Friday, February 29, 2008

Macon Day

I'm headed to Detroit for the weekend (Yes, Detroit. For the weekend) so I'll see you next week. But I'll leave you with a few thoughts on Macon Day.

- I tried all the food. It was all good.

- State Rep. Allen Peake gave me a ticket to attend the event, but we agreed that I don't have to be nice to him in return. Well, I agreed. I'm not sure we actually discussed this point in any length. At any rate, thank you.

- The pay lot I wanted to park in was full. So I went to the lot where The Telegraph had a space last year. Still worked. I'm sure The Telegraph is happy to have free parking, but I didn't think it was fair not to mention that the state might want to pull our free parking.

Oh, you want actual news, quoting people and stuff? Done.

Chip Cherry, who heads the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, said he met with new Georgia DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham Thursday and came away "real impressed."
Abraham didn't say it during the meeting, held on the annual local lobby extravaganza called Macon Day, but Cherry said it looks like the DOT has killed off the ever-shifting, ever-discussed, ever-controversial Eisenhower Extension project.
The "bridge to nowhere" in the downtown industrial district will still go, it seems, nowhere. But environmental activist and American Indian culturists can rest a little easier, since the project could have gone through areas they hold dear.
"I think they pretty much pronounced it dead. ..." Cherry said. "Just way to expensive."
The DOT is in a multi-billion funding crunch and is also looking at phasing in the work at the Interstate 75 - Interstate 16 interchange, Cherry said. Instead of spending $300 million at once, the department would address key safety issues first, then move through the rest of the project, he said.
Activists who say the interchange design is too large have been calling for that for years, though they leave out the whole "move through the rest of the project" part.
Other tid-bits from the meeting, from Cherry:
• The department is "watching the Forest Hill Road" mediation process.
• "Toll roads are in our future" in Georgia but "maybe not in Middle Georgia." Road building has just gotten too expensive to not use private construction capital, he said.
• Undiscussed at the meeting: The cross-county connector that would loop across Jones County to provide another river crossing (probably near Bass Road and I-75) and siphon traffic off Gray Highway.
• Both the Sardis Church Road interchange and work at the I-475 merge into I-75 are on schedule.
As for the broader celebration / lobbying effort that is Macon Day at the state Capitol, that was a great success, as always, Cherry said. The Cherry Blossom Festival took 1,000 cherry trees to Atlanta to give away, many of them to state legislators.
Locals took four buses, and about 130 people, to the Capitol to meet with officials. Then they wined and dined much of the Capitol with an open bar and a health sampling of local cuisine provided by Macon restaurants.
And, yes, you could get a Nu-Way there.
One of the coolest things, though, was that some 40 percent of the local folks who went were new to the tradition, Cherry said. That, he said, gave them a great chance to learn about state government and the legislative process.
Here's a Political Notebook wish that it didn't jade them. At least, not completely.

See blog slogan.

At the Capitol yesterday a Republican suggested to me that the real reason House Democrats refused to play ball with the Speaker on his tax reform plan wasn't that they thought doing away with school property taxes and replacing the money with sales tax revenue was actually a bad idea.

It's because they don't want the issue on the ballot come November because it will draw too many Republicans to the polls in an election year. Not only is it a presidential election year, but congressional and General Assembly seats are up this year.

I'm traveling today, so instead of my reaching Democratic leadership to comment on this, let's just assume they stand by the reasons they gave yesterday as their actual reasons for not supporting the measure.

By the way, I believe I saw a Democrat or two espoused this idea, in reverse, earlier this week about the English only referendum bill. And all gay marriage referendums. Ever.

Politicians playing politics? Shocking.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

On defunding the entire state government, possibly out of spite

UPDATE: I always thought it odd that the state would pay people to lobby the state. And if I understand Rep. Lunsford's comment on this bill correctly, this is not any sort of funny unintended consequence, it is an effort at major reform.
Travis this bill is no joke we are currently using and allowing to be used taxpayer money to hire and support lobbists at the capitol I feel its wrong and I am trying to change it.
The Political Insiders have an interesting post up about House Bill 854, which deals with the way the Georgia Secretary of State's Office oversees labor organizations. But, as they note, it also includes this language:
No public funds shall be disbursed, either through contract or grant, to any organization which engages in lobbying, as defined in Code Section 21-5-70, the General Assembly of the State of Georgia.

I'll let you read the insiders' analysis of how this may be a swipe at the Georgia Municipal Association and other lobbying groups opposed to the speaker's tax reform, since they're publicly funded.

But I daresay you'd be hard pressed to find a single state agency that doesn't engage in lobbying. Remember this story from The AJC's James Salzer, which ran in August of last year?
Over the past 2 1/2 years, Tom Daniel, senior vice chancellor for external affairs with the University System of Georgia, has reported spending about $139,000 on lawmakers, according to documents filed with the State Ethics Commission.

Daniel was far and away the top spender among lobbyists in 2006 and was third biggest spender during the 2007 session, records show.

So the No. 1 lobbyist was a state employee. In fact, the aforementioned state code 21-5-70 makes at least two references to employees of "the executive branch or judicial branch of state government" as it defines the word "lobbyist."

So I have to wonder, if this new bill passes, would it outlaw state employees from lobbying the General Assembly on behalf of their department or agency? Would it completely defund any departments that didn't comply?

Can you imagine the tax refund checks after we defund the university system? Sweet, sweet economic stimulus.

Oh - you mean the FIRST Amendment. My bad.

What kind of cop needs a judge to tell him that you can't arrest someone for handing out religious literature in public?
Cumming Police Chief Mike Eason used the ordinance as a reason to arrest Baumann after he was seen distributing religious literature near the city fairgrounds on the afternoon of April 22.

According to court filings, Eason demanded Baumann and another man leave the area because they were "demonstrating without a permit."

When Baumann asked the police chief if he had a constitutional right to peaceably distribute religious literature on a public sidewalk, Eason reportedly replied, "Well, I guess (you) want to get arrested."

Baumann was arrested and remained in the city jail until two days later. He was convicted in Cumming Municipal Court of violating the city’s parade and demonstration ordinance and sentenced to time already served. A Forsyth County superior court judge later reversed the conviction. ...

In Wednesday’s agreement, the city acknowledges that Baumann does not need a permit to hand out literature on city sidewalks. The city also agreed to pay Baumann an unspecified amount "to settle his alleged violation of his constitutional rights," as well as attorney fees. ...

Baumann said he was treated "kindly" by city officials.

"Especially Chief Eason," Baumann said. "He is a very good police chief. I’m just happy we can pass out gospel tracts at the Taste of Forsyth, and it’s all resolved."

Baumann is reportedly sending some of the money from the settlement to a mission in Hondurus. The rest he plans to use to buy more religious tracts.

Big ole hat-tip to the folks at Fitzlew, who read everything so you don't have to.

I put a call into Chief Eason. No doubt he's got a side of this story, though in the Gainesville Times story he and the mayor didn't return calls for comment.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Annexation at the Legislature: the fine print

There are a lot of issues when it comes to just how, logistically, Mayor Robert "Don't call me Bob" Reichert's annexation plan will move through the state legislature. And I think some of them are going to be subjective questions.

But Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, who heads the Bibb County delegation, has called a press conference for tomorrow. It will immediately follow Reichert pitching his annexation plan to the delegation.

What's interesting is who's going to be at the press conference. It won't just be members of the Bibb delegation, but also state Rep. Jim Cole, who represents much of Jones and Monroe counties, and state Sen. Johnny Grant, who represents Baldwin and much of Jones in the Senate.

Now, there's a small bit of Jones County in the mayor's proposed annexation area. But neither Cole nor Grant actually represent that area. Staton and state Rep. Allen Freeman do.

But, according to the Senate Rules on passing local legislation, any legislator of a "political subdivision affected by such legislation" is included in the voting delegation. That means that, even though they don't actually represent the area, Sen. Grant (and possibly Rep. Cole - I'm not as clear on the House rules) will probably have a say on whether annexation moves forward, because they represent Jones County in general.

From the rules:
(b) For the purpose of determining which Senator or Senators represent a political subdivision, the Senator's district must include all or a portion of the geographical area of the political subdivision affected by the local legislation. Annexation bills shall be assumed to affect other municipalities and the county in which they are located. If an annexation bill affects more than one senatorial district, the bill must be signed by the Senate delegation representing all the affected counties and municipalities.

