Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And state legislative races aren't

So everyone wants to be a Congressman and no one wants to be a state legislator?

Of the 28 Georgia House and Senate races I'm watching in Middle Georgia, four are contested so far. Given the alleged dis-satisfaction with the General Assembly this year, which seems to be backed up by this Insider Advantage poll, I'm wondering if folks just aren't willing to put their money where their mouths are.

Or maybe our Middle Georgia legislators just do that good of a job. Or maybe the districts are drawn so that, except in a few cases, only one party stands a chance, and local party loyalists see no need to rock the boat.

Either way, it looks like our leadership in the statehouse will stay largely the same. Cool by me - I hate covering campaigns. But I do like it when people have a choice.

Congressional races getting crowded

This year's U.S. Senate race may end up being the biggest free-for-all of this campaign season. But it might get a run for its money from some of these congressional races.

Five people have now filed to run in the 12th District; two Democrats, including incumbent John Barrow, and three Republicans, including Ray McKinney, who is no longer running for president.

Full list is here with the Georgia Secretary of State's Office.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Respite from your day, slash social discussion

The internet - better and/or more responsible for the downfall of society than television or not?

funnyordie.com*

*I'm putting a language and good taste alert on this one, pretty much no matter which video you watch. But you should watch the Fun Town Autos video. And not write my boss emails about the cursing.

By the way, I don't know who this is, but she can write. Also, I can kind of hear my tax dollars getting sucked into the black hole / potential book deal of this blog, but it's OK because she probably doesn't make much money and Blackberries and business cards are pretty much free now, right?

Also, this kind of puts every "Huh?" moment I've ever had about the U.S. Department of Transportation into perspective. Be sure to sign up on the right hand of the page to be notified every time they post a new entry.

Finally, go here and click play.

Now get back to work.

Should we stop building oil reserves?

If you were to plot a strong understanding of how various factors affect the price of oil on the map in California, I would live in Cleveland.

Senators Saxby Chambliss, Johnny Isakson and others are asking Pres. Bush to stop depositing in the national oil reserve:
We write today to request that the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) immediately halt deposits of domestic crude oil into the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). As we enter the busiest driving season of the year, the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil hovers around a record $120.

The SPR was established in 1975 to provide a supply of crude oil during times of severe supply disruptions. Today, the SPR contains more than 701 million barrels of oil, exceeding our International Energy Program commitments to maintain at least 90 days of oil stocks in reserve.

I have two questions:

1. Where, physically, are our oil reserves?

2. Can I have them?

On not paying your taxes... and still running for office

I am shocked, shocked!, to find there's a loophole.

Don't pay your taxes? You should be a state legislator.

By the way, there is no part of me that believes Erick Erickson is capable of sitting this one out. But, then, I've been wrong before.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The trillion $ war, part two

On the subject of this post, my buddy Keich here at the paper (who reads some pretty impressively boring publications) found this bit of information in an article called The Future of American Power in Foreign Affairs magazine:
US defense expenditure as a percent of the GDP is now 4.1 percent, lower than it was for most of the Cold War (under Dwight Eisenhower, it rose to 10 percent). ... The Iraq war my be a tragedy or a noble endeavor, but either way, it will not bankrupt the United States. The price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan together — $125 billion a year — represents less than one percent of GDP. The war in Vietnam, by comparison, cost the equivalent of 1.6 percent of US GDP in 1970, a large difference.

Of course, Keich also notes that we still spend more on our military than the next 15 countries on the list. So there's that.

By the way, if you're not picking up Foreign Affairs magazine too often, the article's author, Fareed Zakaria, is also interviewed in this month's Playboy magazine.

By the way, Keich assures me he only reads Foreign Affairs for the articles.

On storing campaign finance records

You probably remember a while back when The Facility Group, an Atlanta construction firm, had its CEO and others indicted in Mississippi. They're accused of giving politicians illegal campaign contributions to win contracts.

Facility Group has done quite a bit of work in Middle Georgia, including overseeing construction of a recent expansion to the Bibb County jail, a multi-million-dollar project.

So we went combing through local campaign finance records for county commissioners and the sheriff. We didn't find anything particularly suspicious.

But it's worth noting that local boards of elections, by law, only have to keep five years worth of campaign finance documents on hand, so 2003 was as far back as we could check. Typically few donations are made outside of campaign years, which means significant donations would have had to been made as far back as 2000 to have affected decisions to award the contract to Facility Group and its local partner in 2002 and 2003.

So it would have been nice to still have those records or, better yet, to have them in an electronic database. The State Ethics Commission keeps records this way, so if you want to know who The Facility Group gave to in state government, all you have to do is type "The Facility Group" into this database and it spits all the candidates that company has given to.

I believe the database only goes back to 2006, but put that aside for now. Quick searching the database is a heck of a lot easier than driving to boards of election and probate judge offices in 159 counties to hand check records.

According to Rick Thompson, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, the commission has pushed legislation the last two years that would require local officials (city council members, county commissioners, sheriffs, etc.) to file electronically with the commission. Then their records would be searchable, maintained indefinitely, etc.

The Georgia Municipal Association, and possibly others, has blocked this legislation, though. The reason, according to Amy Henderson at the GMA, is it would be difficult for city elected officials to comply. Particularly in small cities, which may not have internet access, or at least not much of it.

That's a double whammy, in that local citizens wouldn't be able to read the filings without internet service. It seems you could require a paper copy still be kept locally, or have the state put a computer at City Hall, but I digress.

Any way, this is all just FYI. It's not my place to advocate legislation, though in this case it would make my job quite a bit simpler at times. I just wanted to highlight the issue. Easily searchable databases = more sunshine in government.

Programing notes: Covering the PSC

I see there are already three people filed for the Public Service Commission's Southern District (District 1): (R) H. Doug Everett, 70, incumbent; (R) Rick Collum, 38; (R) Ryan Cleveland, 36.

That seems like a lot. I'm hoping to actually cover these PSC elections this year. Generally the races don't get much pub. Any suggestions on the how to actually do that, and to make people pay attention, hit me up at tfain@macon.com.

