress into an issue that should remain in the hands of the Governors of the three affected states.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Public viewing for Speaker Murphy

Late Speaker of the House Tom Murphy will lie in state at the Capitol rotunda from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., according to the governor's office. Folks will enter through the west door (the Washington Street side) and exit through the east door onto Capitol Avenue.

After 4 p.m. Speaker Murphy's body will be taken home to Bremen via motorcade.

Tom Murphy: 1924 - 2007

Former Speaker of the House Tom Murphy died last night.

From the Associated Press.

An extensive obituary in The AJC.

Dick Pettys' version.

UPDATE: Out of curiosity I've been thumbing through some old clips about Speaker Murphy. I came across a story from 1986, when Murphy was accused of being part of a ticket-fixing scandal in Haralson County.

"I'm a mean jackass," we quoted the speaker as saying. "But if I do something, I'll admit it."

I don't know what happened to the alleged scandal, but obviously little came of it. I also found this in a column from January 1986:
"I'm not going to say I'm glad to be here, because I'm not," Murphy said when he rose to address the Business Council of Georgia at its annual "Eggs and Issues" breakfast last week.

Murphy smiled when he said that, and he got a few chuckles in response.

The third speaker on the agenda, Murphy followed Gov. Joe Frank Harris and Lt. Gov. Zell Miller to the podium. Both expressed their appreciation and pleasure at being invited to the occassion.

"Now, I'm not saying these other fellows lied," Murphy said, getting more laughter.

What a wonderfully fascinating character this man must have been.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Former Speaker Tom Murphy in grave condition

Several news outlets, including The Associated Press, are reporting this:
ATLANTA (AP) — Former House Speaker Tom Murphy, a power broker on the Georgia political scene for more than two decades, is said to be in very serious condition and could be near death.

Murphy, a west Georgia Democrat, was the longest serving speaker of the House in the nation when he was defeated in 2002. That election turned out to be the beginning of the Republican onslaught in the state. Two years later the House Murphy had ruled with an iron fist came under Republican control.

State Rep. Terry Coleman, who briefly succeeded Murphy as speaker, said Monday that he had talked with Murphy’s family and that his health was failing fast.

‘I think it is very serious,’’ Coleman said. ‘‘This is the worst they (his family) have seen him.’’

Murphy, now 83, suffered a stroke in 2004 soon after leaving the state Capitol. The once garrulous politician has struggled to speak since then.

A lawyer from Bremen, Murphy was first elected to the House in 1960 and outlasted four governors He rose to become speaker in 1974.

I'll link things as I see them, but would expect the most interesting stories about Murphy's life and political tenure to end up here throughout the day.

The 2008 Democratic Senate primary

For those who would like to follow the Democratic Senate primary, aka "The race to get crushed by Saxby" (hey - I kid because I don't care), some of the blogs are all over it.

Tondee's Tavern has video up from a recent forum.

And Drifting through the Grift has several posts (scroll down a bit) paraphrasing the candidates's positions.

UPDATE: Grift has created a one-stop shop for the posts. Go here.

Wake me for the referendum

I think this will probably be the last thing I write about the Speaker's tax reform plan for a while. But don't read it. Just go to the breakdown I did on the draft legislation. It's a lot more complicated / complete / mind-numbingly boring.

Do unanswered questions remain? Yes. For example: What's the formula and methodology behind the way money will flow back to various school districts, and how does it differ from the formula as it existed in the broader GREAT Plan?

---
UPDATE: The answer from the speaker's spokeswoman, Clelia Davis: "Dollar for dollar credit just like the homeowners tax relief grant."
---

But I think we've long-passed the eye-glaze-over point on this thing. Of course, with a week of Ways and Means Committee hearings planned right before the session starts, we probably haven't seen anything yet.

By the way, state Sen. Mitch Seabough's pre-filed tax legislation I mentioned last week is available online now. It is what I described - it would give cities, counties and school board the option of implementing a new penny tax to replace all or a portion of the property taxes they now charge.

It would take a local referendum to implement for each local government

That's essentially a new LOST - Local Option Sales Tax - which is used to offset property taxes for the city and the county government here in Bibb County and to offset it for the schools in Houston County.

State $$ for an MLK memorial?

Saw this while I was reading some potential tax legialstion: State Sen. Valencia Seay wants Georgia to put some tax money toward a Washington D.C. memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

From the pre-filed legislation:
WHEREAS, Maryland with its donation of half a million dollars, not Dr. King´s home state of Georgia, was the first state to contribute funds to the memorial with governmental entities such as the District of Columbia; Denver, Colorado; Santa Cruz, California; and Berkeley, California also making contributions; and

WHEREAS, it is only fitting and proper that Georgia through its contributions ensures that the life and memory of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are so honored with a national memorial as such tributes are invaluable forums for remembering what Dr. King´s courageous legacy has meant and continues to mean for Georgia, the country, and the world.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE that the members of this body urge the Governor to contribute state funds for the building of the Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial and express their support of his efforts.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Looking around today

I'm late in my reading today, but a couple of obvious things.