By the way, the clock is ticking. Though Sen. Staton has said he'll waive the local delegation's deadline for proposing local legislation, the Senate and House still have deadlines. Crossover day (Day 30) isn't relevant for local legislation, but the Senate does set out day 36 as the last day to 1st read local Senate Bills.

I didn't see a deadline to 1st read local bills that start in the House, but that doesn't mean it's not there. I believe today is day 24.

Yep. (Or why Rick Goddard should pull for Hillary Clinton.)

The bottom line: An Obama nomination is probably real good news for U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall. From Politico:
“I think that Barack Obama as the nominee will increase African-American turnout in Georgia throughout the entire state,” said Marshall spokesman Doug Moore. “If he could draw an extra 10 percent of African-Americans to the polls, that could be worth a point, which could be a big deal in a close election.”

I'd add to that: The anti-Clinton vote that's sure to turn out if Sen. Hillary Clinton wins the nomination would not be as bad for Marshall as a pro-Obama turnout would be good, but it would still be bad. Clear? Good.

Buddy of mine sent me that link. Thanks to him.

What is waterboarding?

Shamelessly stolen from Drifting through the Grift.

A reporter for Creative Loafing in Tampa agreed to be waterboarded for a story:
MacWherter crams a rag in my mouth and places a towel over my head. I take a deep breath. The first few cold drops of water hit my upper lip. Then it’s like my face is under a faucet. For what seems like 15 seconds, water covers my face and fills my nasal cavity. Then I feel a particularly cold blast shoot up my nose into my throat. Holding my breath doesn’t work. Panic sets in and I shoot up, gasping for air. I look back and MacWherter is laughing.

“You only used a tenth of the bucket,” he says.

Rabble! Rabble, rabble, rabble!

Nothing like a good public hearing.

But it's your backyard, too

I seriously do not care if Mayor Robert Reichert's annexation plan goes through here in Macon. And I understand the complaints of people who might be annexed, because they really aren't going to get much in the way of new services for their new taxes.

That's why I'm on record predicting this effort will fail.

But the whole point of this thing is that we have to decide whether these folks — as well as others living just outside the proposed annexation area - have been unfairly taking advantage of living near the city for years, without paying the taxes.

That's the question. It's not about what you will get, beyond the idea that the city will improve if you fund it... er, join it.

It's about what you already have. About protecting it. And about what's fair.

Also, I think this is a terribly ironic criticism, voiced at last night's public hearing on the matter:
"I think the mayor should clean up his own backyard."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lucid Idiocy's official langauage? Dirty talk.

By which I mean political discourse...

The Georgia House of Representatives spent nearly an hour today debating whether to hold a statewide referendum to amend the state Constitution to declare English the official state language, according to The AJC.

With no other pressing issues needing the House's attention, they plan on discussing this again tomorrow.

As the sponsor, state Rep. Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica) said: "We're not doing something new or something that's evil here. We're just trying to say that English will be the official language of this state."

The word "just" may be a little misplaced. Because this is Georgia State Code 50-3-100(a):
The English language is designated as the official language of the State of Georgia. The official language shall be the language used for each public record, as defined in Code Section 50-18-70, and each public meeting, as defined in Code Section 50-14-1, and for official Acts of the State of Georgia, including those governmental documents, records, meetings, actions, or policies which are enforceable with the full weight and authority of the State of Georgia.

My favorite part of this debate last year was when someone asked Rep. Bearden if his home city would have to change its name if this amendment passed. Villa Rica is, like, Mexican, or something.

Jokes aside, though, it's not just about making English the official language. Rep. Bearden's resolution prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from using "any language other than English for any documents, regulations, orders, transactions, proceedings, meetings, programs, or publications except as provided in subparagraph (c)"

And here are the exceptions from subparagraph (c):
(1) To teach or encourage the learning of languages other than English;
(2) To protect the public health or safety;
(3) To teach English to those who are not fluent in the language;
(4) To permit the use of American Sign Language and to comply with any other applicable federal law;
(5) To protect the rights of victims of crime and criminal defendants;
(6) To ensure equality of access to a court of competent jurisdiction;
(7) To promote diplomacy, trade, commerce, and tourism;
(8) To create or promote state or agency mottoes, inscribe public monuments, and perform other acts involving the customary use of a language other than English; and
(9) To utilize terms of art or terms or phrases from other languages which are commonly used in communications otherwise in English.

I'm a bit out of my depth here, and I'll ask Rep. Bearden for clarification, but I believe the "court of competent jurisdiction" and "other applicable federal law" exemptions are to satisfy federal requirements dealing with the right to vote and the right to a fair trial.

And, since driver's license tests are specifically mentioned in the resolution, I think it's fair to say this law would target illegal immigrants - or any immigrants who don't speak English - attempting to get a driver's license.

Maybe I should resign. But only Ashcroft-style.

Wait, wait, wait - John Ashcroft, shortly after he resigned as U.S. Attorney General, got a contract worth at least $27 million from a U.S. Attorney who used to be his subordinate?

When did the federal government become the Georgia DOT?

Surely I'm not the only one who didn't know this until last night. And there are hearings about to start on all of this? I gotta stop watching so much television.

Following the budget conferences

I meant to post this yesterday. It comes from the Senate Press Office. If you want to follow the House-Senate conference committee as they hammer out the 2008 mid-year budget adjustment, you can download the difference report here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Valdosta Times: The Speaker should quit

Sid over at Cracker Squire called this to my attention:
Let us be the first to suggest what will hopefully become the next trend in regards to Richardson.

Glenn Richardson should step down.

Now that's a bold editorial stance.

Unadilla: Making you feel better about local government. Unless you live there.

Over the years there have been some downright ugly political stories coming out of Unadilla. But this might be the wackiest. Apparently the city is advertising the positions of city administrator, police chief, city judge, city attorney, city clerk and shop superintendent despite the fact that most of those jobs are currently filled:
City employees already in the advertised jobs, including Brand, will have to compete against any other applicants for the jobs they now hold.

The council will make the decision on whether to keep the person in the job or hire someone else.

"They just decided they would advertise all the jobs and see what comes up," Brand said. "I haven't had anybody tell me they are dissatisfied."

Uh, OK.

By the way: This is the city that fired its police chief in 2004 after he apparently got into some sort of an altercation with some guy over a woman. This altercation happened in the hotel room the city was renting for the chief so he could be in town during Tropical Storm Ivan, because he lived out of town.

In 2001, in a racially charged situation, the council fired the mayor. Until a superior court judge declared that vote devoid of, you know, constitutionality. I wrote several stories about this:
The order blasts the five council members who voted to fire the mayor, saying there was a "total lack of observance of the spirit of constitutional standards" in the removal procedure because Hughes wasn't given a fair hearing. It also outlines procedural defects in the case, handled on the council's behalf by attorney Spurgeon Green III, such as repeatedly missed deadlines. The order also criticizes at least one filing that "attempted to semantically circumvent the total non-existence of any evidence that would support their defense."

Green was ill and in the hospital Wednesday, according to his office, and could not be reached for comment. Councilman Bobby West, who led the drive to fire Hughes, said he "would do it again" even though the court threw out the council's case and ordered compensation. He also said he felt Green handled the case well.

Oh, but it doesn't end there. From another 2002 story:
Unadilla's Nov. 6 city elections will stand, even though at least 13 people voted illegally in a race won by nine votes, a Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

The statute of limitations had run out on that one. I don't know what was more fun, my visiting all of these illegal voters in their homes outside the city limits, or trying to enforce the Georgia Open Records act on the city.

Wait. It was neither.

By the way, this is a portion of a letter to the editor The Telegraph received when Hughes was fired by the majority black council:
From what I know about what has happened in Unadilla recently, I would have to conclude that, in the broad sense of the term, Mayor Sidney Hughes was lynched. My dictionary defines the word "lynch" as: "To punish, esp. by death, without due process of law." Thank goodness it wasn't taken to the ultimate extreme, but whether Hughes is ultimately removed from office or not, I believe that he had been punished, without due process of law, by the councilmen who voted to oust him, as have the decent, proud, and law abiding citizens of Unadilla.

Oh, and who could forget when the city administrator changed the locks at City Hall to keep the mayor out:
Meanwhile, the locks have been changed at city hall and Hughes no longer has a working key. City Clerk Brynda Taylor said Friday that she changed the locks at the direction of the City Council --- but council members said they don't remember voting to change the locks, only discussing it.

Not that they mind. All but one of the city's six council members voted to remove Hughes, and they nodded approval for new locks after Friday's hearing.