Please.

UPDATE: Mr. Cleveland is no longer listed as a candidate. The folks in the Secretary of State's press office (who really do a bang-up job in my experience) are checking on why.

No Collins in the 8th District

Former Congressman Mac Collins left me a message this morning saying he won't qualify to run for the 8th District again.

"I'm just going to sit this one out," he said.

The message said he didn't really have any comment beyond that.

Qualifying is going on right now, and you can track state and federal offices (including district attorney) with the Georgia Secretary of State.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More and more, Goddard is the Republicans' man in the 8th

Professionally speaking, few things are more frustrating than getting scooped by The AJC in my own backyard. It's less troubling when it's Jim Galloway doing the scooping, but, still, damn.

Goddard gets district-wide Republican endorsement... then the story just gets weird.


We still don't really know what former Congressman Mac Collins' plans are, but this would seem a pretty major obstacle for him, or anyone else, to overcome in a Republican primary.

"There was just one flaw in the calculation"

I can't really publish my response to the simple logic from this article in Time Magazine. But the first word was "Oh." The second one began with an F.
Biofuels do slightly reduce dependence on imported oil, and the ethanol boom has created rural jobs while enriching some farmers and agribusinesses. But the basic problem with most biofuels is amazingly simple, given that researchers have ignored it until now: using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands and grasslands that store enormous amounts of carbon.

Backed by billions in investment capital, this alarming phenomenon is replicating itself around the world. Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that its ranking among the world's top carbon emitters has surged from 21st to third according to a report by Wetlands International. Malaysia is converting forests into palm oil farms so rapidly that it's running out of uncultivated land. But most of the damage created by biofuels will be less direct and less obvious. In Brazil, for instance, only a tiny portion of the Amazon is being torn down to grow the sugarcane that fuels most Brazilian cars. More deforestation results from a chain reaction so vast it's subtle: U.S. farmers are selling one-fifth of their corn to ethanol production, so U.S. soybean farmers are switching to corn, so Brazilian soybean farmers are expanding into cattle pastures, so Brazilian cattlemen are displaced to the Amazon. It's the remorseless economics of commodities markets. "The price of soybeans goes up," laments Sandro Menezes, a biologist with Conservation International in Brazil, "and the forest comes down."

Deforestation accounts for 20% of all current carbon emissions. So unless the world can eliminate emissions from all other sources--cars, power plants, factories, even flatulent cows--it needs to reduce deforestation or risk an environmental catastrophe. That means limiting the expansion of agriculture, a daunting task as the world's population keeps expanding. And saving forests is probably an impossibility so long as vast expanses of cropland are used to grow modest amounts of fuel. The biofuels boom, in short, is one that could haunt the planet for generations--and it's only getting started.

So what about those formulas that show that ethanol - particularly from switch grass or sugar cane - is "greener" than gasoline, even when you back out the fuel it takes to till the land and move the crops and everything else? Well, super-whammy, according this piece:
There was just one flaw in the calculation: the studies all credited fuel crops for sequestering carbon, but no one checked whether the crops would ultimately replace vegetation and soils that sucked up even more carbon. It was as if the science world assumed biofuels would be grown in parking lots. The deforestation of Indonesia has shown that's not the case. It turns out that the carbon lost when wilderness is razed overwhelms the gains from cleaner-burning fuels. A study by University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman concluded that it will take more than 400 years of biodiesel use to "pay back" the carbon emitted by directly clearing peat lands to grow palm oil; clearing grasslands to grow corn for ethanol has a payback period of 93 years. The result is that biofuels increase demand for crops, which boosts prices, which drives agricultural expansion, which eats forests. Searchinger's study concluded that overall, corn ethanol has a payback period of about 167 years because of the deforestation it triggers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

James Salzer and Matt Barnwell are good reporters

There are other good reporters in Georgia (quite a lot of them, in fact) but Salzer won James Magazine's award for political reporting this year. I missed that when I was opining about Rep. Ehrhart's award earlier. In fact, there were several awards given out by the magazine.

Hey, I can't read everything carefully. Not with all the time I'm dedicating to a dozen redundant emails GOP Congressional leaders felt the need to send me this week.

And while we're on the subject of reporters getting recognized for doing some bang-up work, The Telegraph's own Matt Barnwell, who covers Macon City Hall, won the AP's beat writer of the year award a while back. That's a heck of an award.

Rico, show them what they've won.


It's supposed to hurt. It's victory.

A reservoir is a big thing to build

While I was out of town, and on Earth Day, Joe Cook and the Georgia Water Coalition absolutely slammed the state's treatment of water issues this year.

The "rut-roh" paragraph:
While House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle argued like schoolboys over tax cuts, each railroaded through his own reservoir bill, virtually guaranteeing tax-dollar waste through construction of reservoirs that may or may not be needed. The resulting legislation calls on the state to identify "feasible sites for water reservoirs" by Oct. 1 of this year —- well ahead of the completion of the State Water Plan's water assessments.

Congratulations, but that quote just won't do

State Rep. Earl Ehrhart has been named James Magazine's legislator of the year.

But what's with this quote, from the press release announcing the award:
“I am extremely honored to receive this award and to be chosen amongst my peers as the Legislator of the Year. It was a very distinguished group from which I was chosen. Next session I plan on continuing our work towards tax reform, expanding school choice, and finding a solution to our transportation gridlock.”

No over-the-top metaphor? No clever stab at the left? I'm disappointed. The man who gave us this and this must be getting soft.

Congratulations any way.

Perdue: State to cut energy consumption

I almost hate to make fun of this, but isn't 2020 about 10 years longer than Sonny Perdue will be governor? From a press release:
Governor Perdue Orders State Government to Reduce Energy Consumption by 15% by 2020
Launches Energy Innovation Center to Support Alternative Energy Technologies

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. – As a component of the Governor’s Conserve Georgia announcements today, Governor Perdue launched the Governor’s Energy Challenge. This is a commitment by Governor Perdue that Georgia’s state government will reduce its energy usage 15 percent by 2020 over the 2007 energy use levels through energy efficiency or in combination with renewable energy. Governor Perdue is challenging Georgia’s citizens, businesses, organizations, local governments and school systems to meet the state’s 15 percent reduction goal.