Continued DOT fallout from Ariel, including the hint of (Heavens No!) politics:
State legislators elect the board members and there are reports of a campaign by House leaders to repay DOT board Chairman Mike Evans and board member Raybon Anderson, who voted for Abraham and will be up for re-election in January. The more solid and aggressive Abraham's conclusions appear, the more difficult it could be to oust her, or even to oust the board members who voted her.

Indeed, (State Sen. Eric) Johnson said the revelations justified the vote for Abraham and should discourage legislators from removing those who voted for her.

But (State Rep. Earl) Ehrhart said they will have the opposite effect, showing that the current board should have had a better grip on things. He said if Perdue was going public with DOT problems in hopes of saving the board members who supported Abraham, "he missed the boat."

And Dave Williams writes about the most complicated / amazingly boring special interest issue in state government that's still likely to have some significant impact on your life, but you'd still rather just let it screw you over than actually have to learn about it, Certificate of Need reform. Dave simplifies it, so you can read it here:
ATLANTA — Defying the wishes of a legislative committee, the state board that oversees health policy voted Thursday to make it easier for general surgeons to open outpatient centers in Georgia.

Members of the Board of Community Health voted unanimously to redefine general surgery as a single specialty just two days after the House Health and Human Services declared that only the General Assembly has the legal authority to make that change.

The effect of the new rule will be to exempt general surgeons from a Georgia law requiring applicants seeking to build new medical facilities or provide new health care services to obtain state approval.

State Rep. Johnny Floyd to retire

He's going to leave after the coming session. Then he'll try to get on the DOT Board, running for Billy Langdale's seat. Langdale is also set to retire, opening up the District 2 seat.

That's according to both Floyd and former DOT Board member Ward Edwards, who also plans to run for Langdale's seat. I haven't been able to get Langdale on the phone.

From tomorrow's political notebook:
State Rep. Johnny Floyd, who has represented a southern swath of Middle Georgia since 1989, plans to retire after next year's General Assembly session.

Floyd, 69, has expressed interest in running for a seat on the Georgia Department of Transportation Board, where Congressional District 2 representative Billy Langdale is also expected to retire. Floyd confirmed his plans to The Telegraph recently, but said he didn't want to discuss it yet because "I haven't really told my local people and all yet."

But news of the House veteran's plans has filtered out. Former legislator and DOT Board member Ward Edwards mentioned it casually at a recent event, when discussing his own planned run for Langdale's seat on the DOT board.

Floyd, who represents Crisp County and parts of Dooly, Houston, Pulaski and Worth Counties, was a Democrat for most of his career. But in 2006, after Republicans took over control of the House of Representatives, Floyd switched to the GOP and easily won re-election.

Rep. Floyd didn't want me to write anything, and I imagine he'll be upset. For that, I am sorry. But I'd already held off a week to give him time to tell constituents, which I never should have done in the first place.

As a former boss of mine once said: "We're not in the business of keeping secrets."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"The good man always reverses the question."

I've been slowly reading "Strength to Love," a collection of sermons by Martin Luther King Jr.

Last night I read, "On being a good neighbor," which you may guess deals with the parable of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan, Dr. King wrote, engaged in "dangerous altruism." Not only did he go the extra mile to help a stranger, he put himself in danger of being attacked by the very thieves that waylaid that stranger on the road to Jericho.

Wrote King:
We so often ask, "What will happen to my job, my prestige, or my status if I take a stand on this issue? Will my home be bombed, will my life be threatened, or I will I be jailed?" The good man always reverses the question.

In other words, do not ask "What will happen to me if I act," but "What will happen to others if I do not?" This idea is thousands of years old. It is not King's any more than it is mine.

I think most people would (at least say they) agree with this idea. So the political question becomes: Should that core philosophy change when you are in government and represent one mass of people as opposed to another?

And will that kind of thinking ever get us to where we want to go?

What are the questions in Macon, in Georgia, in this country? And are we willing to reverse them?

In Macon we often fight along racial lines. Our new Mayor, Robert Reichert, spoke to this Tuesday evening during his inaugural address"
I grew up in the 1960s, and I was a witness to the civil rights struggle. I didn't personally participate in opposing the civil rights movement back then, but I sat on the sidelines and did nothing; for years. I am haunted now by my failure to speak up. ...

My heart is changed, and I hope to inspire and lead others in this community to demonstrate their change of heart. ... we need to aggressively pursue all appropriate opportunities to get to know our neighbors, not move away from them.

Reichert did not specifically mention consolidation of the city and county governments here, but he made a reference to it by mentioning the "imaginary lines on the ground we call the city limits that separate us."

After his speech I was walking with Mayor Jack Ellis, whom Reichert replaced.

"He spoke to the heart of the matter," Ellis said. "Now, will the people consolidate?"

If not for race, if not for fear among blacks and whites that new voting districts would reduce one group's political power, it would have happened long ago, Ellis said.

Now, who's reversing the question?

In fact, I did wonder (aka the DOT explodes)

Worthwhile information for me to steal from other folks today:

Dick Pettys on new DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham:
Living up to her reputation as a turnaround expert for troubled state agencies, Gena Abraham, the new DOT commissioner, is stirring the pot at an agency that hasn’t seen change for many years. The proof of that is in the flurry of meetings at the Capitol Tuesday and Wednesday that involved the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, DOT board members and some top legislators, at various times.

