Thursday, January 31, 2008

Marshall/Goddard fundraising numbers are in

And as you might expect, U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Georgia, holds a hefty lead. He has about $900,400 on hand compared to $347,700 for retired Air Force Gen. Rick Goddard, a Republican looking to challenge Marshall here in the 8th District.

Marshall also has the lead in fundraising for the fourth quarter of 2007, with about $191,800 raised to Goddard's $163,900.

From Doug Moore, Marshall's press secretary:
Jim Marshall has increased his cash-on-hand advantage in every quarter of this race. In fact, Rick Goddard is lagging far behind Mac Collins's 2006 numbers while Jim Marshall has increased his fundraising pace.

I checked the numbers and Doug is right. This time in 2006 Collins, a former congressman who was trying to unseat Marshall back then, had $542,500 on hand and had just finished raising $354,400.

You can read get all of these figures at www.fec.gov. It's a little complicated, so if you have trouble, drop me an email at tfain@macon.com and we'll set up a phone call and I'll walk you through it.

By the way, Collins still may run against Goddard for the Republican nomination. His most recent filling shows very little activity in from the last few months. He's still got about $133,000 on hand, mostly from a loan he made to his the campaign committee.

UPDATE: Response from Tim Baker, spokesman for the Goddard campaign:
Over 70 percent of Rick's contributions during the last six months are from individual donors... Everyday, 8th District Georgians tell Rick that Washington is broken and it's clear they are looking for new leadership by the amount of support Rick is receiving from Georgians across the district.

On the other hand, Jim doesn't think Congress is broken and that is why Washington is bank rolling his campaign. Nearly two-thirds of his contributions come from Washington and his liberal leadership that are desperately trying to hold on to power.

Boy, that sounds like something I should fact check, huh? If you add the non-individual donations Marshall has gotten to date (that's the "Political Party Committees" and "Other Political Committees such as PACS" line items) and divide by his total donations, you get 68 percent.

But I don't know how fair it is to call that "Washington" money since it includes things like the American Peanut Shellers PAC, based in Albany, just as it does the Teamsters DRIVE Political Fund, based in D.C.

I added up all the money Marshall got in this most recent period that came from a D.C. address, or an address in nearby Virginia, and that worked out to about 38 percent. Tim said the point is this: Goddard is relying more on individual donations than Marshall, and that seems like a fair statement.

The money Goddard has gotten from PACS to date (he lists nothing from party committees) totals about $123,000, or 28 percent of his total.

As for Marshall not thinking that Washington is broken and his liberal leadership being desperate to hold on to power, that's a little harder to fact check. I do know some liberals who don't consider Marshall particularly liberal.

To continue from the Goddard campaign's statement:
To compare Mac Collins' fundraising in 2006 to Rick's is like comparing apples to oranges. The story here is not Mac verses Rick, but rather the needs of our country aren't being addressed because Jim Marshall and this Congress have failed the American people.

Let's go ahead and assume that Rep. Marshall's camp will disagree that he has failed the American people. He has certainly called out Congress in the past for the extremism, from both parties, that leads to gridlock.

At the moment, I'm wishing neither candidate could raise any money, because I'm not looking forward to a repeat 2006's advertising slugfest, during which the Collins campaign repeatedly distorted Marshall's record.

At one point I wrote this sentence, I kid you not:
To the best of our knowledge Marshall does not want Spanish- speaking illegal immigrants to overwhelm the country's welfare system, as has been implied.

Not to left off of the low road, the Marshall campaign put out an ad that referred to Collins as "Metro Mac" and implied that he didn't understand the needs of rural Georgia. Collins is from Flovilla, population 700. At the time of the ad he lived in Butts County. Even Tom Baxter knows that ain't Atlanta.

I really don't think I can take another campaign like that.

By the way, I neglected to look up fundraising figures earlier for potential Democratic primary challenger Robert Nowak, who has announced a run against Marshall. He has $7,146 on hand.

Are we giving foster parents enough taxpayer money?

Sometime back a local retired teacher forwarded me a letter written to state legislators by Angela Moore, who ran for secretary of state last year and is apparently also a foster parent in DeKalb County.

It took me some time to run down the details she referenced, but having had a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Human Resources check them against standard policies, I'm publishing a portion of Ms. Moore's letter here:
As I stated before, there are more children in foster situations in DeKalb County then there are children with (2) two natural parents in a household. These children attend school side by side with your children and grandchildren.

As a devoted foster parent myself of teens ages 13 to 18, I know the effects that under-funding for this age group has on a child. DFCS allows only $300.00 dollars per year for clothing and incidentals.

As a teen age young women who has monthly personal expenses, this can and is exhausted within the very first month of the year leaving the burden on the foster parent to keep the child in decent attire after the budgeted allotment has been reached.

Please bear in mind that Dept. of Human Resource dose not pay/reimburse for:

Baby diapers
Baby formula
food
hair/tooth brush
hair care/personal grooming products,
feminine products,
hair salon/barber visits,
Christmas/birthday gifts,
entertainment of any kind (this includes extra curricular activities such as art classes, piano/music lessons, amusement park visits, movies or vacations with the foster parent family, etc.)
any cash money given to the child for any reason.

This list merely reflects a very small portion of what is not reimbursable however, it is a list of immediate need and when a child shows up at a foster home on a moments notice day or night bearing neither the foster parent must immediately act and obtain them for the child knowing that they will never be reimbursed or not obtaining them for the child until per diem/reimbursement occurs some 35 to 40 some odd days later.
Now, here is state policy, as relayed to me by DHR spokeswoman Beverly Jones:
The number of children placed in a foster home will range from one to six (including the parents’ own children) and is predetermined by the foster parent and the DFCS agency. The foster parents are reimbursed for a child’s care. The rate varies with the age and needs of child. During the first six months of care, initial clothing costs are reimbursed by the agency. The costs are $150 for a child whose age is birth through age 12 or $300 for a child whose age is 13 and older. An annual clothing allowance of $100 per year, and medical treatment costs are covered by the agency. A toll-free foster parent support and intake line (1-888-310-8260) is available for foster parents and others wanting information about Georgia’s foster care program. DFCS relies on community organizations and the faith community to assist foster parents in helping them financially.
Now, Ms. Jones reports that individual counties can tack reimbursements onto the state portion. Ms. Moore was speaking of DeKalb County, but Ms. Jones pulled Bibb County figures for me, because that's where I am. There are about 400 foster children here, she said:
Foster parents in Bibb county get $175 per day for children up to 3 years old and this takes care of daily needs. Regarding formula, foster parents do not get reimbursed for formula but are able to get formula through the WIC program.

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CORRECTION: Yep, as I feared, there was a big-time decimal point mistake in this as it came from the DHR. The rate is $1.75 a day, or about $50 a month, not $175 a day.
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WIC is a federally funded program to help children get the nutrition they need. It stands for Women, Infant and Children. To continue:
Children beyond 3 years old get up to $20 per month for hair cuts. Foster children also get allowances and the amount depends on age. For example a six year old gets a $3 a month allowance and a 13 year old gets a $10 a month allowance. They also get waivers for school photographs, and waivers for clothing. Each child get a birthday gift of $10 and every child gets a Christmas. Bibb County does not routinely reimburse for entertainment, but will provide costs for some entertainment if budget allows. Older foster teens also participate in many activities of the state's independent living program...various lessons, tutoring... More than $8,000 was spent of Christmas gifts this past Christmas for all of the county's foster children.
The ellipsis there are hers, by the way. And $8,000 spent on Christmas divided by 400 kids is $20 apiece.

So there are some details for a program that I admittedly know very little about. I do think it's pretty obvious that it's better to raise children in a family environment, even a foster one, than in an orphanage. So the question is: Is the government funding that adequately?

I don't know, I'm simply asking.

The wisdom of Kirby Godsey

Last week Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson announced that former Mercer University President Kirby Godsey would be coming on board as an unpaid adviser. Last night I was going through some old newspapers and happened upon a piece that Joe Kovac Jr. did for The Telegraph back in 2006.

It's basically a transcribed interview with Godsey as part of a feature called "This I Know." Stuff like this is why Godsey is so well respected here in the mid-state, and beyond:
Education sets you free.

At a fraternity party once, they went out and got some chickens from a farmer here in Macon somewhere. And for some reason they got those chickens intoxicated at their party. So I had a call from an animal activist that this was a bad thing to be doing to chickens, that it was abuse to animals. So I wrote back and I said, "Well, the chickens did sober up."

Grace is life's most important gift.

I've found that the most compelling way to reduce tension is to acknowledge the importance and significance of the other person with whom you may disagree, and to consider the possibility that their viewpoint may be right.

An educated person is not a person who knows everything, but a person who is prepared to learn.

The key to life is not to contribute what someone else can contribute. The key is discovering the gifts that belong to you.

Fear is a person's worst enemy.

Prejudice is born of fear. We tend to be afraid of people we don't know, people that are different from us, people that believe differently, look different, come from different parts of the world, dress different, have different customs. All of that makes us uneasy and we deal with our fear often with prejudice toward others.

The reality is, we can learn something from even our enemies.