“Meeting the 15 percent reduction goal will lessen Georgia’s dependence on traditional energy sources, support the economy, and improve the environment,” said Governor Sonny Perdue. “Undertaking this challenge to conserve energy will help ensure that Georgia’s natural resources are protected for future generations to use and to enjoy.”

The state of Georgia will lead by example and adopt, implement, and promote energy efficiency practices and policies and by using renewable, locally produced biofuels and bioenergy. The Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) is directing the implementation of the Governor’s Energy Challenge. More details as well as information on how to accept the Governor’s Energy Challenge is available by visiting the “Our Energy” section of conservegeorgia.org.

More power to them. Or, rather, less. Could the state hit the 15 percent, I wonder, if we replaced the light bulbs in every office and classroom with these? Some models puport to use 75 percent less energy.

What would be the one-time cost to change out all the incandescent light bulbs in state offices and schools?

Come to think of it, how commonly are incandescents used, as opposed to traditional fluorescents?

And does anyone know what the state spends on light bulb's in a year? I bet that's an interesting number.

UPDATE: From Neill Herring, environmental lobbyist extra-ordinaire who, rumor has it, recently re-added a second l to his name:
I am afraid that the big load is space heating and cooling, and that one is not so easily dealt with as the lighting load. The lighting load is very important worldwide, but a smaller percentage of the total in the US, and particularly in the southern US, than elsewhere.

Schools mostly switched to flourescent lights when I was a tyke, early 1950's. Remember how the "ballasts" in the flourescent fixtures would buzz when they were about to fail? Very sci-fi sound.

One thing the state could do to cut electric loads would be to return to the "traditional school year," starting it in later September and wrapping up in early June. That would cut the number of degree days experienced by school plants, and thereby the amount of energy/money it takes to cool the buildings. The air quality for the kids waiting for the bus is also better in months other than August.

Building schools with windows that open would be a novel change--the way they are now you have to run HVAC daily, no matter what, just to keep the air from stagnating.

Attention Congressional Republicans:

I got your email about the Pelosi premium. In fact, I got it nine times over the past three days. Please consider me every bit as pitched on the story as I'm ever going to get.
---
UPDATE: I missed one. So it was 10 times. Except I got two more emails this afternoon. So make it an even dozen. Ridiculous.
---
Also, if Speaker Pelosi's office is reading this, you guys never answered my email. It's kind of opposite the problem I'm having with the GOP's House leadership.

Tell me you ain't hummin' that music.

Monday, April 21, 2008

See you Thursday

I'm not leaving until much later this evening, but I'll be out of town Tuesday and Wednesday. I wouldn't expect any posts until Thursday. But if you're interested I taped a show for Georgia Public Broadcasting today that will run tomorrow night at 7 p.m.

Mostly we talked about Macon politics, as well as blogging and journalism.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that I said something during this interview along the lines of "we just throw stuff out there and see what sticks" in reference to the blogging we do here at The Telegraph. To be clear: I meant we're trying a lot of new things, blogging on various subjects, seeing what the public has an appetite for.

I did not mean we just make a bunch of crap up and put it online. That would make us a television station.

Rim-shot. I kid because I think it's funny.

I'm back in Macon. More explanations and jokes that are sure to require apologies and further explanations later.

As the DOT turns

I'm not surprised, but the DOT board decided to keep Gena Abraham.

Somehow, I am surprised by the sexual harassment allegations against a board member, which is mentioned in the same story. Seriously, what is the deal with that place?

More on money, money, money

James Salzer and Andy Miller did a real good job, as you'd expect, breaking down the flood of campaign donations (more than $1 million) that legislators got just before the session, and how the money is connected to issues.

By the way, for those who see the speaker getting a substantial challenge to his re-election this year, he's got $430,0000 in the bank.

I did not know until just recently that state legislators cannot accept campaign donations during the session. Even so, you'll see in looking at their disclosures that many donations are dated during the session.

State Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, had 18 such donations in January and February. He said these donations were made before the session began, but because he was in Atlanta and not at his home, where the checks were mailed, they were deposited later.

I'm inclined to accept that, or at least I'm unlikely to demand to see the checks. Tolleson said he's absolutely certain none of the checks were written in session.

"Never, ever would I take a check during the session," he said. "I've mailed checks back before."

By the way, it's interesting what you find in these reports. There were large expenditures for fuel on Tolleson's report, all to the same company. Turns out he drives a pickup truck that runs on e-85 - ethanol blended gasoline - and you can only get that a few places.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Federal DNA database to expand

Why is it that I immediately get nervous when I read the phrase "U.S. government" in the same sentence as "DNA database?"

From The Washington Post:
The U.S. government will soon begin collecting DNA samples from all citizens arrested in connection with any federal crime and from many immigrants detained by federal authorities, adding genetic identifiers from more than 1 million individuals a year to the swiftly growing federal law enforcement DNA database.

That's arrested, not convicted. Cloning, privacy and government- sanctioned genetic selection experiment concerns aside, the programs seems to have had a lot of success in it's current format and no doubt would lead to more crimes being solved if it expands. Also from The Post:
The National DNA Index System (NDIS) was created by the DNA Identification Act of 1994 to store profiles of people convicted of serious violent crimes, such as rape and murder. A 2004 amendment expanded the collection to people convicted of any felony offense, and it allowed states to upload DNA profiles from people convicted of misdemeanors and from arrestees charged with a crime. In 2006, the law was changed again, enabling states to upload data from arrestees who had not been charged.

Over the years, the NDIS has yielded 66,750 hits in 67,285 investigations, FBI officials said. "I think by any measure, the program has been a success," said Thomas Callaghan, head of the database, adding that the best way to increase its effectiveness is to add DNA samples from arrestees.

Fixing the General Assembly and Sam Nunn in the cabinet. (Non-kitchen.)