For those who wondered, that’s why some DOT board meetings were abruptly cancelled or re-scheduled this week, as the new DOT commissioner briefed the state’s high command - and members of her own board - on what she needs to do to drag the department into the 21st Century.

And here's Ariel Hart's version in the AJC:
Gena Abraham, eight days in office as commissioner of DOT, told Gov. Sonny Perdue Wednesday that her new staff couldn't tell her how many projects the department has on its books, giving her answers ranging from 1,100 to the latest answer, 9,211, of which 2,470 are active.

The Governor's Commission for a New Georgia has found some problems at the department, too, and the Speaker of the House and Lieutenant Governor got together and commissioned an audit earlier this year. But all it really took was having a new director for about a week to make everything blow up.

History everywhere

In a city as old as Macon, there are all kinds of cool little hidden things. When Jack Ellis had the "Mayor Jack Ellis" plaque removed from the door to his office at city hall, they found one of them:













That would be Mayor Ronnie "Machine Gun" Thompson ('68 - '75), who may or may not have wielded a machine gun and driven a tank down the street in Macon at some point in his tenure.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The I-16 / I-75 Interchange

We'll work this up for a piece in the regular paper soon (although it's not really new news, unless you haven't been paying attention). But I thought folks might like to see side-by-side pictures of the current interchange and the one planned for construction here in 2012.

Now:














Planned:














Anyone who's ever wondered "How come those tree-hugging kooks in Macon keep saying this thing will be too big?" probably has their answer now.

Both renderings are from Moreland Altobelli, the primary engineering firm on this project, which is being coordinated through the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. The DOT communications staff, which I find to be really helpful, emailed them at my request.

There's a reason for all those lanes, of course. To the south (your left) of the drawing there's an interstate exit. And to the east (your down) there are three exits off of I-16 all within a mile-and-a-half or so. That it is really unusual and complicates the interchange because of the "weaving" it creates.

That means people have to shift across several lanes under the current design to quickly go from I-75 to I-16 to Spring Street, which is the first exit.

The engineers' answer has been to separate the entrance and exit ramps. The ramps are going to be very long, so you will basically have to decide what you want to do (continue on I-75, get on I-16, get off on an exit) well before you reach the interchange itself. And then you'll be locked into that decision by concrete barriers. I'm not certain how many different "locked in" ramps there will be, or where they will begin, but I will check on that.

Without some pretty clear signage (and maybe even with it) I think it's safe to say a lot of people will be missing their exits. But the weave would be solved.

Finally - that small bridge on the far left of the new design? That's the pedestrian bridge across the river for the greenway trail.

The DOT's Web site for this project, by the way, is http://www.i16i75.com/.

Classy

From the Political Insiders.

End of the show

Unlike many people, I actually think history will judge former (by one day now) Mayor Jack Ellis well. That is, assuming he doesn't get indicted by the feds, which I really don't think he will.

Of course, the mere fact that you have to add that caveat says a lot.

I spent some of last night with the mayor. He actually dedicated some benches at the city's Terminal Station at about 11:15 p.m. - 45 minutes before his term officially ended at midnight.

The benches were in the station when it opened in 1916, then were taken out some time after the mid 1970s. They were found in storage, but had clearly been left outside for some time.

Anyway, the mayor got them put back in, and the contractor told me last night that they held up so well over the years because they're made of old wood. Apparently lumber trees these days are given so many steroids, etc., and grow so fast that there is a lot of space between the annual rings. But old wood grew much slower, so it's more compact and holds up better.

These benches are made of Tiger Grain White Oak, the contractor, Joel Simms, told me.













Anyway, the mayor was so happy with the work that he extended Simms' contract on the spot, asking him to put benches into another room at the Terminal Station.

"I think a verbal contract... as good as written contract," Ellis said as he shook Simms' hand.

We'll see if the city honors this contract change, which would presumably be beneath the $10,000 spending threshold that would have required council approval.

The mayor was about to head to the car the city provides its mayors, which he said he has purchased from the city and will keep. That's something of a tradition for mayors, I believe. But first he noticed a trash can in the Terminal Station that was really full. Apparently it hadn't been emptied in several days.

To the best of my knowledge, Jack Ellis' last act as mayor of Macon was to tell a staff member to make sure that trash can got emptied.

Then he got in his car and drove home to pack. He was supposed to catch a plane for the Carribean this morning at 8 a.m.

The last thing he said to me was "maybe you'll cover my Congressional campaign."

He told the local Fox news channel last night that members of the Islamic community (he converted to Islam earlier this year) have pledged to raise $1 million if he does run.

We'll see. I doubt he will actually run against Jim Marshall, as he has said he may do. But he also owns a home in DeKalb County, and said last night he may run for Cynthia McKinney's old seat in District 4.

Now, wouldn't that be something?













Ells on Tuesday, saying goodbye to his long-time executive secretary Marie Chatman, who will go to work for the city attorney's office now. Marie often told me she'd pray for me. I hope she keeps it up.

"The Arctic is screaming"

Whammy:
Greenland's ice sheet melted nearly 19 billion tons more than the previous high mark, and the volume of Arctic sea ice at summer's end was half what it was just four years earlier, according to new NASA satellite data obtained by The Associated Press.