I believe that everybody is somebody's best hope.

When I was very young, I was at my grandparents' and someone drove up in this automobile that was ancient. I was outside playing with my slingshot. I hit the windshield of that automobile with my little rock out of my slingshot, broke the windshield. That was about as frightened as I have ever been. I had to walk in and tell my grandparents.

Fund raising is a part of my job. ... I said one time that I'd rather ask for a million dollars than a thousand dollars because it didn't take any more time and it was a lot more productive.

I was having lunch with a donor who had just committed $2 million. I was telling him that I've raised money for 20, 25 years and that I've found that people who were able to give were generally happier, healthier people. He called me in my office a couple of weeks later and said, "Kirby, would you tell me again how good I'm supposed to feel?"

I can remember flying over this campus and seeing this campus from the sky. The towers are quite a beautiful sight.

I think perfect happiness is realizing that we live in God's embrace.

I don't think there's any significant difference between fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Judaism. They're all cut out of the same piece of cloth. They all adopt very rigid views or beliefs and you either adopt that set of beliefs or you're unacceptable to God. I don't agree with that. I don't think any of our religions have it all right. We're all learning.

I'm convinced that God's affirmation of us is not dependent on our believing the right things.

All real living is relating, and relating at its highest is loving. I think our lives are defined by relationships.

Anger and bitterness and resentment will corrode your insides.

This community's future will not be created by black or white. The future of this community has to be created by black and white.

Race is a huge issue. It was very important for us to have a black mayor, actually. Because this community cannot achieve its best future without embracing the contributions of both black and white.

Two things you can't control are death and other people.

If you want to motivate someone, you have to find a reason that's good for them, and not just a reason that's good for you.

You are a part of the stream of history. You step into the stream, you step out of the stream, but the stream is flowing. By being in the stream, you are going to change in some small way the flow and the course of that stream. And you want whatever modest changes that occur to be constructive.

Men are rational and women are wise.

I think as you get older you have the capacity to become wiser. That doesn't mean that you will be.

No one is good at everything.

War sometimes is the best that we can do. But war is always the testament that we have not yet become fully civilized.

Creation is still going on. Creation is not something that happened eons ago. Creation is something going on today, and we can become a part of creating a new world.

No individual is ever responsible for the success of any organization. Success is always created by a constellation of persons working for a common goal.

State airplane use

A couple of months ago I thought to myself: I wonder how often state officials use the state airplanes and helicopters?

So I spent a couple of days in Atlanta pouring over records to find out. It turned out to be harder than I expected, because there are so many flights, handled by three departments. And I didn't even include things like forestry department flights to look for fires or state patrol flights for law enforcement.

I focused on politicians and department heads. I didn't go looking for a specific problem, because there wasn't anyone saying there was a problem. At least, not that I knew of. I just thought it was interesting. I had a UGA professor who once said "Every third rock you kick over ain't gonna be Watergate."

You still kick over the rocks, though. Anyway the story, which I wish I'd spent a bit more time on, but really couldn't justify because it took so long as is, ran today. You can read it here.

But allow me to summarize:

- There are three departments that fly folks from outside of their departments: The DOT, the DNR and the state patrol. None of them ask the requesting agency to justify the flight, they just fly them. The DNR and DOT charge an hourly rate to, say, the governor's office or another requesting agency, so someone has to justify that cost in the requesting agency's budget. But the state patrol doesn't charge back anything, it just absorbs the cost.

- The governor flies the most. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is second, largely because he's been a very popular speaker to request in this, his first (well, now second) year in statewide office. In fact, Cagle has a helicopter landing zone near his house.

- Right after last year's contentious legislative session, Lt. Gov. Cagle, Gov. Perdue and Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson all flew down to St. Simons. They left within two hours of each other, all on separate planes. Now, they give some reasons for that, which seem plausible. But does anyone think one of those reasons wasn't because they just didn't want to ride together?

You KNOW Millard Fillmore will be there.

I watched a good bit of the Republican debate last night. And I kept looking at Gov. Mitt Romney's eyes when the other candidates were talking. And here's how I interpreted it:

To Gov. Mike Huckabee: $%^& you, get out of the race.
To U.S. Rep. Ron Paul: #$%% you, you're making me look bad.
To Sen. John McCain: #$%^ you.

The only thing worse than watching McCain and Romney bicker over who said what when at this debate was watching the CNN folks let them do that. Seriously, you've got a chance to press the potential future president of the United States on policy, and you spend 15 minutes officiating an argument over who used the word timetable and in what context nearly two years ago?

Stupid narrative coverage.

Also, for some reason, at some point, I wondered: How many presidents have ended up, or will end up, in hell?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reichert to endorse Obama tomorrow

I usually don't post who's endorsing who, but given the way race relations and unity have been a cornerstone of new Macon Mayor Robert Reichert's brief time in office, I think this one's worth noting.

Tomorrow at 4 p.m. Reichert will be holding a press conference. Now, we don't officially, for-the-record know what he's going to say, but the location says it all.

1680 Broadway here in Macon, aka Sen. Barack Obama's local headquarters.

By the way, Reichert was sitting near Obama during last Sunday's service at Harvest Cathedral. In fact, he was the only Macon mayor (including a certain former one) officially recognized from the pulpit by Obama, who mispronounced his name.

UPDATE: Well, the Obama campaign just sucked the wind out of all our fancy deducing, which was aided not at all by a certain mayoral aide who pointed out the address thing. Anyway, the Obama camp makes it official:
MACON, GA – The Obama for America campaign will accept the endorsement of Macon Mayor Robert Reichert during a press conference tomorrow, January 31 at 4:00 PM.

The event will take place at the Macon headquarters of Obama for America. The office is located at 1680 Broadway, Macon.

Today's Transportation news: Everything is a good idea

NOTE: Actual information on transportation starts is paragraph 4.
---
In addition to doing normal reporter stuff today I was interviewed by a French television station about the role religion is likely to play in the Republican presidential primary here. Except I thought the guy was asking about the role race would play for the first several questions. Don't ask.

We also had Elliot Minor, former Associated Press reporter for South Georgia, stop by The Telegraph for a workshop.

And at 4:30 we're having a newspaper wide meeting to meet our new publisher, whose job I applied for, but did not get.

So it's been an odd day, and busy. But I don't want to go without posting, and I spoke briefly with state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, about this joint legislative transportation study committee's recommendations, which came out today.

Basically, they're recommending a ton of stuff and (I'm going into a state Senate press release here):
During the next several weeks, additional pieces of legislation affecting transportation and transportation funding will be introduced by the lawmakers who served on the Joint Committee on Transportation Funding. This legislation will include measures on public-private initiatives, transit systems, magnetically levitated transit lines, High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes and a resolution urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to devolve the federal highway and transit program to the states, allowing them to take over collection of the federal fuel tax in order to spend those revenues on transportation priorities of their own choosing.

But will that be enough to make up the funding shortfalls, you ask. I'm glad you did.

History: Basically there's a multi-billion difference between the projects the DOT wants to build or has promised to build and the money that's going to be available to do it. So there are two over-arching proposals (other than the public-private and the tolls) to raise a ton of new money: A statewide sales tax and a regional sales tax where several counties get together and charge an extra penny.

Typically these are seen as competing proposals, but this study committee is recommending that the General Assembly consider both ideas as well as the toll lanes, etc. So this is my conversation with Sen. Mullis, who is a study committee co-chairman and head of the Senate's transportation committee. It's been edited so it's still accurate, but much shorter and slightly more entertaining.
ME: So basically you guys recommended everything, which is like recommending nothing.
SEN. MULLIS: That's kind of cynical. Be an optimist. Our job was to make recommendations to the General Assembly and through the will of the legislature, with input from the Governor and transportation officials, decisions will be made. We thought if we narrowed it down to one or two options, that may not be good.

Sen. Mullis is pretty cool. At one point, talking about how all this would move forward, he said: "How do you eat that elephant? One bite at a time." I'm just wondering how many of those bites have already been taken, despite the study committee's apparent lack of commitment to one option or another, and how many will be taken on the floor of the House and Senate, or in committees there.

Also included in the plan is a recommendation that the General Assembly vote each year on an over-arching transportation plan. Now, we already have the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) that gets redone each year. Basically it bubbles up from local officials, who work with the DOT, to put projects into a funding timeline.
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POSSIBLE CORRECTION: I'm not sure it's redone every year. Let's say every so often.
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In other words, it's a list of projects with funding years attached to them. If you've ever read "so-and-so road is slated for construction in 2009," that means the STIP has the project budgeted in 2009.

This new plan, the one the General Assembly would vote on, is more of a goal-oriented plan, not a list of projects, Sen. Mullis said. A "direction list," he called it. It may also focus more on mass transit than plans have in the past, since Mullis said the state has done a poor job in that area over the years.

Now here's the key, and you can put it into the context of the house cleaning going on at the DOT under the new director, the fight over DOT board membership and the new funding mechanisms that may eventually start up.