It was in yesterday's AJC, but in case you missed it, Mike King suggests six "essential" fixes for the Georgia General Assembly, including an independent commission to redraw the districts each year.

Worth your time to read.

By the way, what kind of cabinet secretary do you think Sam Nunn would make? My guess is that most Georgia politicos just answered: "A really good one.

DOT calls special meeting for Monday

Wonder what they'll talk about? From the press release:
SPECIAL CALLED MEETING SCHEDULED
WHEN: Monday, April 21, 2008 at 10 a.m.
WHERE: Georgia Department of Transportation, No. 2 Capitol Square, SW, Atlanta, Room 401

WHAT: Called meeting of the State Transportation Board.

UPDATE: By the way, the governor is supposed to make a statement at 3 p.m. So look to your favorite newspaper Web site for that.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The $1 trillion war?

A group called The Reason Foundation sends me routine newsletters. I usually skim them, but don't think I've ever published anything from them. They're a think tank that I would describe as Libertarian. I can't vouch for their numbers, but also don't have a reason to doubt them, because the organization has a good reputation.

The subject is the war in Iraq:
... then the total price tag for America’s present wars will rise to at least $822 billion, approximately 80 percent of which will be spent on Iraq. That surpasses the cost of the Vietnam War ($670 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars). And the Iraq portion dwarfs the $50 billion to $60 billion cost predicted at the outset of the war by Mitch Daniels, then director of the Office of Management and Budget.

These runaway costs do not include a single dollar from the Pentagon’s annual operating budget, which in 2008 reached a whopping $481 billion. If the war were being accounted for based on a rational, transparent budget process instead of an opaque and politicized shell game, Americans would be painfully aware that we are now in the seventh year of what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has called a $1 trillion war.

How much money is $1 trillion? Enough to pay for the entire 1976 federal budget, adjusted for inflation. Enough to write a check for $37,500 to every Iraqi man, woman, and child. Enough to buy 169,492 Black Hawk helicopters, or 455 stealth bombers. Enough, in nominal terms, to pay for the entire federal government from 1789 to 1957. And it’s 10 times more than what specialists predict it would take to eradicate malaria once and for all.

You make the call: Do these jokes work?

We've got this feature called Political Notebook at The Telegraph, where we list upcoming events, make fun of anyone who dares run for office and generally try to bring some entertainment into our dreary, dreary, reporting lives.

And I just wrote this to preview the "Top Gun" political training session the Georgia Young Republicans are bringing to Macon. Now, these guys deserve anything we can dish out for naming a campaign training session after a top-flight (pun intended) school for fighter pilots.

But do the jokes work? And I mean work in a "those are terrible, please stop" kind of way. I don't want to end up looking dumb myself:
The list is long, but distinguished
If you feel the need, the need for an entire Saturday's worth of in-depth political training and campaign strategery, consider "Top Gun Training for Candidates, Campaign Managers, and Activists."

This Georgia Federation of Young Republican Clubs event will teach you to push the envelope, and the group is bringing its target rich environment to Macon for the first time. Register online at http://www.georgiayr.com/Event_Registration.html.

Pay your $40 and get ready to fly into the danger zone of this training session May 3 at Macon Wesleyan Church. It will take your breath away from 9 a.m. til 6 p.m.

And, in case some of your are wondering who the best are, they're listed on the invitation: U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Joe Wilkinson, a state legislator and former press officer to Ronald Reagan, Randy Evans, partner of political powerhouse firm McKenna, Long & Aldridge, even Macon's own City Councilman and ubiquitous blogger Erick Erickson, to name just a few.

No word, yet, on which of them have, or have not, lost that loving feeling.

Bonus points for anyone who can work "No, no, there's two O's in Goose, boys," "Negative, Ghostrider, the pattern is full" or "if you screw up just this much, you'll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong!" into the piece.

I'm turning the anonymous commenting on.

Gainesville Times: Evans resigns at DOT. And Abraham is likely next.

UPDATE: You know what? Forget what I said about the initial shock. Love's the best thing going. From Insider Advantage, quoting Mike Evans' resignation letter:
Over the last five months I've worked closely with Commissioner Abraham to work toward change within this department.

Over the course of those five months I've grown to admire and respect her more and more every day. Her sense of integrity and work ethic is well known throughout the state and I can certainly see why.

Over the last month or so we have developed a relationship that we both want to be more than just professional. She's become my friend. As that friendship developed, we realized there was a possibility of something more than just a friendship. ...

DOT policy does not permit, as most of you know, relationships other than professional or friendship within the direct chain of command. As chairman of the board, I strongly believe that the chairman should be the model for respect and adherance to that policy and I wish to see that in all GDOT employees, certainly with the challenges that we face.

In doing so, I must, therefore, today tendered my resignation as chairman and as member of this Department of Transportation Board.

That's sweet.
---
Are you kidding me with this? Last one out of the Georgia DOT, please turn out the lights.

BOOM:
State Department of Transportation Board Chairman Mike Evans announced his resignation today over his relationship with DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham that he said "we both want to be more than professional."

Abraham also is expected to offer her resignation, several sources have told The Times. Neither Evans nor Abraham is married.

Thanks to a friend and reader for sending me the link.

UPDATE: I see Ariel at The AJC has the story, too. But it says no decision has been made on Abraham.

I want one of these

Well, it might not be practical for my house. But it occurs to me that Bibb County is building a new courthouse...
The box is a giant cistern designed to collect rain and condensation from the building's air conditioning system, and a real example of the kind of water-saving features UGA planners are including in new UGA buildings these days.

The cistern is expected to save nearly a million gallons of water a year, which can be used to flush toilets in the Tate addition and irrigate landscaping beside the building.

Wait, Americans think they don't pay taxes?

Well this is interesting, from Insider Advantage:
We polled full-time employed Americans and asked them, "Last year, did you pay taxes to the federal government, get a refund or both?"

An amazing 40 percent of respondents said they received a refund only. They didn't say they paid taxes and then received a refund. They only said that they received a refund.