"The Arctic is screaming," said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government's snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colo.

Luckily we live in Georgia, where global warming doesn't exist. Oh, but wait:
In the United States, a weakened Arctic blast moving south to collide with moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can mean less rain and snow in some areas, including the drought-stricken Southeast, said Michael MacCracken, a former federal climate scientist who now heads the nonprofit Climate Institute. Some regions, like Colorado, would likely get extra rain or snow.

More than 18 scientists told the AP that they were surprised by the level of ice melt this year.

Huh. Guess we better build some more reservoirs and interstate lanes. By the way, the temperature today in Macon? 76 degrees.

Thanks to Neill Herring for sending me this story on his listserv, though I linked the Fox News version. Somehow I doubt Neill reads much off of Fox News.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A couple of other Reichert things

For those that don't know, Macon gets a new mayor tonight at midnight. Robert Reichert, a former state legislator, won in a landslide, basically destroying all other comers and convincing this newspaper, and other folks as well, to bandy around words like "unity" and "mandate."

He spoke to the local legislative delegation this morning, and the annexation issue is covered below. But I wanted to note a couple of other things:

- His energy level is impressive. He was smacking me on the back and really getting into his explanations on things. He was clearly excited and passionate. Of course, it's not even his first day yet.

- As with many local leaders, he's a big supporter of commuter rail to Atlanta. But it was his reasoning that I found most interesting. Mainly, he had some, and he articulated it well.

With Atlanta drying up, and water and transportation fixes in the metro area likely to be so very expensive, Reichert said we need "to disperse people and commuter rail is one wonderful way."

I've been thinking something similar for a while now - that Atlanta's water shortage presents a great opportunity for growth in Middle Georgia, if the state will embrace a different philosophy.

Other states, such as Florida, have lots of large cities instead of just one. Why not Georgia?

Anyway, back to Reichert and commuter rail. He did something you seldom hear politicians do. He talked about the state in 50 years, not just the next 5, 10 or even 20 years.

He was talking about starting commuter rail projects, even though they might not show their full worth for some time.

"Where, as a state, are we going to be in 2050, 2075 if we don't start?" he asked.

Reichert: I'm coming for you, Idle Hour

That's a joke headline I told incoming Macon Mayor Robert Reichert we were going to print atop a story about him wanting to annex new property into the city. He wants to use the dreaded "legislative method" of annexation.

That's the one where the General Assembly votes and, boom, you're in a city whether you like it or not. Since folks can get water and sewer services here without annexing into Macon, there's not much incentive for them to annex voluntarily. Hence the city limits haven't changed since 1994 - and even that was just a relatively small change.

Expanding the city limits like this has been a political pipe dream for Macon mayors for years. Idle Hour Country Club is nearly surrounded by the city, has a bunch of wealthy members and doesn't pay city taxes, so it has been the poster-child property for the issue.

I say pipe dream, but it sure seemed like state legislators were listening closely today when Reichert pitched them on it. Maybe they were just being respectful, since he's just taking office (tonight at midnight, in fact) and he won the mayor's office in a landslide. Time will tell.

Hard to believe they'd vote for it and risk criticisms on the issue of property rights, but Reichert makes a lot of compelling points about the need to expand Macon's tax base and the equity of being surrounded by the city (and its police patrols) but not paying taxes.

Here's the story.

Then I drove to Atlanta and remembered

With all the water news and tax plans running around, I almost forgot that metro Atlanta has a soul-crushing traffic problem and the DOT says there's not enough money to fix it.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle has a good rundown on the politics of funding this issue:
After much debate, state lawmakers appear more willing to move forward with a proposed regional penny sales tax during the 2008 legislative session that could raise billions of dollars to combat congestion in Atlanta.

At the same time, they are expected to abandon a proposed 1 percent state sales tax for transportation projects in favor of replacing the 7.5 cents-per-gallon state gas tax with an extra 0.5 percent state sales tax.

That would bring the statewide sales tax to 4.5 percent. The total rate in the city of Atlanta would rise to 8.5 percent. ...

How long the tax will run (likely five to 30 years), who will control the funding (the state, the ARC or some new entity) and what sort of projects can be funded (a percentage for local roads, highways and transit, perhaps) should be answered when the study committee releases its final report near the end of December, sources said.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A tax plan for every Georgian

Some of the coming tax legislation has been pre-filed, though it's not exactly the stuff Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson has been talking about.

And you thought it was hard to keep up with the details of his plan. Prepare for mass confusion. Hell, another couple of weeks and I might be proposing a tax plan.

State Sen. Eric Johnson pre-filed Senate Resolution 686 last week. It is not, though, the Senate side of the speaker's plan that you may have read about. It's similar, but that resolution is going to be carried by state Sen. Chip Rogers.