Said Mullis: "We think we need a little more legislative oversight (over transportation)."
UPDATE: Dick Pettys posted the governor's response to all of this, contained in a letter you can download. I will summarize the governor's positions:

On the joint committee: Thanks for all your work, guys.
Transportation infrastructure bank: I'm on it. It's in my budget.
Railroads and aviation: I want $500,000 to study our freight infrastructure needs.
New taxes: Hell no. Or, "At this time, I cannot in good conscience advocate raising taxes on our citizens."
A new transportation plan: We totally already do that, so stay out of it. Or, "requiring another transportation plan would not only be redundant with duplicate research and reporting, it would also create conflicting mandates for performance of the transportation system."
HOT Lanes and Public-Private initiatives: Hell yes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Little Leaguers at the Capitol

The victory tour continues. The guy in the middle is not a Warner Robins Little Leaguer, but Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The two suits on the left are state Sen. Cecil Staton and state Sen. Ross Tolleson. Photo courtesy the Senate Press Office.

If you write about Macon, know about Macon.

Yesterday I held my tongue when, in a piece that referenced Flannery freaking O'Connor, Tom Baxter referred to Macon as "South Georgia."

Feel free to look at a state map on that one. There's a reason we call it Middle Georgia.

Then today, I see that Bill Shipp is reporting that Obama is getting some criticism for appearing "with (former Macon Mayor) Ellis in Macon on Sunday." Look at the site's right-hand scroll for that little tidbit of completely un-sourced information. And here is Shipp's full report on the issue, which makes no further mention of the alleged criticism.

Maybe Obama is getting criticism. But I'm the one sitting in Macon and I haven't heard any. Ellis has been working for the Obama campaign, knocking doors in South Carolina and such. But Obama no more appeared with Ellis Sunday at Harvest Cathedral than he appeared with current Mayor Robert Reichert or any of several other local dignitaries that were in the church.

Check out this video of Obama "appearing" with Ellis on Sunday:

Yes, that's Jack, getting snubbed when Obama ignores his out-stretched hand.

Shipp also reports that Ellis is now known as Hakim Mansour Ellis, which is incorrect. No one that I know actually calls him that, unless they're making fun of the fact that he converted to Islam last year.

Ellis said he planned to change his name, but never filed the paperwork. He's still Clarence Jack Ellis.

Look, it's always nice when the big boys of the Georgia press come to Macon, or at least focus on us. (I saw Baxter there on Sunday, but not Shipp.) But try to get its location right. And try to, you know, quote people in your reporting.

By the way, I found both these stories linked through the political insiders.

Various states of the Union

Basically I'm just going to excerpt press releases below. But let's start with my own State of the Union thoughts:
The State of the Union is strong, and yet we may be at the precipice of serious downfall, largely the result of our own past questionable decisions, that may lower our standing in the world. The world not being a competition, perhaps we shouldn't be too worried about that, and just try to fix the problems.

My advice to you, my fellow Americans, in this world of growing population and diminishing resources, is this: Give more, save more, use less. Not much, just a little. Just use a little less, give a little more, plan a little better and take responsibility for your life and, as best you can, the lives of others.

Also, that earmark thing Pres. Bush mentioned last night is going to be interesting.

From U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall:
When he became President, the nation was hopeful George Bush would rise above the partisanship that infests Washington. He’s still got a year to do it. And he might start with the economy by moving Democratic and Republican idealogues toward a stimulus package that is broadly supported by the American people. Party positions haven’t hardened on that issue like other major challenges facing our nation. Orchestrating just a few victories for America rather than its political parties would be a fine ending to his Presidency.

A portion of House Minority Leader John Boehner's statement:
House Republicans support the pledge President Bush made tonight to veto bills that do not significantly slash earmarks and provide appropriate transparency in spending. In fact, we believe that we should go even further, which is why we wrote to House Democrats last Friday and asked them to join us in supporting an immediate moratorium on all earmarks.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss' statement:
Overall, I know this was an important moment for President Bush to make a final push for his agenda and at the same time use the opportunity to push for new ideas. I think it was appropriate that the theme of his speech underscore the importance of trust, because Americans continue to lose faith in their government’s ability to get anything done – particularly in the area of border security. The reality is, we are in the midst of a 2008 presidential contest and while that will hinder the president’s ability to a certain extent, it should not obscure the simple fact that Georgians are looking for action and results on the issues they care about: economic security, border security, national security, health care, and education.

A portion of Sen. Johnny Isakson's statement:
I just returned home two weeks ago from Iraq. It’s remarkable the progress that’s been made. It’s still a very dangerous place but political progress is now also being made. The sacrifices that have been made by the nearly 4,000 young Americans who have been killed there do not need to go unnoticed or unappreciated. I remain supportive of the President’s strategy in Iraq, and I believe it is in the best interest of the United States and the free world that we see this through to the conclusion.

I’m glad the President finally delineated the problem when it comes to earmarks. He pointed out tonight that the last-minute, drop them in at the dead of night, conference committee earmarks are wrong. Authorizations are right, but last minute spending of the taxpayer’s money without accountability is dead wrong and should be stopped. The President is absolutely right.

A portion of the Libertarian Party's statement:
Tonight's State of the Union address went much as expected. Instead of calling for a more limited role of the federal government in American society, the President laid out plans that would only increase the government's intervention into the realm of economics, health care, education and foreign policy. It is unfortunate to see that after seven years of increasing the size of government and increasing the government's presence in the day to day lives of all Americans, the President refuses to limit the scope of the federal government, a once championed virtue of the President's party. The President's last State of the Union address encapsulated his legacy of an abandonment of the principles of limited government and individual freedom.

And this is a portion of Marshall's potential Republican challenger, Rick Goddard:
The President discussed the need for Congress to pass the economic stimulus package that was agreed upon last week. This package will be a good shot in the arm for our economy, and the President was correct when he said the Congress needs to pass the package without loading it up with liberal special interest proposals, which certainly would delay its passage.

I was pleased to hear the President challenge Congress to make permanent his tax cuts to sustain long-term economic growth. These tax cuts helped America down the road to economic recovery and have been the catalyst to months of economic growth. However, if Congress lets these tax cuts expire, as they have suggested in the budget passed last year, our economy is certain to suffer. I support making all of President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent.

I was also glad to see the President discuss how important it is for Congress to be more prudent in spending our tax dollars. ...

It is imperative for Congress to fully fund the troops and give them every tool and resource required for ultimate victory. As a former commander, I know full well how important it is for the commanders on the ground to have the freedom and flexibility to succeed, and General Petraeus and the troops he represents deserve the full support of the Congress and the American people. Any effort to undermine their mission is deplorable.

Monday, January 28, 2008

That semicolon is key

U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall's office called my attention to this: He has introduced a resolution that would set up a few more hoops to jump through before earmarks (aka pork) could be placed in a bill.

Looks like it's been referred to the House Committee on Rules, and it'll be interested to see if it goes anywhere from there. Congressional Quarterly has a story up (I'd link it, but it's a subscription service) postulating that this legislation may help Marshall in the coming campaign, when Republicans say he's liberal, likes to spend money, etc.

You know, all that stuff that didn't work the last three times they used this strategy against Marshall.

This is the text of the resolution. Read it and tell me whether you wouldn't rather see legislation requiring that all legislation be written so that a reasonably educated person can understand it, and read it without wanting to kill themselves.

I've tried to bold the parts that seem, to me, key. But, then, I'm only reasonably education, with a college degree and seven years experience covering government and reading legislation at the local, state and federal level. There's no way I could hope to understand the average piece of congressional legislation.
(b) Clause 9(a) of rule XXI of the Rules of the House of Representatives is amended by striking `or' at the end of subparagraph (3), by striking the period and inserting a semicolon at the end of subparagraph (4), and by adding at the end the following new subparagraphs:

(5) a conference report to accompany a bill or joint resolution unless the joint explanatory statement prepared by the managers on the part of the House and the managers on the part of the Senate includes a list of congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, and limited tariff benefits in the conference report or joint statement (and the name of any Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator who submitted a request to the respective House or Senate committees of jurisdiction for each respective item included in such list) that were not committed to the conference committee by either House, not in a report on such bill, or not in a report of a committee of the Senate on a companion measure, or a statement that the proposition contains no congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits; or

(6) an amendment between the Houses to a bill or joint resolution unless the proponent has caused a list of congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, and limited tariff benefits in the amendment (and the name of any Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or Senator who submitted a request to the respective proponent for each respective item included in such list) that were not in a report on such bill, not in the report of a committee of the Senate on a companion measure, or not in any earlier amendment between the Houses to such bill or joint resolution, or a statement that the proposition contains no congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits to be printed in the congressional record prior to its consideration or to be contained in a separate part of that amendment to such bill or joint resolution.'.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Video of Obama's speech, Edwards' trip

For Sen. Obama's visit to Harvest Cathedral in Bibb County I cut a 35 minute speech down to 12 minutes. The first part is his story of becoming a Christian, and it includes some biographical information. But he really gets going about the 6 minute mark.

If you want the really short version of his message, no one ever said it simpler than Jesus: Love thy neighbor.