Nearly half the country believes that they don't pay taxes to the federal government. They probably know they pay sales and other taxes, such as tolls. But because of our system of payroll withholdings, these folks never notice that on their pay stubs, it says clearly that they are taking home a lot less money than they are being paid by their employers.

I'm a little blown away by that. And it's not like I walk around thinking: "Gee, the overwhelming percentage of Americans are brilliant. You can't throw fastballs past them."

UPDATE: On second thought, I'm wondering if we're dealing with semantics. If folks know they paid taxes via withholding, but just have a mindset where that's assumed. As if you were talking to a friend who asked "You pay your taxes yet?"

"Nah," you'd respond. "I got a refund this year."

No one would answer: "All year long, baby. But I overpaid, so the government took my money by force of law, held onto it, returned a pittance at the end of the year and kept the extra interest."

Well, I might respond that way. But I have authority issues.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Loves paying $3 and up for gas -> Me

This isn't news, so if you don't want to be preached at simply because I wrote something last night while I was half drunk, keep movin'...

I love paying $3 for gas. Because I know how things change. I know how we reach tipping points. It has to hurt.

We use too much. Maybe that's not an objective statement, but it's a realistic conclusion.

Does gas cost so much because the oil companies are screwing the rest of us? Maybe. You should look at newspaper profit margins some time. Greed doesn't know only one industry.

Does gas cost so much because of the laws of supply and demand? Of course.

By the way, have you priced a gallon of bottled water lately? How about beer?

Kurt Vonnegut was right, we are a society addicted to fossil fuels. We are rewarders of consumption, and other, larger, countries have learned that game.

Leaner times are a-comin'. But we can deal with them with the ingenuity Americans have often shown. Science is making incredible strides. We are using, as Vonnegut said, what has poisoned us, which is knowledge.

In the meantime, and beyond, even when every problem is solved, this is good advice: Use less. Recycle more.

UPDATE: This was supposed to go with the post:
The U.S. is wrestling with the worst food inflation in 17 years, and analysts expect new data due on Wednesday to show it's getting worse. That's putting the squeeze on poor families and forcing bakeries, bagel shops and delis to explain price increases to their customers.

U.S. food prices rose 4 percent in 2007, compared with an average 2.5 percent annual rise for the last 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the agency says 2008 could be worse, with a rise of as much as 4.5 percent. ...

U.S. households still spend a smaller chunk of their expenses for foods than in any other country - 7.2 percent in 2006, according to the USDA. By contrast, the figure was 22 percent in Poland and more than 40 percent in Egypt and Vietnam.

In Bangladesh, economists estimate 30 million of the country's 150 million people could be going hungry. Haiti's prime minister was ousted over the weekend following food riots there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Let me know who I can blame about gas prices. That's all I ask.

I get all kinds of press releases from the Republican leadership in Congress and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Apparently the Democrats don't have my email address. Let's keep it that way.

Usually it's some ridiculous rhetoric on an often important issue. I'm not saying the position espoused is ridiculous, mind you, just the rhetoric. My current favorite, from the NRCC, was headlined: "Jim Marshall Votes to Jeopardize National Security."

All that said, I'm not sure you can blame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats for the cost of gasoline, but a press release from Republican Leader John Boehner made a good point today. What ever happened to this, from an April 2006 press release from Pelosi's office:
“Democrats have a commonsense plan to help bring down skyrocketing gas prices by cracking down on price gouging, rolling back the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks and royalty relief given to big oil and gas companies, and increasing production of alternative fuels.”

I'll email Speaker Pelosi's office and find out how that's going for you.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. - no word yet.
UPDATE 2: Friday, 12:57 p.m. - Yeah, I'm thinking they're not going to respond.

Blue skies, or hunting through campaign finance reports...

I don't have much for you today. Go outside. It's nice.

Congressional campaign finance documents are due today, though. Updates aren't posted yet, but the FEC is getting easier to search... well, not every day. But often.

Georgia candidates.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Blue eyes / brown eyes

I guess a lot of people have already heard of this, but I picked it up from a book the other day. It's the best example I've ever seen of how prejudice can change people.
After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jane tried a more direct exercise to bring the truth home about racial discrimination. It was an exercise which was to change her life.

Jane Elliott told her pupils a pseudo-scientific explanation of how eye colour defined people: blue eyes showed people who were cleverer, quicker, more likely to succeed. They were superior to people with brown eyes, who were described untrustworthy, lazy and stupid1. She then divided the class according to who had brown eyes and who had blue eyes. To ensure clarity of divisions - given that some eye colours might be subject to dispute, she used ribbons to mark out the 'inferior' brown-eyed children (those with clearly different eye colours acted as bystanders). To reinforce the situation, she gave the superior group extra classroom privileges, and would not let the brown-eyed children drink from the same water fountain. She made a point of praising the blue-eyed children, and being more negative to the browns.

Jane Elliott was amazed at the speedy transformation in her class. The superior blue-eyed children became arrogant, and were bossy and unpleasant to their brown-eyed class mates. The brown eyes quickly became cowed and timid, even those that had previously dominated the class. But what really astounded Jane was the difference academically. Blue-eyed children improved their grades, and managed mathematical and reading tasks that had proved out of their grasp before. Brown-eyed high-flyers stumbled over simple questions.

A few days later, Jane Elliott told her class that she had the information about melanin the wrong way round, and swapped the colour superiorities over. The brown-eyed children tore off their now-hated ribbons, and the situations quickly reversed.

Jane Elliott had proved - more dramatically than she had ever thought possible - how much discrimination is soaked up subconsciously, by both the oppressor and the oppressed. She had not told her pupils to treat each other differently, only that they were different; and yet they developed the characteristic responses of discrimination.

Breaking down tax cuts the General Assembly did approve

I'll be out of the office most of the day, but I can point you toward the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute's breakdown of the various tax credits/breaks the General Assembly passed this year.

It's the second report on their home page. Scroll down past the picture.