This was shortly after a GBI investigation into potentially falsified time cards. That investigation was kicked off by a consultant's report that, among other things, said:
"The city hall staff does not know whether there is enough money in the bank to cover checks being written," Jackson wrote in his report. "When asked, Ms. Taylor said that she just wrote the checks and did not know if there was money in the bank to cover them. She seemed surprised that the question was asked at all."

Awesome. The next time you complain about government, remember, it could be worse. Unless you live in Unadilla, of course.

John Lewis on the Middle East

It's not often that you get to speak to someone so closely involved with the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King's program of non-violent resistance. So when I was able to speak to Congressman John Lewis Friday night, I made sure to ask a question I think is relevant to the world going forward.

Namely: Can non-violence as a method for change be used in the Middle East?

Congressman Lewis said yes, but there's a catch. It must come from within:
"I think that in the Middle East... we don't have people preaching and teaching non-violence. It's too bad and unfortunate that, in the Middle East, there's not a Martin Luther King. That there's not a Gandhi."

By the way - did you know that, of all the people who spoke from the podium during the March on Washington, Lewis is the only one still alive? Hard to imagine, but that's what he said.

Eddie Smith, John Lewis, Jefferson Long and Black History Month

I've been remiss in not recognizing Black History Month here. But I read Pastor Eddie Smith's column the other day, and it struck a chord.

And I heard U.S. Rep. John Lewis speak Friday night, and it struck a chord.

And I read Joe Kovac's story today about the life of Georgia's first black congressman, Jefferson Long, and it struck a chord.

It is one thing to know slavery was a terrible thing. It is another to think about the horrors of the Middle Passage.

It is one thing to think of Civil Rights activists as brave revolutionaries. It is another to have one of them tell you what it's like to have a state trooper brain him with a night stick, because he wanted to vote.

It is one thing to guess what the south must have been like following the Civil War. It's another to read about dead black bodies in a sewer on election day in Macon:
At 4 o'clock (the) next morning, the negroes formed at the city hall, with Long as their leader. They marched in solid phalanx to the county courthouse, shouting defiance to any who might get in their way. But a few white men got together and prepared for a conflict. They stormed the ranks of the negroes, and a pitched battle followed. At that time a big sewer emptied where the Academy of Music now stands. When the smoke cleared, seven dead negroes were found in the streets and a number of wounded ones were found in the mouth of the big sewer. ... Long was among the missing for a time, but it was afterwards learned that through Col. Tom Hardeman's efforts (that) he had been secreted in the belfry of the courthouse to save him from the fury of the white men, who regarded him as the chief offender.

Friday, February 22, 2008

And the Republicans

I got this from the Republican Party a while back, but never posted it. I'll put it up now since I posted on a similar topic about the Democratic Party.

It's a breakdown of the how the congressional districts were won here in Georgia. I cribbed this from Insider Advantage, because I deleted the initial GOP email.
1st District: McCain
2nd District: McCain
3rd District: Huckabee
4th District: Romney
5th District: McCain
6th District: Romney
7th District: Huckabee
8th District: Huckabee
9th District: Huckabee
10th District: Huckabee
11th District: Huckabee
12th District: McCain
13th District: Huckabee

Democratic super delegates

Well, I guess I do have this for you. With Congressman John Lewis in town tonight, I'm working on something about who he's supporting for president, as well as some of the other super delegates here in Georgia. This list is from Martin Matheny with the Democratic Party of Georgia.

It shows the 13 current super delegates and, if they've announced who they'll support and the state party knows about it, it lists that, too:
The superdelegates are:

All 6 Congressional Democrats:
U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (Obama)
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (Obama)
U.S. Rep. John Lewis*
U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall
U.S. Rep. John Barrow
U.S. Rep. David Scott (Obama)

Plus the party chair and vice-chair:
Jane Kidd
Michael Thurmond (Clinton)

Plus Georgia's 4 DNC members:
Carole Dabbs
Mary Long
Lonnie Plott
Richard Ray

Former President Jimmy Carter

I spoke via email with Rep. Marshall's press secretary today, since Marshall represents Macon. The congressman has "declined to endorse any of the candidates for President."

Notice how that's written. The word "Democratic" doesn't appear anywhere in there, does it? Nah, I'm just kidding, the congressman personally voted for "one of the Democratic candidates for president," according to the email.

As for Lewis - who knows right now. Depends on whether you trust The New York Times or not, I guess.

By the way - the super delegate number used to be 16. But Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is no longer a super delegate because she's no longer chair of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors. There will also be two unpledged "add on" delegates,who haven't been named yet. That will bring the total up to 15.

FISA? What the hell is that?

I was going to do my public service for the day by explaining just exactly what the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the government to do, how the Protect America Act changed it and how the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may or may not be involved, but it turned out to be really, really, really complicated.

So more on that later. Pretty much right now, I got nothing.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Education $$: Winning the headline war

No doubt you've seen newspaper headlines this morning about Georgia Republicans "vowing" to "restore" "cuts" to education funding. I wondered if Republicans would reach a tipping point on this issue this year. Democrats have been hammering on it for the last several years.

This is an election year, by the way.

Basically, pretty much since Gov. Sonny Perdue took over in some tough economic times we've had "austerity cuts" to the state's allocation for education. As you probably know, state taxes fund huge chunks of local school systems, with local property taxes making up most of the rest.

How much the state spends is largely controlled by the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula. But the number that formula spits out and the amount the state sends to the counties isn't the same. Instead, the state has been taking hundreds of millions off the top each year. These are the "austerity cuts" that the House is talking about restoring, at least for this year.

The Democratic Party has been distributing this summary of the austerity cuts for some time now, and I have no reason to doubt the research:
Fiscal year 2009 $141,510,679 (proposed)
Fiscal year 2008 $142,968,687
Fiscal year 2007 $169,745,895
Fiscal year 2006 $332,835,092
Fiscal year 2005 $332,838,099
Fiscal year 2004 $283,478,659
Fiscal year 2003 $134,594,245 (amended)

Total: $1,537,971,356

Now, it's absolutely accurate to call these cuts, because it's cutting from the figure the QBE formula spits out. Quite a few people, by the way, consider that formula so overly complicated and potentially broken that a study committee has been looking at ways to improve it for, I believe, several years.

But it's also absolutely accurate to note, as the governor's office does, that education funding has been increasing under Gov. Perdue.

For fiscal year 2009, for example, the governor has proposed an increase of $901,350,037 in state education funding compared to FY 2008. Go check page 172 of his FY 2009 budget.

Pretty rough, huh? Propose nearly a billion more in education funding, get castigated for cutting education funding - even within your own party.

It's all about spin, baby. And in an election year, when you're already attacking property tax increases (don't forget that when the state "cuts" education funding, property taxes often rise to offset the "loss") "more money for our children" is a pretty good chant.

Is the extra money needed? I have no idea. The QBE formula calls for it. Is the QBE formula spitting out the right number? Again, I have no idea.

I'm just saying, when it comes to numbers, the "truth" is often in how you look at them. So look carefully.

UPDATE: Martin Matheny with the Democratic Party of Georgia called, and he wanted to make a few points, which I'll summarize here:
1. The QBE formula is the meat and potatoes of education funding. It should be fully funded. And, if it's so broken, why have state Republicans been studying it for two years without actually fixing it?

2. Gov. Perdue has indeed increased education funding, but not enough to keep up with enrollment increases.

He also wanted to call attention to two Democratic proposals, House Bill 1050, which would require the state to fully fund QBE, and House Bill 1057, which would take about $300 million out of the state's reserve fund and give it to school systems.

UPDATE 2: From Bert Brantley, in the governor's office:
In 2002, the state spent $5.055 billion in QBE formula earnings, which equated to $3,493 per student.

In 2009, the Governor's budget proposes spending $6.742 billion in QBE formula earnings, equating to $4,148 per student. The state is spending more than ever in its history both in terms of actual dollars spent and per pupil spending.

By the way, it's worth noting that Bert is breaking down the QBE money, which seems most relevant to this particular point. The figures I used above from the governor's FY 09 budget are going to be larger because there's more to state funding than just the QBE money.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis in Macon tomorrow

Congressman Lewis, a civil rights figure, Georgia Superdelegate and supporter of at least one of the Democratic candidates for president, is going to be at the Tubman Museum tomorrow evening.

No, not that one. This one.