"I believe that if we can recognize ourselves in each other, if we can love one another... if we can reach for a more united America even when it's not easy... then I believe we'll not only help to bring about a more hopeful day in this country, we will not only be caring for our own souls, but I believe we will be keeping faith with the good Samaritan. And, more importantly, we will be doing God's work here on Earth."

And here's some of the video Liz shot of former Sen. John Edwards' visit to Dublin:



I'm headed home, but as more stuff goes online (Liz is working on the video of Sen. Edwards' actual speech right now, I believe) you can find it on the home page.

Live from Obama's visit

UPDATE 3: Pictures and video of the Obama visit should be up now. Check it out here.

UPDATE 2: Liz Fabian is either at or on her way back from former Sen. John Edwards visit in Dublin, and we'll have her coverage up asap. Until then, Amy Morton has posted something on her blog.

UPDATE: It's over and Sen. Obama is on his way to Birmingham, Alabama. I'm dowloading video now, and more coverage will be up on the home site as soon as we can pull it all together.
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Sen. Barack Obama is listening to the pastor now at Harvest Cathedral. He's already made his remarks, and here's a quick update. More coverage later:

Fresh off a big primary victory in South Carolina, Illinois Sen. and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama came to Macon Sunday morning and delivered not a political message, but a largely religious one.

Obama, seeking to become the first black man nominated for the presidency by one of the two major political parties, told the story of becoming a Christian on the south side of Chicago - a decision born first of political and civil goals, then of God's grace, he said.

Visiting a church in an effort to organize Chicago faith leaders in a job trainging program, Obama said he was "introduced to Jesus in a way that I had not been introduced before."

Then Obama told the oft-referenced story of the good Samaritan, the man who stopped on the road to Jericho to help a stranger who had been waylaid by thieves, even when a priest and Levite would not.

That, Obama said, is what we must all do: Help others, and become our brother's keeper.

"Poverty has no place in a world of plenty, and hate has no place in a world of believers," he told a full sanctuary and more than 50 members of both the traveling and local press.

"We cannot turn a blind eye to slaughter," Obama said, referencing violence in the African nation of Darfur. "We cannot walk on by like the priest or the Levite.

All of us can speak out against injustice," Obama said. "All of us can build bridges."

Obama was well recieved at Harvest Cathedral, a non-denominational, mixed race church on the south side of Macon. he won South Carolina's Democratic primary on Saturday in a landslide, besting second place candidate and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Edwards will be speaking later today in Dublin.

Friday, January 25, 2008

At some point, don't you just stop talking to Mike Evans?

'Cause he sure ain't gonna stop talking to Ariel Hart.

Today:
Mike Evans, the chairman of the state transportation board, said Friday that House Speaker Glenn Richardson offered him a state job to tempt Evans out of an upcoming race for another term.

And last month:
After the meeting with Cagle, Hart — she’s the AJC transportation writer — had a conversation with one of the two vulnerable board members — DOT board chairman Mike Evans.

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.

By the way, Ariel Hart? One of the best reporters in the state.

When lust and hate are the candy

These comments will be unattributed because they were sent via email and the sender, I believe, left for the day before I got permission attribute them. But there's a lot of wisdom here about how the media works, why that newspaper that used to have 16 pages of national and world news now has 8, and why you will always get to know everything you need to know (and plenty that you don't) about Britney Spears.

Personally I blame YOU, the consumer, more than this writer seems to. And this is too kind to the print industry. But that doesn't make the criticism of media corporations, which for years have been spoiled by huge profits and are cutting costs in a futile effort to keep them while the Internet divides the market, any less cogent:
We all bemoaned the fact that content seems to be stuff like Britney Spears latest run in with the police or Heath Ledger’s death but not what’s going on in Zimbabwe. “it’s all about giving people what they want and people want infotainment.” But I don’t think they do – or not on the daily dosage it’s fed to us. I think those cuts have led to a dumbing-down of content. It’s cheaper for NBC to send a crew to cover the OJ Simpson trial 24/7 than it is to send a crew to cover the genocides in Rwanda. Although there’s some great work being done on global issues by print reporters, television shines a brighter light than the print media. The masses begin to think that this news is important because the media tells them it is – it’s the only diet they’re fed. Then the execs says, “see, people love the entertainment news, let’s pile on some more! Plus, it’s cheap!” It’s a vicious circle and it’s pencil pushers and accountants, not people who care about or have a passion for reporting, that are running the Ferris Wheel.

Well said. Although, in defense of The Media, one of the world's largest newspaper companies just paid me to publish this. Well, not really, since I pretty much do this in addition to my regular job. But it did pay for this computer, and the bandwidth.

The subject line is from a 10,000 Maniacs song.

Hopefully it won't take six years of war to right this terrible wrong

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart, who chairs the House Rules Committee, has been pushing an idea for some time now, and today's press release on it made me laugh just out loud enough to write about it.

It deals with franchise fees, which various utility companies pay to cities for the right to operate in that area. The thing is, the fees are often charged back to people in nearby unincorporated areas as well, and of course those folks don't vote in city elections. Any way, Rep. Ehrhart considers these "hidden taxes," though many companies do itemize "franchise fee" pretty clearly on the bills.
“This is clearly a tax dressed up as a fee,” said Ehrhart. “My goal is to create transparency and give the power back to the citizens by calling a tax a tax and by allowing citizens to decide if they want to pay the tax.”

Even Georgians who live in unincorporated areas and therefore receive no services from the city must still pay the franchise fee.

“This is the most offensive and blatant example of taxation without representation since the Boston Tea Party,” Ehrhart said. “Citizens in unincorporated areas never have the opportunity to express their opinions about city officials at the ballot box. There is no reason they should be paying taxes to a city.”

Do I even have to make a smart-ass comment here? I didn't think so.

I'm certain some would contend that franchise fees are indeed fees and not taxes. You don't have to have cable any more than you have to speed through a city you don't live in and get a traffic ticket from a government you didn't vote for.

At any rate, here's the basics on Rep. Ehrhart's bill, from the press release:
HB 938 would change the franchise fee system in three ways. First, it requires that franchise fees be called a “franchise tax” on utility bills.

Second, it prohibits franchise fees from being charged to those who live in unincorporated areas. This will result in an average of four-percent savings for utility customers in unincorporated areas.

Third, it requires that after July 1, 2008, cities must hold a referendum to gain public approval if they wish to continue charging franchise fees.

HB 938 is currently in the Ways and Means Committee. The Tax Reform Sub-Committee will conduct a hearing on the bill on Monday, January 28, 2008, at 9:30 a.m. in room 406 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building.

UPDATE: Response to the bill from Amy Henderson of the Georgia Municipal Association:
GMA is very much opposed to this bill. Franchise fees are just that - fees, not taxes. They are fees companies pay for the use of public property; they are no more taxes than are fees paid for the use of city-owned community centers.

Franchise fees, statewide, make up 7.2 percent of municipal budgets. That's 7.2 percent of revenue that is coming from a source other than property taxes. I don't think municipal residents would appreciate an increase in property taxes because one form of revenue - from the rental of property they own - is no longer available to their cities.

The difference between cities and the rural areas of the state is that in rural areas, Georgia Power purchases the land it needs for power lines; the cost of the land is calculated into the power bills of all Georgia Power customers - including city customers.

Every day is a great day for a philosophical debate on tax policy

Dr. Arthur Laffer, who has been heavily involved in the speaker's effort to do away with property taxes in Georgia, responded to the concepts covered in the New York Times piece I referenced Wednesday in today's Wall Street Journal. But since that's subscription only, Dr. Laffer's office was kind enough to email me a copy. Since I can't link the full piece, I'm going to reprint it in its entirety.

The boldings are mine, for the benefit of those people (read: everyone) who start to glaze over as the figures and predictions stack up. Dr. Laffer is writing against Democratic tax plans at the federal level:
Over the past 30 years, the U.S. has seen large changes in income tax rates as well as other tax rates. And, as would be expected, the budgetary implications of these tax changes have once again become a hotly debated partisan issue.

But missing from the discussion are the huge differences in how the top 1% of income earners respond to changes in tax rates versus, say, the bottom 75% or 80% of taxpayers -- the so-called middle class and lowest income groups. The "rich" quite simply are not like the rest of us.

From the standpoint of logic, the supply of their taxable income should be far more sensitive to changes in tax rates than the supply of taxable income of the middle class and poor. In the highest tax bracket, 100% of all taxpayers have the highest tax rate as their marginal tax rate. And it's the marginal tax rate that elicits supply-side responses.

Of course, if you look at a tax schedule, it's obvious that people with the highest taxable income also pay taxes in every other tax bracket. These lower tax rates are "inframarginal" and don't affect behavior. From the standpoint of the rich alone, a cut in these lower tax rates reduces tax revenues.

Some 99% of all taxpayers paid taxes at the 10% rate in 2005, for example. Yet only 25% of all taxpayers had 10% as their marginal tax rate. Thus a cut in the 10% tax rate would have a supply-side impact on a relatively small portion of all those who pay the 10% rate -- while for the rest who pay the 10% rate, a tax cut would result in a deadweight revenue loss.

On these grounds alone one should expect a greater supply-side response with a change in the highest tax rate than any other tax rate.