The relevant section of Johnson's legislation:
(1) The value of residential real property and interests therein shall not be changed from the valuation of such property established for the 2008 taxable year except as a result of new construction, additions, or improvements to the property of the taxpayer which require a building permit unless such property is sold or transferred to a person other than the owner´s spouse in which event such spouse shall retain the valuation pursuant to this subparagraph. Once transferred or sold to person other than the owner´s spouse, residential real property and interests therein shall be appraised for ad valorem taxation purposes at their fair market values as of the date of the owner´s acquisition thereof. Such property shall be subject to annual revaluation, but any such annual increase in the value of such residential real property shall not exceed an inflation percentage established by the state revenue commissioner for the current taxable year. The state revenue commissioner shall annually establish an inflation percentage to reflect the effect of economic inflation on individual taxpayers, and for such purpose, the state revenue commissioner may use the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor and any other reliable economic indicator determined by the state revenue commissioner to be appropriate.

Clear as a bell. Can't imagine why people get fed up with politics.

If I've waded through that correctly, Johnson's plan differs from the speaker's/Rogers' proposal in that it has a full cap (not including improvements) until the property is sold. The GREAT plan (at least the version of it is in vogue this week) includes a 1 percent annual cap (not including improvements) until the property is sold. There would also be legislation to cap local government spending by tying it to inflation.

According to a Senate press release, state Sen. Mitch Seabough has his own legislation to pre-file, though it is not yet available online:
ATLANTA – State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh (R-Sharpsburg) has pre-filed a constitutional amendment to allow local governments to adopt a consumption tax for revenue collection in place of property taxes.

The constitutional amendment will allow each local government to independently charge a consumption tax that would replace property taxes completely or partially. This bill is not intended as a means to create additional revenue, but rather to allow each local government a choice in how they collect taxes.

If I'm reading this right, this seems to differ from the GREAT plan in that it gives each individual county or city or school board the option of replacing property taxes with sales taxes. The GREAT plan would force them to do that.

There are several pre-files dealing with taxes in the House, but I don't believe any of them are GREAT plan related. That would make then very unlikely to move this year, with the exception of bills that are very local or narrowly drawn (such as homestead authorizations for a specific county).

Salzer had a story today about some of these competing bills.

Extra Ellis

I followed Mayor Jack Ellis around a bit last week for this story on the end of his tenure.

He's just quotable as hell, and this is some of the stuff I had to leave out, but that I thought was worth reading. The first part takes place as we were walking out of an elementary school where he had been speaking to children.

You can say a lot about Jack Ellis, and people have. But one thing you can't say is that he doesn't care.

What was your life like when you were in the 1st and 2nd grade?
It was exciting, because I've always liked to learn. And I remember the excitement of going to school... because I was a farmer's son we couldn't go to school. We had to stay out and...

He trails off. Something comes over his eyes. He sighs a bit and sniffs. A school official thanks him for coming and he says goodbye and thank you. He continues, but he does not return to that farmland.
These kids. If they only knew the kind of world that they're going to. It's kind of hard for them to visualize it now. But the kind of world that they're going to encounter. We just owe them the very best that we can give them.

They have so much potential. But my question is always: What happens to them between now and when they finally get into some of the things that's happening in this community. Murdering. Going to jail. Dropping out of school. Where do we go wrong as adults?

I went to an all black school because we were segregated by law in those days. These kids are in an all black school and it's not segregated by law. I don't know, good bad, indifferent. I think these kids are learning. ... I just think kids should be taught.


Is this an emotional week for you?
Well, it hasn't been until just - these children. ... I became emotional in there with these children because I saw myself sitting on that floor.

Then to L.H. Williams. Then quickly back to City Hall, where the mayor greeted members of a Warner Robins church choir that wanted to put on a Christmas concert at City Hall after Ellis invited Muslim leaders to pray there during Ramadan.

Ellis, once a Christian and now converted to Islam, welcomed the group, then headed to his office as the choir broke into religious Christmas songs. In another city, with another mayor, all of that might have seemed odd.
I think it's very fitting to come in a government building - we live in a country where all religions can come here. The Muslims were here. I hope the Jews will come and celebrate Hannukah. We're not saying that we endorse any particular religion over another, but it just should be open.

Have you felt any backlash from Christians or Christian groups since you converted to Islam?
I don't think backlash from any groups. I think it's been more individuals than anything. The Baptist preachers in this town were great supporters of mine. Baptist and Methodist. The Christian ministers period. ... But have I recieved some deragatory letters or emails from people who claimed they were Christians? I have. I have to question how much Christians they really are.

(This last bit was after he spoke to some parks and recreation employees Thursday morning. The sun was finally up, and it was a question I'd come up with the night before.)

You're leaving, and Reichert's coming in. But who's the new guard and who's the old guard in that?
That's a good question, isn't it? Some people, it depends on who you ask, I guess. I happen to have a lot of respect for Robert Reichert. If I didn't, I wouldn't have hired him on several occassions to help me through some complicated and complex issues, legal issues. A lot of people say he's 'back to the future' and so forth. I want to give him every benefit of the doubt.

... He's my mayor now and I will support him 100 percent. But, you know, like they did me, when they thought I was wrong, they called it to my attention. I won't be publicly - I would never publicly criticize him. Never, ever. But, if I have some issues, I'll call him.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"Bush wins national knee in kidney poll"

A little ridiculousness for your weekend. Warning, there's a little bit of language in it:

Poll: Mitt Romney Is Candidate Most Voters Want To Get Into Bar Fight With

"Who said I'm impetuous? I'll fire them right now!"