The most interesting are probably the high-deductible insurance plan incentives and the Forest Land Conservation Act.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lobbying

This is a short piece I did on lobbying last week. We also put together boxes giving specifics for 13 Middle Georgia legislators, but I don't see that online. It's on page 9A of the Sunday paper, though.

I may have missed a couple of interesting things, which I'll try to check on this week. I hope you're having a nice day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Oh, I don't know. Trying to save the world one relatively unimportant issue at a time

- My current answer to the question "What's wrong?"

Today is the first anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut's death. Which, as he might say, is purely coincidental.

And one of his most famous quotes is this: "We are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different."

But he also expressed a profound sense of caring for mankind. He once proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that called for every human being to be welcomed at birth and given meaningful work to do.

I know that a lot of, as we might say, important people read this blog. And a lot of people I respect. And I wonder, as I wonder for myself, how much of what you do in an average day would you say matters worth a damn?

The tragedy of the planet was that its scientists had found ways to extract time from topsoil and the oceans and the atmosphere — to heat their homes and power their speedboats and fertilize their crops with it; to eat it; to make clothes out of it; and so on. They served time at every meal, fed it to household pets just to demonstrate how rich and clever they were. They allowed great gobbets of it to putrefy to oblivion in their overflowing garbage cans...
- Vonnegut, Jailbird

I once heard myself described as being embittered with humanity because of its wasteful acts. That notion distresses me. My real feeling is that human beings are too good for life. They've been put in the wrong place with the wrong things to do.
- Vonnegut, interview in 1980

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A fool, or a fraud?

Sometimes editorial cartoons can blow you away in a way words seldom do.

Remember this?

Well now there's this:


David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

How accurate are lobbyist disclosures?

UPDATE: This issue aside, the total amount spent on legislators by lobbyists this session was $882,806. That's through March 31. The last week will be available May 5.

I got this number by searching the expenditures file without giving the system any search criteria. I loaded the results into an excel file and let the computer total it up.

A bargain at twice the price.
---
I've been looking at fundraising records and lobbyist disclosures for Middle Georgia legislators. And I've noticed something about the lobbyist records.

It's hard to look at them and get a true idea of just how much lobbyists have spent on a specific legislator, and it's definitely hard to figure out what issue they're being lobbied on.

There's a space for the lobbyist to disclose what bill was discussed, but more often than not they put "n/a" or "general discussion." In follow up interviews, lobbyists say no bill or specific issue was discussed.

Setting that aside, though, take a look at this single expenditure.

$228 is a lot of money for lunch. But the lunch was actually purchased for every senator, staffer and page who was on the third floor of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building on the last day of the session, according to the lobbyist, Stephen Birtman, who I spoke to.

"It was the full floor (we bought Varsity food for). ..." Birtman said. "I don't even remember seeing (Staton) there. Frankly, I remember seeing more pages and staff there."

So Staton may or may not have been there, but he clearly wasn't the focus. Yet he has a $228 disclosure on his record, which inflates the amount he appears to have been lobbied when you add up all the disclosures. The same goes for Sen. Jack Hill, Sen. Chip Rogers and Sen. Gail Davenport, who are also listed on the disclosure.

Rick Thompson, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said he'd never heard of this coming up before. He said he expects these records to be accurate, but there's no way for the commission to cross check them because it's just the lobbyists who file them.

He also said that, when there are big groups, lobbyists are allowed to just list "Republican Caucus" or "all General Assembly members" instead of an individual member.

Often things are pro-rated, that is the amount is split up. A $200 dinner might show up as eight $25 dinners on the same date, split among various legislators.

But that doesn't always happen. State Rep. Larry O'Neal told me he runs into an issue when, for example, an expensive bottle of wine is ordered, he doesn't have any and that inflates his total.

Lobbyists sometimes "over-disclose because that's where the safe harbor is," O'Neal said. "You get in trouble for not disclosing it."

I don't know how big a deal this is to folks, or what the answer is. But for a reporter who's trying to present readers with a picture of how much their legislators are lobbied, it's problematic.

I still *heart* government

Obviously there's a lot of examples of government "efficiency" out there today. I'd like someone to explain to me, though, how private information keeps "mistakenly" getting put on the internet. In this case, 71,000 times.

Have you ever accidentally put your bank or medical records on a Web page?

And then there's the DOT.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Press conference... or Thunderdome-style cage match?

According to the governor's office, Gov. Perdue, Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle are going to appear at a press conference in the governor's office this afternoon.

That should be interesting.
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue will sign legislation and discuss the 2008 Legislative Session TODAY, Wednesday, April 9, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.

WHO: Governor Sonny Perdue
Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle
Speaker Glenn Richardson

I hope everyone brings their blame-apportioning fingers to point.

UPDATE: Speaker's office confirms that this is indeed happening, and that the video will be online an hour or so after the press conference wraps.

"Field changes" coming in the DOT's books

Pettys reports that more trouble will likely be revealed at the Georgia Department of Transportation:
“There are going to be more financial disclosures - significant disclosures,” a source who spoke on condition of anonymity told InsiderAdvantage. “The state auditors have been in there and thrown up their hands. They say we need some outside auditors.”
Whenever I think about issues at the DOT, I think about a story I wrote in 2002. A DOT contractor, on orders from the DOT during a nearby highway widening, graded a small dirt road in the middle of nowhere into a 16-foot-tall roadbed that looked like a banking interstate ramp.

Local folks called it "Mount Midway" because it was midway between Eastman and Hawkinsville.

The DOT eventually graded the roadbed back down to a normal height, but it never admitted a mistake. That's right - they corrected a mistake they never made.

From the story:
This 16-foot-high roadbed, made up of about 10,000 cubic yards of dirt, was built for a dirt road that connects U.S. 341 to Ga. 203. A handful of people live along the road. Locals say four or five cars a day traveled its dusty path before construction closed the road to through traffic. ...

But to the DOT, it's no error. Mount Midway simply represents a "field change" and the roadbed will be regraded down to about 6 feet.

"There was no error in the design," states a written DOT response to Telegraph questions about the project.