In addition, low-income earners have a lot less flexibility to change the form, timing and location of their income -- and the avenues open to them to reduce their tax liabilities are far fewer. The avenues open to higher-income and highest-income earners include 401(k)s, IRAs, Keogh plans, itemized deductions, lifetime gifts, charitable gifts, all sorts of deferred income compensation plans, trusts, tax free bonds, etc.

Moreover the culture surrounding low-income earners is not nearly as focused on tax avoidance as it is in higher income earners; fewer lower-income earners, therefore, even avail themselves of the limited programs, laws and other opportunities to reduce their tax liabilities. This means that the supply of taxable income in the highest tax bracket should be far more responsive to incentives than it is in the lower tax brackets, all other things being equal.

Many tax-avoidance methods require expert advice and counsel from people such as tax accountants, lawyers, deferred compensation experts and, yes, even economists. Higher-income people find tax accountants and lawyers and other financial professionals far more cost-effective than do people with lower incomes, not only because the costs are spread over larger sums, but because the pursuit of tax avoidance is, dollar of income for dollar of income, more profitable at higher tax rates. This makes the taxable incomes of those who earn more, more variable, and the taxable incomes of those who earn less, less variable.

Academicians and politicians have finally come to understand that it's the after-tax rate of return that determines people's behavior. Even though statutory tax rates are far lower today than they were when, say, Kennedy or Reagan took office, it is still very true that for every dollar of static revenue change there is a much larger incentive affect in the highest tax bracket than in the lowest tax bracket.

But what actually happens to tax receipts by income tax bracket when tax rates change?

Since 1980, statutory marginal tax rates have fallen dramatically. The highest marginal income tax rate in 1980 was 70%. Today it is 35%. In the year Ronald Reagan took office (1981) the top 1% of income earners paid 17.58% of all federal income taxes. Twenty-five years later, in 2005, the top 1% paid 39.38% of all income taxes.

There are other ways of looking at tax receipts by income bracket. From 1981 to 2005, the income taxes paid by the top 1% rose to 2.96% of GDP, from 1.59% of GDP. There was also a huge absolute increase in real tax dollars paid by this group. In 1981, the total taxes paid in 2005 dollars by the top 1% of income earners was $94.84 billion. In 2005 it was $368.13 billion.

In 2000 this teeny, tiny group -- 1% of all taxpayers -- actually paid income taxes equal to 3.75% of GDP, which is why President Clinton had a budget surplus. Much of this huge surge in tax payments by the top 1% of tax filers resulted from the huge increase in realized capital gains resulting from President Clinton's capital gains tax rate cut to 20% from 28% in 1997.

Let's take a look at the bottom 75% of taxpayers over this same time period -- the group current Democrats refer to as middle- and lower-income earners. From 1981 through 2005, the share of all income taxes paid by the bottom 75% of all income earners (as reported on the individual income tax returns) declined to 14.01% from 27.71%. As a share of GDP, total taxes paid by the bottom 75% fell to 1.05% from 2.50%. The bottom 75% of all taxpayers today pay less than 35% of all the taxes paid by the top 1% of all income earners.

Over the last 25 years, the bottom 75% of all taxpayers' tax payments fell and their tax rates fell. This is the group the Democrats are targeting for tax cuts.

The important point here is that, over the last 25-plus years, the only group that experienced an increase in income taxes paid as a share of GDP was the top 1% of income earners. Even the top 2%-5% of income earners saw a decline in the GDP share of their income taxes paid.

But now we get to the secret sauce, and the essence of what really happens in the realm of tax rates, incomes and tax payments by the rich.

We have accurate data on both the total taxes paid by the top 1% of income earners, and on their comprehensive household income as measured by the Congressional Budget Office. From these two data series we can calculate the effective average tax rate for the top 1% of all income earners.

Surprise, surprise: The effective average tax rate for the top 1% of income earners barely wiggles as Congress changes tax codes after tax codes, and as the economy goes from boom to bust and back again (see chart). (Blogger's note, I couldn't reproduce the chart).

The question is, how can that effective average tax rate be so stable? The answer is simply that the very highest income earners are and have always been able to vary their reported income and thus control the amount of taxes they pay. Whether through tax shelters, deferrals, gifts, write-offs, cross income mobility or any of a number of other measures, the effective average tax rate barely budges. But this group's total tax payments are incredibly volatile.

For the low- and middle-income earners, the effective average tax rate has tumbled over the past 25 years, and so have tax revenues no matter how they're measured.

Using recent data, in other words, it would appear on its face that the Democratic proposal to raise taxes on the upper-income earners, and lower taxes on the middle- and lower- income earners, will result in huge revenue losses on both accounts. But some academic advisers to Democratic candidates have a hard time understanding the obvious, devising outlandish theories as to why things are different now. Well they aren't!

In the 1920s, the highest federal marginal income tax rate fell to 24% from 78%. Those people who earned over $100,000 had their share of total taxes paid rise -- from 29.9% in 1920 to 48.8% in 1925, and then to 62.2% in 1929. There was no inflation over this period.

With the Kennedy tax cuts of the 1960s, when the highest tax rate fell from to 70% from 91%, the story was the same. When you cut the highest tax rates on the highest-income earners, government gets more money from them, and when you cut tax rates on the middle and lower income earners, the government gets less money from them.

Even these data grossly understate the total supply-side response. A cut in the highest tax rates will increase lots of other tax receipts. It will lower government spending as a consequence of a stronger economy with less unemployment and less welfare. It will have a material, positive impact on state and local governments. And these effects will only grow with time.

Mark my words: If the Democrats succeed in implementing their plan to tax the rich and cut taxes on the middle and lower income earners, this country will experience a fiscal crisis of serious proportions that will last for years and years until a new Harding, Kennedy or Reagan comes along.


Trained economists know all of this is true, but they try to rebut the facts nonetheless because they believe it will curry favor with their political benefactors.

There you have it. Longest. Post. Ever. But I appreciate Ford Scudder in Dr. Laffer's office sending me the full piece.

UPDATED: Edwards AND Obama in the Mid-state Sunday

Former Sen. John Edwards will be at the Farmer's Market in Dublin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, according to his campaign. The event is open to the public.

Fellow presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama is going to be in Macon on Sunday, according to his campaign. He will speak in Macon at Harvest Cathedral during the 11 a.m. service., according to his campaign. The event is open only to parishioners and the media, according to the campaign, but I don't know how they're going to enforce that.

The phrase "taser weilding Bibb County deputies does come to mind," though.

For more information on the visits, check out our breaking news story here.

Edwards in Dublin Sunday

Amy Morton, who has worked as hard as anyone locally during this presidential race, says former N.C. Sen. and Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards will be in Dublin Sunday.

There's a conference call later this morning to firm up time and place, and I'll post it when Amy lets me know. Go read her blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

That is a lot of meth

You'd be hard-pressed to find a police officer of sheriff's deputy who doesn't think methamphetamine use is an epidemic in this state. Now the Department of Corrections has put together a Power Point presentation that shows an explosion in usage over the last 20 years or so.

It's pretty shocking when you get an idea how many people are using this drug, which essentially amounts to poison cooked up in a bathtub.

Click here, and then click on the button that says "Georgia's Methamphetamine Epidemic" to download.

Sweet! Totally free money!

... that totally didn't belong to me in the first place.

The stimulus/tax rebate deal has been approved. I look forward to helping spend our country out of a recession without contributing to any consequences whatsoever.

Maybe I'll cut out the middle man and just send this rebate check directly to China.
UPDATE: It occurred to me last night, and to one of the commenters, that I have not been clear. So, my points:

1. It ain't free money, it's taxpayer money.
2. I hope this works and jump starts the economy.
3. I really hope it's not in lieu of addressing the long-term issues in our economy, particularly the fact that much of our massive debt is held by China, Japan and the people we buy oil from.

Don't tase me, bro!

UPDATE: Something obvious just occurred to me. If these guys are threatening to tase people outside of a major political event, with hundreds of witnesses, what's going on when it's just a couple of suspicious looking teenagers on a neighborhood sidewalk?
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It took us a while to get the details, and the official story changed a bit from Tuesday to today, but it looks like people were indeed threatened with a good tasing by a Bibb County Sheriff's Deputy during Bill Clinton's visit to Macon on Monday:
Two Bibb County deputies are being reprimanded for threatening attendees who gathered Monday to hear former President Bill Clinton campaign for his wife, Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy.

With crowds of people lining up inside Mercer University's University Atrium and hundreds outside the building, the fire marshal said no one else could go in, said sheriff's office chief deputy David Davis.

Almost 2,000 people packed inside the small intramural gym of the University Center, with about 1,600 folding chairs arranged on the carpeted floor before a temporary stage. The crowd was much larger than expected after only about 1,100 people had registered to attend by 11 p.m. Sunday.

Two motorcycle officers working at the event, Mark Schultz and Mike Thomas, were then told to tell people waiting outside in the cold that they wouldn't be allowed inside and to leave the area, Davis said.

"They were a little discourteous," Davis said.

He said one of the deputies said something to the effect of "they had five minutes to leave or they would be tased."