Mayor Jack Ellis helped dedicate a public fountain in downtown Macon today, and I heard his say something that was just classic Ellis.
"This will be one of the safest, of course, every place is safe in Macon, but this will be one of the safest places in Macon. Like to recognize Councilman-elect Ellington. I finally got your name right, Ellington. I always called him Elliott for the last few (months)."

Ellis seldom makes prepared remarks, so there are hundreds of classic Ellis comments like this. He can reverse his field like you wouldn't believe, and I honestly have no idea whether he means to insult people with back-handed compliments like the one he dealt Ellington today or not.

This all reminds me of my all-time favorite Jack Ellis quote. He was wrapping up a press conference a few years ago when a T.V. reporter told him that one of his staff members had described him as either impetuous or impulsive. I can't remember which "i" word was used, which is why the quote never made the paper, but they basically mean the same thing.

The reporter asked Ellis if he had any response. He did:
"Who said I'm impetuous?" he asked. "I'll fire them right now!"

I cannot over-state how much I'm going to miss this guy. He has been a newspaper reporter's dream.

Crazy like a fox, or just crazy?

Let me state for the record that Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson is smarter than me. I'm pretty brilliant, so that should make you feel good about leadership in the Georgia House of Representatives.

But the more I read, the more I wonder: Is he getting out-flanked these days? Has he mis-calculated, or does he have things right where he wants them?

And are politicians just required to have enemies?

Two posts from the Political Insiders have me pondering this today. In this one, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and DOT Board member Mike Evans spill a pretty poorly kept secret: That Richardson made a strong-armed push to get state Rep. Vance Smith into the top spot at the Georgia DOT.
Evans said the speaker had personally warned him to vote his way: “He said if you don’t do what I’m telling you to do I will have your board seat in January,” the DOT commissioner said.

Asked about the above, a spokeswoman for Richardson told Hart: “Obviously, there was a difference of opinion between the lieutenant governor and the House of Representatives over who should be the next DOT commissioner. However, Commissioner Abraham is bright and capable and the Speaker looks forward to working with her in the years to come.”

And this post, about the ever-shifting GREAT plan, sounds a lot like a threat.

Come to think of it, so does this.

Great stuff from the Insiders today.

I'm new to all this, but it sure seems like an awful lot of hard lines are being drawn. And they're all being drawn by factions of the same Republican Party.

This past legislative session I said that "Burning Down the House" should have been the theme song of the session because of all the in-fighting. Could this coming session be even worse? And by worse, of course, I mean more entertaining, but kind of depressing at the same time.

Hold tight, we're in for nasty weather.

November revenue figures out

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of November 2007 (FY08) totaled $ 1,409,595,000 compared to $1,278,362,000 for November 2006 (FY07), an increase of $ 131,233,000 or 10.3 percent.

The percentage increase year-to-date for FY08 compared to FY07 is 5.4 percent.

I like looking at this stuff and pretending I know the right way to interpret it. Looking at the more detailed breakdown it looks like things are up across the board, including sales tax revenues. Does that mean holiday shopping is up? Quite possibly, but I am not an economist and I didn't stay in a Holiday Express last night.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ellis at the end

This is part funny and part sad, but mostly it's just very human:

Macon Mayor Jack Ellis, whose last day in office is Tuesday, has called on members of the Urban Development Authority, Industrial Authority, Chamber of Commerce, NewTown Macon and the Macon Economic Development Commission to join him for lunch on Monday.

I haven't been able to get in touch with the mayor, but from talking to some of the invitees, it sounds like he wants to debrief them, share his thoughts on a few things and talk about his vision for the city's future. I guess that's just in case folks missed it the last 8 years he's been in office. The request went out today about lunchtime, and a lot of these people are the busy mover-and-shaker type. It will be interesting to see how many pay Ellis the respect honoring this relatively last-minute request.

I've spent a lot of time with the mayor over the last week for a story I'm doing about him leaving office. I've watched him interact with several different groups: school children, city sanitation workers, local officials. He has done what many men of power do when that power is at its end: Seemed desperate to make some final impact.

UPDATE: I spoke to the mayor about this:
"I want to speak to them about some things that I'm privy to, some things that Standard & Poor's and Moody's said to us. And we all have to come together and address those issues, especially when they're talking about a stagnant tax base. I thin that we are better off than what Wall Street is seeing us as. ... And vision, too. I want to thank them and then we want to talk about what I think... it's kind of like my last mini state of the city address, if you will. ... I wanted to do a wrap up to let them know some of the things that we've done together as well as some of the things that we've yet to do."

Giuliani: The safe choice... for mistresses

I picked this up at Tondee's Tavern, and it was just too funny not to post.

S.D., I'm sorry, man. But that made me laugh out loud.

If anyone's got a brutally funny, and potentially factual, rundown of any of the other presidential candidates, send it my way. If I laugh out loud, I'll post it.

Olmstead: Shake, then smooth.

One of the politicians I really miss talking to regularly is Tommy Olmstead. Now working part-time for Bibb County, Olmstead is the former Bibb County Commission Chairman. He's also been mayor of Macon, a state representative and head of the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

He's been in government since 1976, and he's one of a handful of politicians I've sat across the desk from and just known I was being out smarted. Not nefariously (necessarily). I just mean he was looking three steps ahead while I was catching on to the first one.