When a road under construction doesn't have a posted speed limit, DOT policy is to design it as if the limit is 55 mph, department spokeswoman Dorothy Daniel said Friday. That's what happened here. But the road plan now has been changed after design and construction engineers "noted that the height of the fill area was unsightly and would make maintenance very difficult."

Such "field changes" are "common," according to DOT District Engineer Glenn Durrence. With $600 million in projects spread over the 31 counties managed from the DOT's Thomaston district office, they are to be expected, Durrence said.

"Field changes" come in varying degrees, but Durrence termed this particular example "absolutely" common.

UPDATE: Danny Gilleland, a Telegraph photographer who runs a photography blog full of great photos and good advice, was kind enough to dig a picture of Mount Midway out of our archives:












UPDATE 2: Pettys has updated his story with comments from Gov. Perdue:
(4/9/08) Gov. Sonny Perdue said Wednesday he’s asked for a forensic audit of the Department of Transportation in the wake of the latest report of financial mismanagement in the agency. Hundreds of millions of dollars, some portion of them federal, are at issue, he told reporters.

“Every time I meet with Commissioner Abraham and I hear more about the DOT and what’s being found over there, I’m not sure we’re at the bottom of the barrel but every time she comes over there’s a smell that’s not very pleasant about what’s happening there,” Perdue said.

Folks, forensic audits are the kinds of things federal investigators do to figure out exactly how money moved. It is not like a regular audit. It's typically done when you're expecting to end up in court.

Reservoirs: The new anarchy

He doesn't quite have the speaker's verve, but that state Rep. Earl Ehrhart is a hyperbolic quote machine. From the Marietta Daily Journal on water/reservoir legislation:
"I don't think the Left wants to see an end to drought or water independence. If that happens, then the government no longer controls peoples' lives and lifestyle," Ehrhart said.

Brushing aside the idea that water is a shared resource, and by definition subject to societal control, and assuming that liberals do, in fact, hate rain, I've found some major news in this quote: If the drought ends, government will no longer control people's life or lifestyle.

So pray for rain, then we'll have gay marriage and Sunday sales for everyone.

UPDATE: Rep. Ehrhart, who is always good enough to respond, even when I'm poking him with a stick, notes he was responding in that article to state Rep. Rob Teilhet, who referred to the bill as "window dressing."

He also notes that hyperbole is a necessary evil in today's age of 10-second sound bites. Maybe that's true. OK, we're beyond maybe on that, though the phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy" comes to mind.

By the way, I think Democrats with a little bit of memory would note that, under Gov. Roy Barnes, the state was poised to add new reservoirs. The plan was abandoned shortly after Gov. Sonny Perdue took office. Gov. Perdue is a Republican.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Do they even count as guesses anymore?

I'm pulling campaign finance documents off the State Ethics Commission website. They were due yesterday and I'm pulling them for most Middle Georgia legislators.

Two legislators' filings weren't available online. And I asked the newsroom here at The Telegraph if they could guess which two.

They guessed right, on the first try: State Rep. David Lucas and State Sen. Robert Brown.

And then another reporter said "Do they even count as guesses anymore?"

I called Rep. Lucas and he said he mailed his up to Atlanta yesterday, making the deadline via a Monday post mark. I haven't gotten ahold of Sen. Brown yet.

I'm back in the legislative muck-racking business. If you have concerns about lobbyist expenditures or fundraising issues with Middle Georgia legislators, you can reach me at tfain@macon.com.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Two can dig a lot quicker than one: The 2008 General Assembly

In lieu of actual original analysis...

The good.

The bad.

The ugly.


There's no name here, either. Or a tax cut.

Friday, April 4, 2008

"I took a crushed cigarette out of his hand. He didn't want kids to see him smoke."

- Rev. Billy Kyles, who was on the balcony with Martin Luther King Jr. when King was shot.

I saw that quote last night during a documentary about King's death, from an assassin's bullet, on April 4, 1968. Kyles took the pack of cigarettes from King's pocket, too. He's kept them to this day.

And it struck me: Everyone's just a person.
Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us the courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

- Martin Luther King Jr., Where do we go from here?



From The Telegraph archives.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Speaking of how to, and how not to, do it

This is just amazing:
ATLANTA --Georgia's legislative session will come crashing to an end Friday, and just about every major policy item Republican leaders promised to deliver remains up in the air.

The House and Senate are gridlocked over competing tax breaks. Vast changes to the education system hang in the balance. Plans to hike the sales tax to pay for transportation improvements and create a new fee to shore up Georgia's trauma network are in limbo.

About the only trademark issue both chambers had already agreed upon by Thursday was a statewide water plan to chart out the drought-stricken state's resources and needs. But efforts to pass more ambitious plans to expand existing reservoirs and build new ones have sputtered.

Lawmakers are still struggling over Georgia's $21.2 billion budget, meaning most legislators may not see the final version of the spending plan until the session's final hours.

Wait - did the federal goverment just show us how it's done?

This was going to be a post about how $100 billion seems like an awful lot of taxpayer money to put toward mortgage counseling, even in these foreclosure troubled times. But it turns out this story had an error in it.

The U.S. Senate proposal in question includes $100 million for mortgage counseling groups, not $100 billion. And I know that because, in the space of 2 1/2 hours, Sheridan Watson in Sen. Johnny Isakson's office took my question, answered it, and provided back up documentation.

Compare that to the situation one post below, where I'm dealing with a government headquartered down the street from where I'm sitting, as opposed to in Washington, D.C.

In even less time this afternoon, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided me with this information about the existing counseling programs:
In FY 2007 HUD awarded $41.062 million to HUD-approved housing counseling agencies.

There are 2,486 HUD-approved agencies participating in the Housing Counseling Program.

Credit where credit is due. That is how it's done.


"It's amazing."

By the way, Sen. Isakson's tax credit for those who purchase foreclosed-upon homes is in the bill as it exists now. It's a $7,000 credit divided over two years for purchases made within a year of the law's enactment, assuming it passes. There are some other caveats, but basically it's a tax credit to help resell some of these trouble houses.