Why would you ban the purchase of cement?

I imagine there's a reason, but I'm ignorant of it. And, generally, stories like this just bring home the fact that we just don't have any idea what it's like in much of the world. I do know that walls usually make prices go up. From The New York Times:
RAFAH, Egypt — Tens of thousands of Palestinians streamed into northern Egypt on Wednesday after Hamas militants blew up parts of the fence dividing Egypt from the Gaza Strip, forcing an end to the closing of Gaza that had followed Hamas’s takeover of the territory last summer.

On foot, bicycle, donkey cart and pickup truck, Gazans crossed the border for a buying spree of medicine, cement, sheep, Coca-Cola, gasoline, soap, Cleopatra and Malimbo cigarettes, satellite dishes and countless other supplies that have been cut off, especially in recent days during a complete blockade by Israel after rocket attacks from Gaza. ...

Muhammad Mowab, 22, a student and barber, bought a cartload of cement for $5.40 a bag, compared with $81 now in Gaza, where Israel has banned importing cement except for specific humanitarian projects. “I’ve been waiting a year to get married, so I can build a house,” he said, then laughed. “Now there are no more excuses.”

A senior Israeli official, refusing to give his name because the minister who heads his department is away, said the development might solve a problem.

“This may be a blessing in disguise,” he said. “On the level of smuggling, weapons and so on, it makes no difference. But if it continues like this, it will ease tremendously the pressure on Israel on the humanitarian level. The humanitarian organizations will get off our backs. There won’t be any shortages. So that is a good thing. We don’t care if people buy food in Egypt. And terrorists come in anyway."

Will Republicans increase education funding?

After seeing this I wondered, are we starting to reach a tipping point on education? For several years, going back to the last major economic downturn, the state has not fully funded the QBE formula, which spits out a funding number for every school in the state.

This year it's "underfunded" by about $140 million, meaning that whatever the formula spit out, the governor has suggested that much less. It's sometimes called an austerity cut. That Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox and House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman would want more money is not surprising. And of course Democrats have been calling for this for years.

But that state Rep. Ben Harbin, who chairs the appropriations committee, says he's hearing about this "more and more" from people could signal something. We'll see. From Walter Jones' story:
After the hearings, House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans, said plans should have been made to scale back the annual shortages when good economic times returned.

“We’re all going to look at that very closely. ... We’re hearing it more and more,” he said.

Godsey to work for the speaker

The Speaker of the House has named Kirby Godsey, who may be the most respected quasi-political figure in Macon (I think he cures diseases and fights crime in his spare time), as a policy adviser.

I've never been to an event where Godsey spoke that people didn't absolutely gush afterward. The Speaker's office says it won't be a paid position and he won't have a specialty, just be an adviser.

The press release:
ATLANTA – Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) today announced that R. Kirby Godsey will serve as his senior policy advisor to the Office of the Speaker.

From July 1, 1979 to June 30, 2006 Dr. Godsey served as the seventeenth president of Mercer University and now serves as University Chancellor.

Mercer had four colleges and schools when Dr. Godsey became president in 1979. During his tenure, Mercer established seven new colleges and schools; the Eugene W. Stetson School of Business and Economics, the School of Medicine, the School of Engineering, the Tift College of Education, the James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology, the Townsend School of Music and moved the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing to Macon.

“I am very honored that Dr. Godsey will be in the position of policy advisor for me and my office. He has made great achievements during his career and I know that his knowledge and talents will be a great asset here in the Capitol,” said Richardson

Dr. Godsey earned his Bachelor's Degree in history and religion from Samford University, his master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, his master of arts in philosophy from the University of Alabama, and his doctor of philosophy from Tulane University. He holds honorary doctor of humane letters degrees from the University of South Carolina, Samford University, and Campbell University, and an honorary doctor of laws from Averett University.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why do we vote on Tuesdays?

You can check various online sources and get a pretty good answer, but I wanted something official and asked the Georgia Secretary of State's Office about it. The office's archive section went to work and gave me a pretty meticulously researched answer citing federal and state sources. The key points:
In 1845 the United States Congress passed a law designating the date for the election of Presidential electors. It appears, partly from the record of debate, that Congress selected “Tuesday following the first Monday in November” as an election day for at least two reasons: 1). America was almost universally agrarian and harvest was complete and winter not yet at its worse and 2) The designation of Monday might mean that folks setting out to travel to the county seat would have to begin on Sunday, interfering with attendance at church and observance of Sabbath strictures.

After 1845, there is a notable increase in Georgia Law designating Tuesday as a day for the convening of courts and commissions. In fact, there seems to be a decline in the designation of Monday for the same purpose. National precedent and widespread practice appear to have made Tuesday a very conventional selection for official business and community affairs. (We have not conducted a formal statistical analysis of this observation; it is based on our impressions.)

The 1861 Constitution of Georgia (the “Confederate” Georgia Constitution) continued Tuesday as conventional choice for Election Day. ...The Georgia Constitution of 1868 provided that... the election of governor, members of Congress, and of the general assembly, after the year 1868, shall commence on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. ...

The researchers (they didn't include their names, just put "Georgia archives research staff" at the bottom) concluded with this:
Final thoughts: It would appear that Tuesday as a choice for Election Day is deeply grounded in historical practice, at least as early as 1777. This would appear to have developed in a rural society to allow for the observation of Sabbath strictures and travel to polling locations. While Georgia displayed early and sustained adoption of Tuesday as a legally significant day for election or convening, this practice was probably widespread in America. By 1845 the Congress of the United States had passed legislation designating Tuesday as an election day for Presidential Electors referencing the ideas of travel and Sabbath limitations. It would appear that this precedent influenced Georgia to give increasing meaning to Tuesday as a day for elections and official business.

So there you go. Thanks to the folks at the archive. By the way, if you've never visited, you probably should. Here's their Web site.

Questioning supply side economics

This NY Times piece is brutally dense, but since we're talking about tax reform in Georgia with a heavy does of supply-side economics, an article poking holes in the theory seems relevant.

The writer, Austan Goolsbee, is a University of Chicago professor and is advising Sen. Barack Obama's campaign, according to The Times.

The parts I almost grasped and nearly found useful:
First, the impact of high-income tax cuts depends on how much additional income a person can keep. When President John F. Kennedy cut top marginal rates to 70 percent from 91 percent, take-home pay more than tripled for these taxpayers, to 30 percent from 9 percent. That is a big difference. By contrast, letting the Bush tax cuts expire so top rates rise to 39.6 percent in 2011 from 35 percent, cutting the take-home share to 60.4 percent from 65 percent, hardly seems the stuff of tax revolution.

Second, other research has shown that the new supply-side movement missed a fundamental shift over the last 30 years — the dramatic, disproportionate rise in the compensation of high-income people. The new supply-siders have confused this shift with the impact of tax cuts.

An example illustrates the point: Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, has compiled data on the incomes of the very rich from 1913 to 2006. Using his data, my calculations show that in the four years after top marginal rates were cut in 1981 and 1986, and in the three years after the rate cut of 2003, average real salaries (subtracting inflation) for the top 1 percent of earners grew 18.8 percent, 22.5 percent and 17.4 percent. But for the bottom 90 percent of earners over those periods, the average salary changes were 2.6 percent, minus 0.3 percent and minus 0.1 percent. A supply-sider might see this as evidence of the growth power of cutting top rates.

But the data also show that incomes at the top have been growing rapidly regardless of what happened to tax rates. In the four years after the increase in top marginal rates in 1993, average salaries grew 18.7 percent among the top 1 percent of earners and less than 0.1 percent for the bottom 90 percent.

Seeing the same pattern when taxes rose as when they fell indicates that tax cuts weren’t responsible. It suggests that cuts for high-income taxpayers likely gave windfalls to those whose incomes were already rising sharply because of broader market forces.

Third, recent research has documented that much of what the new supply-side economics attributed to tax cuts was really just the relabeling of income. Sometimes the increase in personal income was matched by an equal and opposite decrease in corporate income. At other times, increases in personal income turned out to be a result of corporate executives shifting the timing of their year-end compensation from a high-tax year to a low-tax year.

Shifts like these have nothing to do with supply-side economics. The academic debate continues, but thus far, the new Laffer curve has looked more like a fleeting figment of economic imagination.

That is sad, because it would be great if we could cut taxes and raise revenue at one stroke. Alas, the research suggests that we will have to pay for high-income tax cuts the old-fashioned way — by actually cutting spending or just busting the budget.

I'm emailing Dr. Arthur Laffer's chief of staff to see if Dr. Laffer would like to share his opinion on this matter. Dr. Laffer, aka the father of the Laffer curve, Reagonomics, etc., handled most of the research that Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's tax reform proposal(s) was based on.

UPDATE: Dr. Laffer did respond, but it's quite long and contained in this post here.

Iraq and the presidential race

I just got around to reading the Sunday NY Times last night, and I thought the first bits of this story were interesting. It gets repetitive and a little obvious after a while, so I'll excerpt the part that seemed useful:
FOR the past year, I have led a double existence, dividing my time between military reporting assignments in Iraq and tracking the campaign debate in the United States.