Congressman Lewis will be there for an exhibit of drawings and paintings of his life and career, according to the museum, and will speak about 6:30 p.m. You can also buy a copy of his book, if you like.

You have to wonder if he'll clear up his endorsement... while standing at a museum dedicated to African American History.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I think Bob Reichert might be mad at Charlie Bishop

There was a moment during today's editorial board meeting with the mayor (see below) when Mayor Reichert became agitated. One of our editorial board members was asking about the county commission's response to his plan. The mayor's face turned red, and he stood up, and he raised his voice a bit.

I don't know the new mayor particularly well, but it's the first time I've seen him any where near this upset, and I've covered him off and on for months.

And he stood up and he stabbed his finger down at this map of the city limits in front of him and he noted, strongly, that two-thirds of the Bibb County Commission's constituency lives inside the city of Macon. And he seemed to be saying some of the commissioners might have forgotten that when the commission essentially decided not to take a formal position on his plan Tuesday.

My notes from the moment aren't particularly good, or I'd quote him directly. But I can tell you that what he said, and the way he said it, it sounded like he thought they might regret it one day.

By the way, the entire commission, including Bibb County Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop, is up for re-election this year.

By the way part 2: I've taken to referring to Mayor Robert Reichert as Mayor Bob Reichert. We'll see if it catches on.

Matthews steps to the plate, and WHAMMY!

A buddy of mine sent this to me. I haven't had many interviews like this, but, boy, when the interviewee stares at you with that deer-in-the-headlights look, that's fun.

But... but... but... Hope. Change. Yes we can?

Can you convince people to do the "right" thing?

Mayor Reichert met with the paper's editorial board today and I sat in along with Matt Barnwell, who covers the city. The mayor was making his pitch for annexation, and I must say it's a very persuasive pitch. I don't know if it will convince people to come into the city, but here's his pitch, in brief. It's partly in my words, partly in his:
It's just a few hundred bucks a year more in taxes. And you'll get more police patrols and the right to vote in city elections. And you can save this city, because Macon is going down. And if you don't think that affects you just because you live in the unincorporated area, you're a fool. You are the man who does not see the termites in your foundation. The man who can't see that ignorance and poverty and blight are systemic, and that we're all in this boat together.

As for logistics, there are still some things that must be decided. But Reichert said it's looking like there will indeed be a referendum, and it will indeed include only those folks who would be annexed.

There is some possibility that several referendums — dividing up various new areas so it's not all-or-nothing — could be held, but Reichert said he prefers one vote, up or down. He'd also prefer that current city residents be allowed to vote — after all, their taxes could go up if this annexation goes through and extending city services ends up costing more than hoped — but he seemed to concede that this is not likely to happen.

He went over a ton of other stuff, and Matt will have coverage in tomorrow's paper. But, if you live in the area that would be annexed, I'd encourage you to ask the mayor to make his presentation to your neighborhood group, or civic club, etc., before you make up your mind.

And maybe, just maybe, I was wrong.

Reichert noted that some people live right next to people who pay city taxes, but because of odd city city lines they don't. Even though they drive the same city streets, benefit from police presence, etc.

"They ought to feel a little embarrassed," he said. "They ought to fell a little bit ashamed."

That was the first hint I've heard toward what I've been wondering about this annexation plan: How much of it is about righting old wrongs? Bringing people into the city who should have been there long ago, but, because of whatever political deals were made many years ago, they managed to stay out.

Now that it's clear folks - or at least a majority of them - will have to choose to come into the city instead of being dragged in, we'll see if Reichert can convince them to agree to that it's in their, and their neighbor's, best long-term interest to take a short term tax hit and join the city.

"This is gonna be a selling job. ..." the mayor said. "I hope people don't take a selfish, self-centered approach."

All your annexation are belong to us

Oh, you better believe I'm straight up stealing this. But you should be reading Steve's blog every day anyway, if you follow Macon politics. And maybe even if you don't.

Destroy Macon. Save on taxes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Money, poverty and annexation

I was in the public defender's office here recently and saw these maps, which Don Tussing at Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning was kind enough to email to me.

If you click on the image, it should come up big enough to read.

Concentration of folks living below 150 percent of the federal poverty level:

Median household income:

Now, you can compare those maps to this one, which shows the area Mayor Robert Reichert wants to annex into the city in light green:

As we go forward, perhaps the paper can produce a true overlay to make it a little easier to compare. For that matter, we could do any number of statistical composites, so feel free to suggest anything you think would be helpful.

Just from my first glances here, it doesn't look like the annexation would overtly target the county's wealth, which is interesting since Reichert has said from the beginning that this is about efficiency of providing services, not a $$ grab.

Could he have been telling the truth? We don't take kindly to that in Macon politics.

Abortion, gun rights, and illegal immigrants (and taxes, water and transportation): The Legislature at the halfway mark.

I tell you what; right-to-life legislation, guns in restaurants that serve alcohol - if we just had a bill meant to strike fear in the hearts of illegal immigrants, we'd really have a week to yell at each other about in the Georgia Legislature.

Oh, wait:
A proposal to allow police to seize cars from illegal immigrants prompted an emotional public hearing before a legislative committee Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Mills (R-Gainesville), would allow police to seize any vehicle involved in a traffic violation or accident if it's driven by an illegal immigrant. That includes rented and leased vehicles if the owner should have known the driver was an illegal immigrant.

The committee passed the proposed bill 5-0. It now goes before legislators for approval.

The Legislature is at the halfway mark. Tax reform is chugging along, but there are so many bills either working in competition or concert, it's a hodge-podge. Something will probably pass, but most substantive reform probably will have to wait.

The big budget still has to be debated. Trauma care, and the funding for it, feels like a done deal, but you never know with new taxes. Excuse me - fees.

I'm pretty sure metro Atlanta still has water and transportation issues. But perhaps if we start seizing illegal immigrants' cars those two things will solve themselves.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Taxing retirees' earned income.

I thought this was an interesting letter to the editor in today's Telegraph. But I know very little about this issue, so I'm just going to paste the letter here, along with state Rep. Allen Peake's response. Peake, like the letter writer, is an accountant. He's also on the House's tax-policy-writing Ways & Means committee.

I've also got a request into Committee Chairman Larry O'Neal for comment, but I know he's probably very busy right now.

The letter:
Law needs more equity

The Legislature has done well in increasing the overall retirement income exclusion to $30,000 per person. I hope that increases continue in the future so that we might attract people who might otherwise retire in Florida.

I do have one concern. The portion of earned income that may be counted toward the retirement income exclusion in computing Georgia's income tax has remained at $4,000 for as long as I can remember. This has produced some results that don't follow common sense.

A retired couple, both age 62, each having $34,850 in interest or dividend income. Filing a joint return, they would pay no Georgia income tax. I don't have a problem with this. What I do have a problem with is a couple, both age 62 and still working and earning $12,000 each with no other income and filing a joint return. They pay $164 in Georgia income tax.

There needs to be a little more equity in the law. A $69,700 income paying no tax and a $24,000 income paying $164 is embarrassing. I cannot believe this issue has never been raised before now. Please urge the Georgia legislature to end the disparity of treatment of those who must continue to work after reaching age 62 by giving earned income the same treatment as unearned income.

Cary S. Baxter, CPA

And Peake's comments:
Actually, I received this letter also. The rationale, that Larry can probably explain better, is to provide an incentive to retirees to move to Georgia, rather than other states, in particular, Florida. Obviously Larry would know the history better than I would, but I believe I am correct. There is a bill though, not sure which one, in Ways and Means, that would increase the amount of earned income to be exempt from Georgia tax. And I would be in full support of that. The fellow from Perry makes a great point.

UPDATE: Rep. O'Neal replied much in the same vein Rep. Peake did:
We actually have under consideration HB1157 which increases the earned income limitation from 4000 to 16000 which effectively solves the issue pointed out by my friend from Perry. The bill currently is at the subcomittee level.

You can read the bill here. It's sponsored by state Rep. Austin Scott, the hard-working Republican from just south of us in Tifton.

Independence in Kosovo

When I saw over the weekend that Kosovo had declared its independence, it seemed like an obvious cause for joy. The world, it seems, is not that simple.

European reaction.

Reaction in Asia.

I met a young lady from Kosovo here in Macon recently. I'm trying to reach her. I know she's been hoping for this a very long time.
UPDATE: Looks like she's actually in Kosovo right now. Pretty cool. I'll get a first-person account, if I can.