But I digress.

We were talking about Mayor Jack Ellis and Mayor-elect Robert Reichert, and how Ellis' legacy will depend in part on what Reichert does.

And Olmstead said someone once told him that, in politics, you have to have a shaker followed by a smoother. Reichert, of course, is the smoother. But it doesn't work without the shaker, he noted.

By the way, part of Olmstead's job with the county is to find funding for Lake Tobesofkee. He was talking to Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson for about 20 seconds before he mentioned it last night.

Graves: I'm retired. Pretty much.

Former state Rep. David Graves (who Allen Peake, R-Macon, replaced last year) was at state Rep. Allen Freeman's fundraiser last night and said he has no plans to re-enter politics. He said he's turned down some lobbying opportunities and that he's happy working as a pharmacist.

"I miss these guys, but I don't miss some of the headaches," Graves said.

But never, he noted, say never.

Harbin on the budget

I spoke briefly to state Rep. Ben Harbin about the state budget last night. Harbin chairs the House Appropriations Committee, which does much of the work in setting the budget once the governor makes his recommendations.

As a bit of back story: Much of the budget battle during the past session centered on the House and Senate, after rather lengthy negotiations, wanting to give some money back to taxpayers. The governor vetoed their budget. Now the state's cash position is stronger, though the reserves still aren't where some state leaders (including Warner Robins state Rep. Larry O'Neal, long an advocate of strong reserves) have said they should be.

So, as the 2008 session opens, what's most important: Cutting taxes, building the reserves or new spending?

Said Harbin: "I think having the reserves about where they are is going to be a priority." Then, state leaders would see what happens with the economy in "six or eight months" and consider new investments in the economy (read: pork) or giving money back to the taxpayers, Harbin said.

Some things to remember: Gov. Sonny Perdue probably still wants his tax cut for senior citizens, the speaker wants to overhaul the entire tax system, and Harbin wants funding for the Golf Hall of Fame which is either in or near his Augusta-area district. Perdue cut that funding out of the budget earlier this year.

Keen and Richardson: Let's write this museum some checks

OK, they didn't say that. But if I were the Georgia Sports and Music Hall of Fame, I'd go knocking on Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson and Majority Leader Jerry Keen's door during this coming legislative session. The state's reserves have risen, and both men spoke glowingly of the Music Hall of Fame last night, where they attended a fundraiser for local state Rep. Allen Freeman.

I didn't ask either man if a specific facility should get more state funding. (The sports and music halls both get state funding, but have taken budget cuts in recent years).

The question was whether it's appropriate to spend taxpayer money on museums. I expected answers with some blend of fiscal conservatism and politeness, considering they were standing in the Music Hall of Fame. But what I got was, essentially, gushing.

Said Keen, with wide eyes and a smile: "This is outstanding. ... I'm really embarrassed to say this is my first time here, but it won't be my last."

Keen described himself as a "music nut," said he loves The Allman Brothers Band, which hit it big here in Macon, and that he remembers listening to the LeFevres' gospel music as a child.

One of the first displays when you enter the museum: The LeFevres. Keen said the state needs to make sure it brings companies it's trying to woo here to the Macon museum district.

"I have always supported the investment of state resources in these types (of endeavors)," he said.

By the way, Keen was really excited when I told him about this, which is one of the cooler hidden things in Macon.

As for the speaker on museums: "It's so easy for people to say we shouldn't be doing that, that it's 'pork.' ... Museums and areas that recognize and lift up people that are connected (to Georgia) are good for Georgia."

The speaker specifically said that the state should "absolutely" help fund museum operations.

Freeman: Kind of a big deal

I hung out for about an hour last night at state Rep. Allen Freeman's fundraiser at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon. Freeman, R-Macon, has rather quietly become kind of a big deal at the statehouse, judging by the folks he brought into town.

Chuck Leavell, the Rolling Stones keyboardist/Twiggs County tree farmer, performed. The Speaker of the House was there and brought a House photographer with him. So was the Majority Leader, state Rep. Jerry Keen, and the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, state Rep. Ben Harbin.

In fact, the only thing there were more of than the politicians and big wigs inside the Music Hall of Fame were SUVs and Lincoln Town Cars outside in the parking lot.

I'll post some tidbits I heard shortly, but here's a list of the other folks I saw at this thing:

Republican Congressional Candidate Rick Goddard, state Rep. Tony Sellier, state Sen. Cecil Staton, state Rep. Allen Peake, Macon CVB Director Janice Marshall, Mercer University President Bill Underwood, former Mercer University President Kirby Godsey, state Rep. Ron Stephens, former state Rep. David Graves, former state Rep. and DOT Board Member Ward Edwards, Bibb County Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop, former Bibb County Commission Chairman Tommy Olmstead (hey - a Democrat sighting), local real estate big-timer (and one of the key players behind the speaker's GREAT tax plan) Roy Fickling.