I have rolled north to Baquba with a Stryker brigade that cleared the city of insurgents and stayed with a cavalry squadron that found common cause with Sunni sheiks in Hawr Rajab. And from Iowa to Washington, I have talked with the leading candidates who were willing to be interviewed on the war (four, so far) and tracked the ones who were not.

Those were parallel universes, in which the discussion of the taxing road ahead and potential fall-back options were often so divergent that the generals and the politicians seemed not to be talking about the same war.

The American officers I met were hardly of one mind on how to proceed in Iraq, but they were grappling with decisions on how to try to stabilize a traumatized country with a hard-headed sense that although there have been significant gains, a long and difficult job still lies ahead — a core assumption that has frequently been missing on the campaign trail.

The politicians, on the other hand, seemed more intent on addressing public impatience with an open-ended commitment in Iraq, either by promising prompt withdrawal (the Democrats) or by suggesting that victory may be near (the Republicans).

Anthony Cordesman, a military specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who regularly visits Iraq, put it this way: “You have to grade all the candidates between a D-minus and an F-plus. The Republicans are talking about this as if we have won and as if Iraq is the center of the war on terrorism, rather than Afghanistan and Pakistan and a host of movements in 50 other countries.

“The Democrats talk about this as if the only problem is to withdraw and the difference is over how quickly to do it.”

On the ground with the troops, it is clear that a major military change was in fact made in Iraq last year — not so much the addition of 30,000 troops, but the shift to a counterinsurgency strategy for using them. That strategy made the protection of Iraq’s population a paramount goal in an effort to drive a wedge between the people and the militants and to encourage Iraqis to provide intelligence that the American military forces need to track down an elusive foe.

But counterinsurgency is inherently a long-term proposition, and that assumption has driven much of the military thinking about the future, even as it heightens the political debate at home.

“Unless you are suppressing insurgents the way the Romans did — creating a desert and calling it peace — it typically can take the better part of a decade or more,” said Andrew Krepinevich, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“The paradox,” he added, “is that counterinsurgency requires convincing the Iraqis of our staying power. At the same time, the American people view success in terms of how quickly we can pull out.”

A D-minus to an F-plus... whammy.

Andrew Young on strikes

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young (who has never once returned a phone call to me despite his assistants saying he would, but I digress) was on the Colbert Report last night. Apparently Stephen Colbert's father was an administrator at a hospital during a workers strike related to the civil rights movement.

They were talking about that strike, and the current writers strike in Hollywood, and Young said something I thought was really interesting. Strikes only happen when you can't talk any more. And he quoted a teamster: "Strikes are never about money, they're always about respect."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stopping those robo calls

UPDATE: Rep. Keown says the bill is dead because he couldn't get enough support. I'm not exactly shocked.
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If you really hate those automated political calls, you might check out this organization, the National Political Do Not Contact Registry.

According to an L.A. Times story about this organization, the group doesn't have the force of law like the no call registry for business calls. Basically the group just asks politicians not to call you.

But it's something. By the way, last year a state representative tried to add the force of law to this by adding political calls to those that can be blocked by the do not call registry in Georgia. You can read state Rep. Mike Keown's House Bill 22 here. Macon state Rep. Allen Peake was a co-sponsor.

The legislation died last year because some state legislators had "First Amendment questions" about the law. And a subcommittee of the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications committee appointed a new committee to look at the bill further.

No word yet on whether that committee will need to appoint another committee to examine the structure of the blue ribbon panel that will be needed to fully determine whether politicians should be subject to a law already in place for private enterprise.

I sent Rep. Keown an email to check on the status of his bill this year and will let you know what he says.

James Bond for president

I don't know how many folks read both blogs, but if you're a James Bond fan, I'd like to invite you to participate in this waste of both time and resources.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hey, I didn't come here to talk health care policy.

RETRACTION and UPDATE: I take back the part about him not being an interesting speaker. He was quite engaging in that he gave a lot of information and made me think. It was just too damn long. The whole thing started an hour late, then he spoke and answered questions for more than 2 hours.

Also, I should note that when it comes to dumbing things down in politics, I've been guilty myself. And that we are trying to give the consumers what they want. That is how we make money.

Finally, this retrofitting idea Clinton spoke of yesterday, is an interesting idea to kill two birds with one stone, as they say:
Clinton also repeatedly referenced a plan to spur job growth while simultaneously increasing energy efficiency and green-energy technology use in America. The plan includes $50 billion for a federal energy fund to speed up research and implementation of solar energy, bio-energy and other environmentally friendly programs. He said energy-cost savings eventually could pay for the program. Retrofitting public buildings with green technology would create many jobs - particularly for builders hurt by the housing slump - that can't be outsourced to another country, Clinton said.

UPDATE 2: I meant to add this earlier. On The Daily Show last night, a guy named John Meeks from NewsWeek (I'm not looking up how to spell his name) was discussing this issue. He said that, if the media has a bias, it's not an ideological one. It's a bias toward conflict. He put that much better than I did. I'm still not looking up how he spells his name.
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I covered former Pres. Bill Clinton's visit to Macon this afternoon. Honestly, it was a snoozer, and I was surprised. I thought Pres. Clinton was supposed to be some kind of riveting speaker. Maybe that's just when he's talking about himself.

Anyway, some of the national press came down to Macon to cover the visit. The feeling was that Clinton might respond to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's remarks from earlier Monday, which seemed to get overblown as a "shot" at Clinton, in response to his earlier "shot" at Sen. Barack Obama.

But Clinton didn't address it. In fact he gave a long campaign speech, focusing on America's problems and what his wife would do about them if elected president. Then he took questions from the crowd for an hour. In short, he did what we always say people should do: He stuck to the issues instead of engaging in political gamesmanship. And I'll guarantee you the event will get far less coverage as a result.

Granted, nothing Clinton said was new, which means it wasn't really newsy, either. Still, it's a shame to see the press in general more interested in a clever retort than a discussion of issues.

If Clinton had ripped Obama today, what would the headline be? Newsflash: Guy doesn't like other guy who's trying to beat his wife at something.

Not exactly news, either.

A must read on the session so far

I tried to pick out a little bit to quote, but couldn't find a section that summarized the whole thing. So here's my summary: You should be reading Insider Advantage.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mental health $$, thanks to The AJC

The AJC breaks down the mental health funding they essentially forced Gov. Sonny Perdue to put into his budget so I don't have to.

I knew they'd do it, and now I don't have to.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Clinton in Macon: Keanefirmed.

UPDATE: Looks like it's going to happen. We haven't got it all confirmed yet, but when we do I'll update here and you can look for coverage in the paper as well.
UPDATE 2: Yep. Monday afternoon at the University Center at Mercer University. And if you don't get the reference in the subject line, do a freaking Google search and figure it out. Square.
UPDATE 3: The Clinton campaign is now officially confirming the event. More information is here. And I'm sorry I called you a square.
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I usually don't get this far into rumor posting, but word on the street is local campaigners for Sen. Hillary Clinton are trying to get former Pres. Bill Clinton to stop by Macon Monday during his planned trip to Atlanta for Martin Luther King Day.

It wouldn't be Pres. Clinton's first visit to Macon. In 1992 he came through on his own campaign stop and, rather famously, took a saxophone hand off from a Central High School band member and played "Hey, Baby." He also visited in 1996.

For the record, U.S. Sen. John Edwards wife, Elizabeth, has visited Macon twice, I believe, over the last year, as I'm sure Amy would tell you.

By the way, I'm ignoring this

Where is Ringgold, you ask? Basically, it's in Tennessee.

Light posting today. Lots of stuff to work on for the regular paper.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cagle / Perdue at odds on transportation funding?

Let me just step right into the "Republicans just can't get along" master narrative that I've already criticized...*

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said today that the legislature will probably address transportation funding this year.

My question is: Does that put Cagle at odds with Gov. Sonny Perdue, who last week said the DOT needs to be fixed before it gets any new revenue sources? That would be interesting, because thus far in his term Cagle has played the part of peacemaker and statesman to Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's pistols-at-dawn, shoot-from-the-hip style, and the governor's Montgomery Burns like plan of slow and painful retribution.

Hey, I don't make up the archetypes. Wait, I guess I just did. That's pretty inappropriate. And they're not even particularly clever.

At any rate, the perception has been that Cagle and the Senate have largely sided with the governor, with Cagle acting as a go between at times for the governor and the speaker. Note the word perception. I have no idea what goes on between these three men behind closed doors, and neither do most reporters. Maybe the speaker and governor get together and do puzzles, I just don't know.

Any way, last week during the Macon stop of the GOP Unity Tour, with Cagle and Richardson by his side, Perdue:
... said he doesn't think proposals for new taxes to fund transportation projects - a major issue as the session opens - stand much chance right now. He recently backed a new head commissioner at the Georgia Department of Transportation, and she has blasted the department over inefficiencies. The governor said taxpayers need to know they're getting good value before politicians ask for more money.

Asked specifically if that meant proposals to raise sales taxes - whether statewide or just in the Atlanta area to help congestion there - are dead for this session, Perdue didn't get specific. But he said, "I don't think we're prepared," and expressed strong support for the private financing of roads through public-private partnerships.