UPDATE 2: I found her, though it took a little while. (Hey, you try finding one person on Kosovo without actually leaving Macon). She's agreed to write a little something, and I'll post it at the top of the blog.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Abortion jokes are probably always a bad idea.

From Erick Erickson, Macon City Councilman and Peach Pundit managing editor:
At CPAC this weekend I answered the question of why the left is ahead of the right online. My quote, which I believe you can find on any number of left wing sites, was along the lines of “because we have family lives because we don’t abort our kids and we believe in capitalism so we go to work.”

I stand by that quote. It’s a great line. I’ve used it on several occasions. It got a great bit of laughter from the room, which was its intention. Some people, however, have no sense of humor. Probably because it hits too close to home for the humorless.

CPAC, for those that don't know, is an annual gathering of conservatives. And if Erick's joke did indeed get a laugh, it will be the first time I ever heard of a group of conservatives laughing at the mention of abortion.

For that matter, I don't know any liberals who laugh about it, either.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Perdue appointments

I pay far less attention than I probably should to who the governor appoints to various boards. These things have more power than I think most people realize. Any way, the appointments are no secret - we get press releases about them all the time. A few of them caught my eye today.

Mell S. "Tee" Tolleson of Elko in Houston County was named to the state Board of Economic Development. No doubt he's kin to state Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry. The Georgia Department of Economic Development recruits companies to the state and tries to foster a strong business environment. Just what roll the board plays in that, I'm not sure.
UPDATE: From Alison Tyrer at the department, who was very patient and helpful:
Our board has no oversight of our daily operational functions. That duty belongs to Ken Stewart, our commissioner. It is an advisory board – a “braintrust,” if you will. It is comprised of 13 members representing the 13 congressional districts, as I mentioned, plus at-large members. They receive no compensation, but they do get a per diem for expenses associated with their official duties (mostly pertains to attending the meetings.)

The other appointment to this board today was Michael Cottrell of Dahlonega. He's chairman of "a large over-the-road car-haul manufacturer." I have no idea what that means. He's also chairman of the Lumpkin County Development Authority and a director on the board of the United Community Bank of Dahlonega.

There were several other appointments announced today, but this is the only other one that caught my eye:
Georgia Land Conservation Council
Paul H. Michael, 39, Roswell — Michael is vice president of development at TPA Realty Services. He previously served as director of development and acquisitions for Hampton Island Preserve and as chief of real estate for the Department of Natural Resources.

All very exciting, I know. Have a nice weekend.

A commission here, a commission there, pretty soon we're talking real reform

Mental health advocates seem to have been impressed in recent months with the attention Gov. Sonny Perdue is giving the state's mental health system in the wake of The AJC's reporting on suspicious deaths and the subsequent (and presumably ongoing) federal investigation.

As you probably know, the governor recently formed a commission to look at mental health issues, and he spoke about the situation yesterday.
CORRECTION: As the governor's press secretary noted, the mental health commission was actually created in August 2007. The commission I just referred to, which was created in February, is to look at breaking up the entire DHR to make it run better. The question still stands, though: Does the creation of these commissions signal that the New Georgia Commission's report, which DHR officials have referred to as "The Bible" in operating their mental health division, is no longer so well thought of?
Still, when we're talking about a committee or commission or panel to reform state provided mental health care, shouldn't we remember that we've been here before?

The governor's Commission for a New Georgia looked at the state's Department of Human Resources, and mental health care, several years ago. This is from the task force's Web page:
The Task Force examined the cost and quality of public programs that deliver mental health and developmental assistance in communities. The team sought out successful community care programs and identified best practices to deliver the highest quality at the lowest cost.

Top DHR officials have said that the task force's report (which you can download at the Web page) has been the blue print for how they operate the state's mental health care system.

I dunno. I've asked the governor's office for some comment on the different between these two commissions.

UPDATE: From Bert Brantley, the governor's press secretary:
The work on the (Commmission for a New Georgia) task force wrapped up in 2005. Their recommendations are being implemented. There is no reason why we shouldn’t take a fresh look after three years and see where we are, what accomplishments we’ve had, and what improvements we can make. We are not throwing anything out, just looking to see how we can do better.

Also, don’t confuse the DHR Reorg with the Mental Health Services Commission. Two completely separate issues.

The DHR Reorg team will look at whether specific functions of DHR make more sense as a stand alone agency, or within another agency. While the ultimate goal obviously is to improve services, the improvements suggested by this group will be made through the way the agencies are structured, not changes in policy and procedures. The look at DHR will include all divisions and all functions.

Good grief

If you've ever wondered what I mean by "Lucid Idiocy," this is a really good example...

What a bizarre scene it must have been yesterday at the state Capitol. News crews lying in wait outside the Speaker's office. Camera men, or press secretaries, or both, getting shoved around. The Speaker either running, or walking, from questions about his divorce. Or possibly tax policy.

All in all, just ridiculous. And despite the fact that the whole story basically revolves around what a cameraman did, or had done to him, there doesn't appear to be any video of the incident available online.

In this day and age, how is that possible? Channel 2's Jeff Dore apparently did the story on the Atlanta news yesterday. He goes to my grandmother's church and she respects him, but I know him only in passing. I emailed him and he said the video isn't up on their Web site, nor do they plan to post it.

I hope they'll reconsider. This is what video is for: so there won't be a question about what happened. And putting it on television for a few seconds where only the folks in Atlanta can see it just isn't enough in this day and age - not if you're going to accuse the speaker's personal bodyguard, who is a state trooper, of accosting a member of the press.

Which is what the folks over at Peach Pundit are reporting Channel 2 reported last night on the news. Channel 2, Mr. Dore said, doesn't post its show transcripts, so I can't exactly verify that. See how quickly this gets right into the realm of third-hand information and speculation? And how easily it could be fixed?

At the moment, no one looks good in all of this, with the possible exception of Clelia Davis, the speaker's press secretary mentioned in the post, who is identified by both height and weight by the chairman of the House rules committee.

No, really.

Much of the Capitol has taken today off. Here's hoping, from afar, that everyone comes back next week with their eyes on the ball.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tax reform at the Capitol: The quick, dirty, and kinda sexy version

I tell you what, this may be the best summary of all the tax plans kicking around the Capitol that I've seen this year. And I know that because it wasn't so long and complicated that it made my face hurt, but it doesn't seem to be over-simplified either.

If Shannon McCaffrey wasn't already married, I might ask her to be my Valentine:
The new plan would slash $422 million worth of taxes over three years. It would make up some of that lost revenue by taxing groceries and lottery tickets. Some consumer services, such as haircuts and yard work, would also be taxed up to a cap of $10,000 a year. ...

The new bill is the latest - and most ambitious - entry into an election-year legislative session that's already become crowded with property tax relief measures. The Senate this week passed three bills - two aimed at capping the growth in home assessments and the third, Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposal to eliminate the state portion of property taxes. ...

Richardson's plan would deliver relief to taxpayers in the form of credits equal to the amount of ad valorem taxes they would pay on their car or home.

The speaker would remove the ad valorem taxes on cars but would slap on a $20 state motor vehicle registration fee in its place. That would include a $10 fee that would be earmarked for trauma care.

UPDATE: What does it say that the ability to simply explain tax reform is among my criteria for Valentine selection? Hard to believe I'm still single.

UPDATE 2: Here's the make-your-face-hurt version. And I mean the list of 174 services that would be taxed, not their post.

UGA Athletic Department to punch loyalists in face

I'm not sure this is politics, but I am pretty ticked off about it...

Despite being one of the nation's most profitable athletic departments, it looks like the University of Georgia is going to raise season ticket prices. And not just a little, by $8. That's 25 freaking percent.

Twenty-five freaking percent on the backs of the very people the department depends on most, the season ticket holders who have to make an annual donation just for the right to buy tickets.

Now, to be fair, The AJC reports that the $32 tickets were 9th most expensive in the SEC, and this would move us up to sixth.

But what I want to know is what about the millions we get for making the BCS, not to mention our share of LSU's payout for making the BCS last year, since the SEC splits the money up?

And what about all this money?
The board also approved the Athletic Association’s new budget, which is expected to hit $63.4 million in fiscal year 2007. The projected expenditures of the department for that year are $50 million, meaning the Bulldogs once again will have one of the most profitable programs in the country. ...