There were also a lot of lobbyists and Middle Georgia movers and shakers. All in all, it seemed like impressive attendance, but then I don't go to a lot of political fundraisers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Macon City Council

A picture is worth a thousand words. This picture is of multiple pictures, so it's worth, like, a million I guess:













It's from the lobby of Macon City Hall, where city council members (and the mayor) have their pictures hanging. Notice the empty spaces. If that doesn't tell you what kind of turnover we had in these most recent elections, I don't know what does.

The "old" council held its last regular meeting last night, and the "new" council takes over next Tuesday. It will be interesting to see what happens.

They won't have Mayor Jack Ellis to fight with anymore, and there seems to be a shiny-happy feel to Macon politics right now, what with Robert Reichert winning the race to replace Ellis by such a huge margin.

But the council, several members told me last night, could become more contentious than ever. There is a divide between old and new council members, particularly when it comes to the city's convention center hotel deal, which several new members made a top issue in this summer's campaigns.

The "old" guard, or at least much of it, was for the deal. Already current and incoming members are jockeying for position on influential council committees, as well as the president and president pro tempore seats. Deals are being cut, alliances formed.

Wait and see, but the next few years could bring, instead of a fractured relationship between council and mayor like we've had, a fractured council itself.

As one retiring council member said Tuesday night, "There's just too many egos."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Which is good, because we'll probably need it

More and more, it seems like people are getting serious about protecting the environment, saving energy and generally recognizing the fact that stuff runs out.

From USA Today:
Tens of thousands of small companies — from mom-and-pop stores to manufacturers — are going green by cutting energy costs and reducing the "carbon footprints" from their facilities, offices and fleets of vehicles.

The article included a few resources for more information that look interesting. There's greenbiz.com and energystar.gov.

Energy Star also has a section on home improvements.

Bibb Legislative Delegation getting together

The annual sit-down between members of the delegation, during which they listen to what local officials would like to see out of the coming legislative session, will be next Tuesday.

It starts at 9 a.m. at the Chamber of Commerce. Here's the agenda, from state Sen. Cecil Staton's office:

9:00 – 9:15 Welcome and Introductions
9:15-9:30 First Choice Primary Care (Community Health Center)
9:30-9:45 Middle Georgia Regional Development Center
9:45-10:00 Bibb County School System
10:00-10:15 NewTown Macon
10:15-10:30 Macon Water Authority
10:30-10:45 Break
10:45-11:00 Macon Police Department
11:00-11:15 City of Macon and Macon City Council
11:15-11:30 Macon Area Chamber of Commerce and Macon Economic Development
11:30-11:45 Bibb County Board of Commissioners
11:45-12:00 Bibb County Sheriff’s Office
12:00-12:15 River Edge
12:15-12:30 Closing Remarks

Monday, December 3, 2007

The 48th gets the call again

From our main site:
The 48th and 53rd Brigade Combat Teams have been alerted for deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Department of Defense announced today.

The units are scheduled to continue ongoing operations and training of the Afghan National Security Forces.

While not guaranteed to increase in value...

Steve Wilson over at WMCC News often makes stuff up for a living (both as a blogger and, I imagine, a lawyer). But I can tell you that, without a doubt, this one's true.

Mayor Ellis is definitely passing out these commemorative coins. As for the questions Wilson (aka Macon's most eloquent satirist) poses, I don't know. But it's worth checking out.

Nail meets head

Must read account of Friday's speeches by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson from the Political Insiders.

The coverage basically encapsulates the two men's personalities, or at least what I've seen in my limited time around them. But it doesn't take too many meetings to read someone.

On Cagle:
Cagle received the standing ovation that Richardson would not. The lieutenant governor, elected statewide, clearly likes to be liked.

And on Richardson:
We do not know what Richardson’s ultimate ambitions are. But judging by Friday’s performance, he’d rather be right than governor.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The GREAT Plan, version 4.0

Jim Galloway and Bridget Gutierrez did a nice piece on the speaker's latest version of the GREAT plan.

The basics are as Dick Pettys reported last week, but this quote in Galloway's article caught my attention:
Richardson denied that his revision was a retreat, or that he was having trouble winning support for the plan within his Republican caucus. "I could make this happen the way I've got it out there," the House speaker told a reporter. "But so many people have so many reservations, I thought, we'll show them how much money this produces."

It sounds like Richardson's saying he has the votes to pass a full repeal of property taxes. Surely he's speaking in vague terms - predicting victory based on polls he's done instead of promising passage in the General Assembly based on a nose count.

Because if he really has the votes, and property taxes are so wrong, as the speaker has said repeatedly, why not just do it?

Also, if Richardson has the votes, what deal has he struck, and with which Democrats? It takes a two-thirds majority to pass this thing, because it would be a call for a constitutional amendment referendum, and there aren't enough Republicans to hit that mark without some bi-partisan support.

State Rep. DuBose Porter, the House Minority Leader, told me last week that he and the speaker haven't even sat down to discuss the tax plan.

I've also spoken to some rural Republicans who expressed reservations about the initial plan, but also said they don't want to upset the speaker by making those reservations public.

By the way, I just made up the "version 4.0" thing. But it's about right.

Amy Morton is on a roll

She's all over U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Big Tobacco's donations to his campaign:

Here and here.

And she's jumping on Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's ever-shifting GREAT plan.