What I didn't put into that story is that, when I asked Perdue specifically whether that means no new transportation taxes this session, he said he felt he'd already answered that question. He didn't seem particularly put out by the question, just said he'd already answered it, which I took to mean: Hell yes that's what I meant, Travis.

So if the House and Senate can come together on a new tax plan for the DOT, will Perdue veto it? And would the House and Senate work together to override? And would that break the perceived Perdue-Cagle alliance that the insiders suggest was in play on the NRA's gun bill? Who knows.

CORRECTION and UPDATE: I keep making this mistake. Resolutions like this one (calling for a new tax for transportation) wouldn't go to the governor for a potential veto because they are calls for constitutional amendments via statewide referendum. Of course, the governor would still have sway over this, but not the opportunity to veto. Also, it would take a pretty long time for a referendum to be held and collections to start, so there's wiggle room in the timetable.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

State of the State: The Dems respond

Lots of Gold Dome stuff on the blog today. I wouldn't expect that to continue through the session, though you never know with me...

A summary of the Democratic response to Gov. Perdue's address, aka direct quotes of my choosing pulled from the emailed text of state Rep. Kathy Ashe's, D-Atlanta, speech:
Eight years into the 21st Century, five years after the Governor promised us a "New Georgia," our state continues to face the stagnant challenges of yesterday. Despite frequent promises of action from the Governor and his party, Georgia continues on a perilous course.

Our public schools, where we sow the seeds of Georgia's future, continue to struggle. More than one in six Georgians does not have affordable health care - including almost 300,000 children. We continue to feel the burden of 1.3 billion dollars in education cuts forced on your local governments by this administration. And every night in Georgia - all over Georgia - too many of our children go to bed hungry and without hope for a better future. ...

Next week, Democrats in the House and Senate will introduce a new plan for tax relief - not a hastily conceived scheme that changes with the political winds, but a responsible approach that helps those who need it the most – Georgia's families.

Our plan restores much-needed funding to our public schools, and eases the strain on local governments, giving them the freedom to do what their constituents demand, keep our obligations to our children, and reduce property taxes. Most importantly, it gives public schools what they need to produce the next generation of Georgians, brighter and better-prepared than any generation in our state's history.

We will keep the promise made to students and parents over twenty years ago - we will fund the Quality Basic Education Act, and we will create the some of the best schools in the nation. ...

Once again, the Governor has said one thing and done another on education. Despite his rhetoric and rosy promises, Governor Perdue is introducing $141 million dollars in cuts to education this year. And as a result, our schools will be underfunded by one and a half billion dollars.

There were other promises about health care improvements, water and transportation, but the tax thing is as close as the speech (which appears to have been pretty short) got to specifics.

Tax cuts and increased spending for everyone!

Judging by the early local newscasts here in Macon and some of the online headlines, it looks like Gov. Perdue's recommendation that the state stop charging it's .25 mills on property taxes and his repeated support for the senior citizen tax cuts may be the biggest story out of his speech today.

I'm hearing local newscasters use the phrase "Gov. Perdue's tax cuts" an awful lot, and indeed these are cuts in specific types of taxes. But I think it should be noted that total spending for the state in the governor's recommended budget is more than this year's total spending.

How much more? About a billion when you compare it to the fy 2008 budget (not including the education adjustment and other increases recommended for the fy 08 mid-year adjustment).

Page 29 of Perdue's fy 2009 budget recommendation puts total state general fund spending at about $21.43 billion, compared to fy 2008 spending of $20.2 billion.

And when you add in the federal money that the state spends, which for some reason no one ever seems to, (seriously, see if you can find this number in your newspaper tomorrow) it's an increase of more than $3 billion.

The governor's budget (p. 31) suggests fy 2009 spending of $40.8 billion compared to fy 2008's $37.8 billion.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with any of that. The economy has led to increased revenues and the state had a "revenue shortfall reserve" of more than $1.6 billion as of June 30, according to p. 19 of the fy 2009 recommended budget. That is much more than in recent years.

I'm just saying, when you hear about all these tax cuts, don't expect that to equate to less spending.

Go read the budget, sucka

Gov. Perdue's budget recommendations can be downloaded online now. They're only a few hundred pages. Click on the link that says "Budget."

Someone with far more expertise than me will need to look at this and tell me what it really says, because when the state is shifting money around it can be hard to follow if you don't really know your stuff. But Perdue's supplemental budget recommendation for this year apparently includes more money for the state's mental hospitals ($15.2 million according to a notation on p. 8). The last I reported on this, the DHR had asked for an extra $12 million in the wake of the AJC's reports on problems at the facilities and the Justice Department's subsequent investigation.

But, again, there are shifts in various areas that make it hard to be certain what this means on first blush.

Also, the Democrats will be making a response to Perdue's speech at 4 p.m., and I'm sure they'll send out a summary that I will post a summary of in turn. But, already, the party is drawing attention to QBE cuts (aka: less education funding than the state formula says there should be) that have become an annual budget hallmark.

Those are on p. 185 of the fy 2009 budget, according to Matt Caseman, who works for Minority Leader DuBose Porter.

Small business legislative priorities

Linda Morris, who covers business for The Telegraph, sent me this news release:
ATLANTA, Jan. 16, 2006 – A clear majority—62 percent—of members of the National Federation of Independent Business, Georgia’s leading small-business association, favor eliminating Georgia’s property tax for both commercial and residential property and expanding the existing sales tax to cover both goods and services, according to the results of the 2008 NFIB Member Ballot, released as the governor prepares to deliver his State of the State speech. ...

At the same time, access to affordable health insurance remains a top priority for the 2008 session of the Georgia General Assembly. In its 2007 member survey, NFIB/Georgia found that only 48 percent of respondents indicated they provided health insurance to their employees. Cost was cited as the major factor in providing coverage

The results of a 2008 survey indicate that 75 percent of respondents would like to see small-business tax credits enacted to help offset the ever-increasing costs of health insurance.

That last thing sounds similar to Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposal to use state dollars to offset health insurance costs for small businesses.

Half-a$$ed state-of-the-state coverage

UPDATE: Mike's got a story about the speech up. By the way, bookmark this page. All of Mike's General Assembly coverage will end up here.
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Mike and the rest of the Capitol press corps will have more complete coverage later today and tomorrow, but here are some of the things that I heard in the Governor's speech. I watched it online from here in Macon and I missed the first several minutes:

- $120 million in his budget for water infrastructure and reservoirs. That's more than predictions I had seen. Perdue also noted that "more room for storage will not make the rain come."

- He wants Gena Abraham, the recent new head of the Georgia DOT, to also direct of state road and toll authority to "bring two agencies together."

- He announced a $50 million revolving loan fund local governments can use to help build roads.

- He announced support for a constitutional amendment to do away with the portion of property taxes that get paid to the state. It's .25 mills of your bill, and Gov. Perdue said it amounts to $94 million a year. This would also do away with the state requiring counties to keep their tax digests up to date or face a fine. Perdue said counties sometimes use this as an excuse to to revaluations and, thereby, raise taxes. "This will take away that excuse," he said.
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UPDATE: Dick Pettys shows us why it's important to know about things that happened two years ago:
Besides having that impact, there’s another bit of significance to the proposal. It also was proposed by former Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor in 2006 - Perdue’s rival. Perdue campaign spokesman Derrick Dickey said of Taylor’s proposal at the time: "He will no doubt promise every Georgian a Porsche and a shiny new toaster by election day. Nobody believes Mark Taylor's promises any more."

No mention of the Porsche or toaster (what an odd combination) in Gov. Perdue's speech.
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- Trauma care funding: He's recommending $53 million for it, less than some had hoped for. He mentioned the "super-speeders" tack-on to traffic tickets as a revenue source, but didn't mention any other sources. The super-speeders legislation is expected by many to raise far less than that, so we'll see which other ideas (such as the $10 tack-on fee for driver's licenses) stick to fund this.

- He wants to add more than 200 state troopers this year. I know there was some talk last year of there being a shortage - so much so that there was just one trooper covering huge swaths of the state at times. Perdue said that by the time he leaves office the patrol will be at operating at full capacity.
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CLARIFICATION: I may have mis-characterized this. The press release that followed Perdue's speech says the 200 troopers would be added by 2010. Presumably that means funding for training and recruitment in the coming fiscal year (or possibly some in his supplemental budget for this year) with troopers being added between now and 2010.
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- $65 million for transportation and technology for K-12. New school buses and such.

- Another $6.4 million in lottery money for pre-K programs. That will up the total slots up to 79,000, he said. Not sure how that fits in with Democrat plans to expand pre-K to 3 year olds.

- Perdue said he plans to be on Delta's first direct Atlanta to Shanghai flight. He'll also open the state's new trade office in Biejeng on that trip. The trip either leaves or arrives or somethings March 30. "That's a hint," he told legislators. They laughed. Last year was one of the longest sessions in modern history and it went well past that date.

- He introduced a young woman in the gallery as an example of... something. He said she's applying for a job at KIA's new facility near Columbus. Wanna bet she gets it?