For fiscal year 2006, the Bulldogs conservatively project they will place $7.8 million in reserve, pay $6 million on their debt and have $3.4 million left in unallocated funds, essentially profit. Taken as a whole, that means Georgia will make at least another $18 million this year, according to how the department of education measures profit, and could once again be the nation’s most profitable program, Evans acknowledged.

If I was going to figure the profit based on those numbers, I'd put it at $11.2 million (reserves + unallocated, but not including the debt payment). That's still pretty freaking good.

Good grief, can't we soak someone else, and let the season ticket holders share in the department's financial success as well as it's athletic success?
UPDATE: Our athletic director, Damon Evans, responded via email. But, somehow, I don't think he was just writing to me...
Dear Charles,

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for your support of University of Georgia Athletics and more specifically, Georgia Football. As a Hartman Fund Donor and season football ticket buyer you provide the resources necessary to ensure we have a championship program both academically and athletically.

As you may know, the Athletic Association's Board of Directors recently approved a proposal to increase the price of season football tickets. The 2008 season football ticket will now be $40.00 per game. This new pricing will help us meet our overall athletic budget demands, yet still keep us in the middle of the SEC's ticket prices.

I understand that any increase in ticket prices results in a financial impact on you, our fans. Please know that this proposal was carefully studied and debated, and it marks the first time since 2002 that we have increased our football ticket price.

All of us in the Athletic Department remain steadfast on being good stewards of the financial resources you have helped to provide. We will continue to appreciate the vital role you play in the overall success of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Damon Evans
Director of Athletics

And on Valentine's Day, too (2)

Initially I chose not to write anything about the speaker's divorce. Life and relationships are hard enough. Plus, there's not much I can add.

But it's pretty clear that something nutty is going on, and I don't want to seem like I'm ignoring what may turn out to be an important issue now that an ethics complaint has been filed.

Although, from the description of the complaint that I've read, and from my own confusing conversation last month with George Anderson over other ethics complaints he's filed over the years, I have to wonder if this will go anywhere. Especially now that the waters are muddied because The AJC's reporting is being questioned.

The speaker shouldn't have gotten any special treatment. And if he did, he should be punished as the law provides, even though I completely understand why he'd want to keep his divorce private.

Had the file not been sealed, I would hope other reporters would have treated it as I would have. Read it, determined if it contained news, report the news if it did, just put the file down if it didn't.

Perhaps the speaker doesn't trust reporters, or for that matter bloggers, political enemies and just plain folks who might read the file, to use good judgement. And who could blame him. But perhaps he has something to hide. We may never know.

What a few weeks it must have been for the speaker. Politically he's battling on multiple fronts: fighting for what's left (and it ain't much) of his GREAT Tax plan, doling out punishment over the DOT board vote, trying to protect his members from right-to-lifers and a divisive vote in an election year ... the list goes on.

Personally, he lost close friends in an airplane crash. He got divorced.

That's a lot to deal with, regardless of how much he may have brought upon himself.

Here's today's AJC story, which you've probably already seen.

And Shannon's story for the AP.

In awesome related news...

Stop what you're doing and go watch this.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Annexation: Fallout

We're going to be talking about Mayor Robert Reichert's annexation proposal for a while. There will be several pieces in tomorrow's paper, but for the moment I'm most interested in responses from the state legislators who will have to drive the boat if this thing moves forward.

You can read individual comments in tomorrow's paper, but this sentence pretty much sums things up:
In Atlanta, members of Bibb County's legislative delegation said they had not been briefed on the plan, and none of them expressed much enthusiasm for it.

Kind of what I figured, though that's putting it nicely. It's hard to run for re-election after forcing people to annex into a city, even if you do believe it's the right thing to do to ease the city of Macon's financial strains, more fairly divide tax burdens and set more efficient service boundaries.

Even so, my initial thinking was that state representatives who primarily represent city residents would be for this proposal, because it could potentially lower their tax burdens by increasing taxes on the unincorporated area. Then I remembered that I live in Macon, where race is as much a part of politics as... I don't know. Let's say money:
State Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, said he wants to see a breakdown of census tracts that would be involved. One issue at stake is potential dilution of black voting strength in Macon, he said.

Once again, the same issues that have kept this community from consolidation are in play: Race and taxes. Mayor Reichert has a long, long way to go on this thing. And don't forget, as we learned last year when state Sen. Robert Brown derailed a proposal to downsize the City Council, one legislator alone can sometimes gum up the works.

CORRECTION: Mike Billips, who wrote the bit about Rep. Lucas, sent in this correction:
A story in Thursday's Telegraph paraphrased Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, incorrectly. Lucas did not say he needed to look at the effect annexation would have on the percentage of black voters in the city. He only affirmed that the U.S. Justice department would have to approve any annexation. We regret the error.

Fair enough. I've always known Rep. Lucas to be one of a few people willing to openly discuss race in politics, when asked. So reporters are probably more likely to ask him, than he is to bring it up.

And on Valentine's Day, too

From the speaker's office:
ATLANTA – Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) will testify before the House Ways and Means Tax Reform Subcommittee on THURSDAY, February 14, 2008 at 1:00 PM in Room 606 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in Atlanta, Georgia. The Speaker will discuss House Resolution 1246, the Property Tax Reform Amendment.

I haven't read HR 1246 in full, but you are welcome to. Should be good theater tomorrow. You know, for a Ways and Means Committee meeting.

You can watch online, if that's your bag.

UPDATE: I don't have time to read and explain the resolution. But I do have time to steal Dick's explanation:
The Speaker’s latest version of the GREAT plan was introduced in the House on Monday as HR 1246 . It addresses only the tax shift portion of his proposal, since the House will have a crack at both of the Senate bills when they cross the Capitol halls.

Here are some items of interest in the new measure:

* There is a phase-in. The tag tax would be eliminated in 2009. Simultaneously, the state would resume taxing groceries and lottery tickets The school property tax change would not take effect until 2010.

* School property taxes wouldn't actually disappear -- at least not initially. Homeowners still would get a bill, but the state would provide a credit to offset those costs, using the existing homeowner's tax credit program (which already helps buffer homeowers against some property taxes by acting as an artificial increase in the homestead exemption.) There is an additional provision, however, that would allow the Legislature after 2010 to provide further tax relief, up to and including the elimination of ad valorem taxes for educational purposes if it determined sufficient money was available.

Like hope, but different

How come Mike Huckabee's the only Republican with a really awesome YouTube video that doesn't make fun of him?

You've seen the Obama "Yes we can" video, no doubt. Well this is the "McCain" version.

The look on that guy's face at :29 is classic.

Brought to me courtesy of Hey Jenny Slater.

The totally free money comes in May

Got this press release from the IRS:
ATLANTA — The Internal Revenue Service today advised Georgia Taxpayers that in most cases they will not have to do anything extra this year to get the economic stimulus payments beginning in May.

If you are eligible for a payment, all you have to do is file a 2007 tax return and the IRS will do the rest.

It goes on for several paragraphs after that, but do you really want to read a full IRS press release? Me neither.

Macon annexation: Good luck with all that

Mayor Robert Reichert yesterday proposed enough forced annexation to nearly double the area of Macon. It would affect some 13,000 people. They would be annexed with or without the property owners approval, which is a less common method for annexation and requires action by the Georgia General Assembly.
CORRECTION: Due to some sort of a clerical error from the planners (and the fact that none of us can apparently read a map) the mayor's office incorrectly said the annexation would double the city's size. I meant to correct that a while back and forgot. It's more like increasing it by 60 percent.
The bottom line is this: The city needs revenue, and this is a way to get it. Of course, it involves dragging people into the city, people who are free to request annexation into Macon at any time through more common methods that require their consent. They don't do this, in large part, because they don't need to.

That's because fire, water and sewer services, the usual carrots cities use to entice annexation, are already available county wide. I've had trouble nailing down the date, but it's been decades since the city limits expanded significantly.

Annexation plans far less ambitious than this have crashed on the rocks of property rights several times in recent memory. And now the mayor is asking state legislators to commit what could amount to political suicide by forcing people to join a city and pay an extra 7.59 mills in taxes each year.

That's the 10.16 mills in taxes city residents pay, minus the 2.57 mills unincorporated residents already pay for fire service.

There are only three possibilities here:

- I have severely misjudged this situation, and local legislators who have been skittish, at best, on this will now do as Reichert asks. They will do this in an election year with no fear of getting slaughtered by political advertisements accusing them of being anti-property rights, to say nothing of the backlash vote from angry new city residents.

- The mayor has severely misjudged this situation, and it will crash and burn, eroding an enormous amount of his political capital outside the city limits and wasting an obscene amount of time. As one former reporter here told me last night "Jack Ellis never did anything this stupid."

- He has a plan B.

Now, look, I'm not dumb and neither is the mayor, who is a former state legislator himself. So I'll take a stab at his plan B:

The city needs money to survive without eventually laying people off. To get re-elected, which he doesn't have to do for nearly 4 years, Reichert only needs the votes of city residents. By proposing this annexation plan he is forcing everyone to pay attention to what he believes the city needs, perhaps opening the door for consolidation of city and county governments, or strengthening the city's position when it comes time later this year to renegotiate the service delivery strategy with the county.

That's the best I can do, and it's admittedly weak. Though it occurs to me that telling county commissioners you're going to drag a bunch of their constituents into the the city is not the best way to soften them up on consolidation or service/revenue splits. But I digress.

This is from Matt's story today:
Reichert will ask the City Council, as well as commissioners in Bibb and Jones counties, to pass a resolution in favor of annexation.

Uh, OK. Jones County already sent their local legislators saying they opposed any forced annexation. This was before Reichert even asked them about it. And I wouldn't expect Bibb commissioners to be to keen on all of this, either. Back to the story:
He hopes to use a joint resolution from the local governments to bolster his case at the state legislature, which he wants to redraw the city limits. ...

... Reichert argues that because city charters are a product of the General Assembly, state lawmakers can redraw city lines on their own without sending the proposal directly to voters. And if legislators will cooperate only if a referendum is called, Reichert said he will ask that current city residents be allowed to cast ballots also.

Uh, OK. This is from the Georgia State Code, 36-36-16:
(a) Local Acts of the General Assembly proposing annexation of any area comprised of more than 50 percent by acreage of property used for residential purposes shall be adopted pursuant to the procedures of this article.

(b) Such bill may include a requirement for referendum approval of the annexation under such terms and conditions as specified in such local law; provided, however, if the number of residents in the area to be annexed exceeds 3 percent of the population of the municipal corporation or 500 people, whichever is less, as determined by the most recent United States decennial census, referendum approval shall be required in the area to be annexed. The cost of holding the referendum required by this article shall be paid from funds of the municipality proposing the annexation.

Did I mention Reichert's a lawyer? I'm not, but I can read. Feel free to explain to me how "shall be required" and "in the area to be annexed" can be read any way but "If you're going to annex these folks by act of the General Assembly, you have to let them, and not the city residents, vote on it."

Look, does it suck that people in the city have to pay more taxes for, quite frankly, not much more in city services? Yep. Do folks love them some Robert Reichert? Well, they did.

Are there inequities between what city and unincorporated residents pay in taxes and what they get in services? Arguably. Will unincorporated residents be happy to pay more taxes to make that up? Riiiiiiighhht.

It's not for me to say whether the current tax division is fair. But I can judge the political reality of this situation, and this is it: If people wanted to be part of this city, they already would be. And state legislators aren't going to go against the will of their constituents and force them to join the city.

You can make the argument that, as goes Macon, so goes the surrounding area, so let's all buck up and start paying Macon taxes. You can make that argument all day long. But history has shown a disconnect between everyone agreeing to things in principal, and getting out their checkbooks.

Especially after you threaten to force them to write those checks.

One last thing: I spoke briefly to state Rep. Allen Peake this morning (via text message, because we're both cool like that). He represents many of the residents that would be forced into the city. The first he saw the details of this plan? In this morning's newspaper.

That does not bode well.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Better than nothing, but I still hate Florida

There are very few political issues I get to have strong opinions on. One of them is open records laws. The other is the University of Georgia and it's athletic programs. In both cases, when I say "get to," of course I mean "have to, because when these institutions are attacked I'm filled with a boiling rage."

So when the Georgia Department of Revenue started allowing University of Florida fans to get specialty state license plates, without putting either a mullet or jean shorts on those license plates, that cued the boiling rage.

Now state Rep. Barry Fleming (he of the forthcoming congressional run), several of his cohorts in the House and state Sen. Eric Johnson are talking about some "reciprocity" legislation. House Bill 1165 essentially requires that other states give our folks the same license plate deal, or we won't give them a specialty plate.
CORRECTION: It's fixed now, but I initially referred to Sen. Johnson as "Ed Johnson," because I had Sen. Ed Tarver on the brain from the post below. Sorry about that, senators.
In the case of the UF plate, which has already been approved, we wouldn't renew the plate unless Florida allows Georgia fans living there to get a UGA specialty plate under the same terms and conditions we allow here.

How any Georgia fan could ever live in Florida, I don't know.

Any way, this broke yesterday, but I was waiting to read the bill, and the text has only recently gone up online.

Having read it, let me take this opportunity to thank state Rep. Fleming, state Sen. Johnson, state Rep. Mark Burkhalter (the bill's second sponsor) and all the other esteemed legislators signed onto this effort for closing the barn door after all the horses got out, trampled through the garden, broke into the house and left orange and blue manure everywhere.

It's never too late. Unless it's seven months too late.

It's not so much this legislation that upsets me, it's that Florida had rules in place to keep this from happening in their state without some pretty obscene money getting paid. And we didn't. So we got out-flanked by Florida. Again.

I thought there were reasons we didn't elect Jim Donnan to run state government.

And since I told someone that the word "pandering" would appear a bunch of times in this post, here you go:


Pandering, pandering, pandering, pandering. Pandering.

I'm headed off to Crawford County, so any response I may get from legislators, I won't be able to publish until later in the day. After that I promise to move on and do some reporting, as opposed to ranting.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Legislators: Do as we say, not as the Constitution specifically allows us to do

Oh any bill that references "the David Graves exception" has got to be quality legislation...

I got an email today about these bills, SB 441 and SB 442, which would require people to be under oath when they speak to a House or Senate committee.

Apparently the political insiders got a similar email, because they beat me to the punch and noticed something pretty key. Namely, that the legislation would apply to everyone speaking to the General Assembly or one of its committees, except for the legislators themselves.

From SB 441:
The sanction of an oath or affirmation equivalent thereto shall be necessary to the presentation by a person not a member of the General Assembly of any oral evidence in support or opposition of any legislation or request for appropriation to a committee or subcommittee of the General Assembly.

SB 442 is a little more clandestine about the exception, in that it references Article III, Section IV, Paragraph IX of the state Constitution, which reads:
Privilege of members.
The members of both houses shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly, or committee meetings thereof, and in going thereto or returning therefrom, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace. No member shall be liable to answer in any other place for anything spoken in either house or in any committee meeting of either house.

If that sounds familiar, that's because it's the section of the Constitution former Macon state Rep. David Graves temporarily invoked to try to get out of a DUI a few years back. When there was a public backlash over that, Graves dropped that issue and pleaded guilty.

I don't know how to respond to this do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do attitude — and the fact that it's written right into the state's most important legal document — without taking the Lord's name in vein and using the F word at least once. Seriously, between this and the University of Florida license plate debacle, I have never wanted to punch every single member of the Georgia General Assembly in the mouth so much in my life.

And I'm a borderline pacifist.

By the way, while we're discussing the virtues of Article III, Section IV, here a couple of other gems. This is the one that allows the House and Senate to exempt themselves to any open meetings laws they might pass:
Paragraph XI. Open meetings.
The sessions of the General Assembly and all standing committee meetings thereof shall be open to the public. Either house may by rule provide for exceptions to this requirement.

And this one allows them to arrest people for the duration of the session, if'n they gets too uppity:
Paragraph VIII. Contempts, how punished.
Each house may punish by imprisonment, not extending beyond the session, any person not a member who shall be guilty of a contempt by any disorderly behavior in its presence or who shall rescue or attempt to rescue any person arrested by order of either house.

Any legislator that wants to explain why we need Constitutional protections to make sure they're not held to the same standard the rest of us are, by all means, let me know, and I'll publish it.

UPDATE: I just noticed Sen. Preston Smith is a co-sponsor on these bills, along with primary sponsor Sen. Ed Tarver. And now I get it. Sen. Smith heads the committee that took the Indigent Defense Council to task last session. In the report that ensued, the committee accused the council of giving false testimony. If SB 441 and SB 442 were in effect, Sen. Smith could have had those folks arrested, with the highest penalty being five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Also, after reading SB 442 again, it's not clear to me why this is needed, though I suppose it clarifies the existing language, which reads:
A person who knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; makes a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or makes or uses any false writing or document, knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of state government, the legislative branch of state government, or of the government of any county, city, or other political subdivision of this state shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, or both.

The bolded part is what the bill would add to existing state code 16-10-20(a). But how is the legislative branch of government not already included as "any department or agency of state government" or "any political subdivision of this state?"

Jack Ellis: This he knows

We have this feature at the paper called "This I Know." If you missed Sunday's, with now former Mayor Jack Ellis, you should check it out. I've met most of the major figures in state and local politics in the last 8 years, and he's the one I've probably interviewed the most, and he's still the one I'd most like to interview again.

Joe Kovac did the interview.

The biggest trouble that I got in as a boy was lying to my father that I had performed a chore. I think I was supposed to feed the cows or something. ... He asked me, "Did you do so and so?" I think it was feeding cows or chickens. And I said, "Yes sir," and tried to go and do it, and he caught me doing it. That was the first and only time that my father whipped me. He said, "I'm not whipping you because you didn't perform this chore. I'm whipping you because no one lies in this house. I don't raise liars."

My father always said to all of us, "If you will lie, you will steal."...

The worst sound that I've ever heard was to hear grown men in a bunker in Vietnam that had taken a direct hit. ... Hearing them scream for help when you could not give them any help. You knew they were gonna die, and all of them did die except for one. That was the worst sound that I still hear to this day, grown men screaming to be saved.

CLARIFICATION: I was thinking, Ellis is up there as a favorite interview, but there are other people on that list. Warner Robins Mayor Donald Walker, who goes to work each day in a building named after his father, comes to mind. So does Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson, who you can say a lot of things about, but boring isn't one of them.

And I was thinking last night, what is it these guys all have in common? And I don't know how well formed this idea is, but it seems like a fascinating mixture of power and vulnerability.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

For the record, I do not want Sen. Hillary Clinton to fall out of an airplane

But I'm still posting this, because my sister sent it to me, and because I thought it was funny.
An airplane was about to crash. There were 5 passengers on board, but only 4 parachutes.

The 1st passenger said, "I am Kobe Bryant, the best NBA basketball player. The Lakers need me, and I can't afford to die." So he took the 1st pack and left the plane.

The 2nd passenger, Hillary Clinton said, "I am the wife of a former U.S. President, a NY State Senator and a potential future president. And I am the smartest woman in American history, so America's people don't want me to die." She took the 2nd pack and jumped out of the plane.

The 3rd passenger, Ted Kennedy said, "I am a US Senator. The Democratic Party needs me and my liver still has some good years left." So he grabbed the pack next to him and jumped.

The 4th passenger, Billy Graham, said to the 5th passenger, a 10 year old schoolgirl, "I am old and frail and don't have many years left, and as a Christian I will sacrifice my life and let you have the lastparachute."

The little girl said, "That 's okay. There's a parachute left for you. America's smartest woman took my school bag."

In the interest of balance, let me just say there is no doubt that a vast right-wing conspiracy led to these five people being on the plane together. And that if a Libertarian had been flying the plane, it wouldn't have crashed at all.

As long as it doesn't affect his coaching duties

Much has been made of the sense of dis-satisfaction some folks have with the available presidential candidates, particularly on the Republican side. In publishing this conversation I had with my buddy Joe last night, I offer proof that it extends to independents as well.
JOE: I think I'm just going to write in "Coach Richt" for president.

ME: This country could do a lot worse.

JOE: I think we're about to.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I feel the same way every time I get a paycheck

When I first saw that SR 750 (urging the United States Department of Transportation to reconsider its mission and purpose) was on the state Senate's calendar for Monday, I laughed. Having dealt with the U.S. DOT, I'm pretty comfortable saying it's not an organization that takes a lot of guff from state senates that want it to reconsider its mission and purpose.

But then I actually read the resolution. It's actually about money (go figure). Specifically, it's about Georgia getting more money. And even more specifically, it's about getting the federal government to stop taking that money, and let the state have it instead.
WHEREAS, the main mission of the department has largely been fulfilled by the completion of the federal interstate highway system; and

WHEREAS, state and local governments are faced with difficult decisions regarding local transportation needs on a continuing and ever-increasing basis; and

WHEREAS, the federal motor fuel taxes charged to the citizens of Georgia are needlessly sent to the federal government before being returned to the state government; and

WHEREAS, Georgia is a donor state and does not receive back as much motor fuel tax as it collects and sends to the federal government.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA that this body urges making the funds collected under the federal gas tax immediately available to individual states to fund their transportation needs.

Good luck with that. If it works, I'm going to get Sen. Chip Pearson (the measure's sponsor, and a senator who was kind enough to call me back on an unrelated issue late in the day today) to go to bat for me with the IRS.

Transportation taxes: The board is nearly set

Yesterday when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle announced his support for the regional transportation sales tax (TSPLOST) concept for funding road construction, I thought: I wonder if the House will push the competing concept - the statewide penny tax for road construction.

Sure enough. Now, it's entirely possible, even likely, that this is just a way to get the whole issue into a House-Senate compromise committee, where reasonable legislators will reasonably discuss a reasonable issue in a calm and productive matter. After all, a recent legislative study committee on this issue determined that both ideas are worth considering.

Or, they could just dig in their heels fight over the funding mechanisms and gridlock the whole thing. What am I, some... kind of ... future... predicting... guy?

Wow, that metaphor fell apart fast. Any way, throw in there, too, that Gov. Sonny Perdue has said he doesn't want to see any new transportation funding until the DOT is, essentially, overhauled.

Just what that means, though, remains in doubt, because these funding mechanisms require a constitutional amendment, which takes a statewide referendum, which means it would probably be next year (at least) before the money is collected. Oh, and the governor can't veto a call for a statewide referendum, which takes a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate.

Keich checks in from CPAC

Keich Whicker, one of our reporters, is in D.C. and has written a piece on Sen. John McCain's reception yesterday among the conservative Republicans there for CPAC. The whole thing will run on the op-ed page of Saturday's paper, but I'm going to post an excerpt:
So how did McCain's remarks play with the party faithful, the crowd that lionizes Reagan and finds all manner of reasons to complain bitterly about how today's Republicans are drifting from their ideological roots?

Not well, from where I was standing.

McCain, who argued he came to power as a "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution" and is a "proud conservative," received muted applause throughout the speech. And when he claimed, or attempted to claim, the voting record of a conservative, the crowd, fed by its awareness of McCain's very public positions on immigration, campaign finance laws and taxes, scoffed back at him.

Put simply, there was no bellwether moment here, no "coming together" between McCain and his critics, and no matter how much the senator acknowledged his political past and tried to persuade the crowd to focus instead on the "hugely consequential things" the 2008 campaign would be about, the crowd remained focused on the candidate's past, which in their minds, is not one of demonstrative conservatism.

There's lots of good stuff in the report, including an interview with a guy who, while standing a few feet from former U.S. Rep. Tom Delay, made an argument for voting for Sen. Hillary Clinton instead of Sen. McCain.

As Champ Kind would say: Whammy!

Is it just me, or is that first guy a young Dale Cardwell?

January revenue figures

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of January 2008 (FY08) totaled $1,837,297,000 compared to $1,978,077,000 for January 2007 (FY07), a decrease of $140,780,000 or 7.1 percent.

The percentage increase year-to-date for FY08 compared to FY07 is 2.0 percent.

First month-to-month decrease I can remember in a while, and 7.1 percent is nothing to sneeze at. Looking at the breakdown (which should be posted to the governor's press release page shortly) it looks like a dip in income tax collections is largely to blame. Beyond that, I can't offer much analysis.

Remember, though, that the state's fiscal year runs July 1 - June 30, and that's why there's a difference in the percentage change when you compare January to January as opposed to year to date.

The supplemental budget passed the House

Billips has the story.

UPDATE: By the way, more budget documents than you're likely to want.

Speaking of smiting your enemies...

Something relatively obvious occurred to me this morning, and if it's been answered somewhere in the press, someone let me know.

Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's retaliation against state Rep. Tom Graves and other House members who voted against the speaker's wishes in the DOT board elections has been heavily reported and pontificated upon. But those votes are taken behind closed doors. I'm not entirely sure of the method employed (show of hands, secret ballot, blinking twice for yes, once for no), but I do know the votes aren't public.

So how did the Speaker know who to smite? Because I always heard no one likes a tattletale.

I'm casting about for an answer. I'll update when I get one. Or when I give up trying to get one.