By the way two: HUD provided me with a "find a counselor" link in case you're in need.

Macon government: Like clockwork, but the clock just flashes "12:00"

I've been working three days now to answer what seemed to be two very simple questions about city of Macon government operations. Having dealt with the city for several years, let's just say I'm less than shocked that I don't have answers yet, and that bucks have been passed.

More on those issues when I do get answers. For now, let me point this out:

The chief of police's email address listed here on the city's Web site, is out of date. It bounces back. The correct address is MBurns@mpd.macon.ga.us.

The main administration telephone number (751-7505) listed there, as well as on the police department's own home page may or may not be correct.

I think it used to be correct, but no one answered that number the four times I called between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. today. The voice mail message just says "The person at extension 2363 is not available to take your call." Out of curiosity I called 751-2363. That's an unassigned number, according to the recording there.

As for the faulty email address, that's being taken care of, according to the department's public information officer, Sgt. Melanie Hofmann. "Literally, last week they changed the email address," she said.

As for the phone number, it's not clear what the deal is with that. For the record, though, (478)803-2352 will get you to the chief's assistant.

UPDATE: Just for the record, this appears to be all kinds of up-to-date, so it ain't that hard.

March revenue figures

Looks like they're down again.
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of March 2008 (FY08) totaled $1,155,087,000 compared to $1,174,222,000 for March 2007 (FY07), a decrease of $19,135,000 or -1.6 percent.

The percentage increase year-to-date for FY08 compared to FY07 is 1.6 percent.

Thanks for nothing, Casey Cagle

Guess who got their car tax bill today.

By the way, my birthday is May 26, if anyone wants to send a gift... of $110.75.

Haiti, Afghanistan and where your computer goes

This piece in National Georgraphic's January edition goes into great depth about what happens to your computers once they become obsolete.

Basically, 70 percent of them will probably end up in a landfill, along with 80 percent of televisions. Even the ones folks think they've recycled or donated to charity often end up in a ditch in Ghana (or somewhere else in the developing world) where very poor people get very sick by setting wiring and other items on fire to recover the metal for resale.

These pictures say a lot.

Apparently, back in 1989, something called the Basel Convention was entered into by 170 nations, setting up restrictions on the movement of this high-tech waste. But three of those 170 countries signed, and did not ratify, the convention. One is the United States.

The other two are Haiti and Afghanistan. As another reporter said: "Maybe we're not giving Haiti and Afghanistan enough credit."

According to Matthew Hale, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's solid waste program director, America's policy is:
... instead to encourage responsible recycling by working with industry—for instance, with a ratings system that rewards environmentally sound products with a seal of approval. "We're definitely trying to channel market forces, and look for cooperative approaches and consensus standards," Hale says.

Ah, channeling market forces and looking for cooperative approaches and consensus standards. That's the kind of paradigm shift that will make this a top action item.

By the way, the article suggests a Tampa, Florida company (Creative Recycling Systems) as a group that's actually recycling these items, instead of selling them out the back door to groups in Africa or China. You can check them out here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How big a priority is water conservation at the Capitol?

Before the session began, both Gov. Sonny Perdue and Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson told me that, in addition to new reservoir funding this year, they expected water conservation legislation to move.

This was Gov. Perdue's comment, in January:
Perdue said new building codes "for the future" and tax credits for more efficient water usage are both likely. But the governor twice noted that the state doesn't want to usurp local power over water resources.

And the Speaker in November:
I'm not going to pass legislation to tell people you've got to have a low-flow toilet. I think we could change our policies on EPD, with wastewater treatment, to point discharge instead of sprayer irrigation. I think we can change some really basic things that have to do with leakage. ... You do realize that leakage in existing pipes is somewhere between 10 and 12 percent loss per day, just leaking out of pipes. And that's a problem. ... I do see a possible piece of legislation in addition to the reservoir piece that might look into the viability of creating a water resource division to work with Environmental Protection Division. Clearly Environmental Protection Division has not done an adequate job of protecting Georgia's water resources over the last 10 or 15 years.

I know the EPD has moved toward advocating point discharge over the former favorite, spray irrigation, which is a whole different post. I don't know of new efforts to fix leaking pipes or create a water resource division within EPD. Educate me if you do at tfain@macon.com.

Reservoirs were definitely addressed, with $40 million included in the 2008 budget adjustment for new reservoirs and $500,000 there for existing reservoir maintenance.

As for conservation, it doesn't seem like a lot of legislation came to fruition. There are several bills dealing with water usage that have either passed or are still alive. Most of them seem to make it easier to use more water as opposed to encouraging conservation, but you should judge for yourself.

Two caveats: 1.) Things change fast these last few days, and bill language is no exception. 2.) The vote status comes from the General Assembly's Web site Wednesday evening, which may be a little behind.

I should also note that, outside of legislation, Gov. Perdue implemented a 10 percent usage reduction in the 61 north Georgia counties with the Level 4 drought conditions. Not all counties made the goal, but on the average the area hit the mark, according to the governor's office.

Presumably, though, that will be harder to maintain in the spring and summer.

HB 1281: This is the "local control" bill city and county folks are concerned about. According to The AJC, the bill would make it more difficult for local governments to restrict outdoor watering beyond limits the state sets.

Basically, local governments would have to get state EPD permission first. The bill has passed both the House and Senate, but in slightly different versions, meaning a compromise has to be struck before sending it to the governor.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's office has nodded toward a veto saying "in general" the governor supports local control, and local folks say it would be difficult to make that state-mandated 10 percent cut in water usage without the power to restrict outdoor watering.

SB 466: exempts car washes and swimming pools from outdoor watering restrictions if they meet certain (and pretty basic) conditions. It's passed both the House and Senate.

HB 1226: This is a long bill that, according to media summaries I've seen, is meant to speed up the reservoir permitting and building process. I can't find the link, but one story quoted an attorney who worked on the bill as saying the state would deal with the Army Corps of Engineers on permits instead of local governments.

But this bill also contains a measure I think people will view as pro-conservation. It's got a four-day sales tax exemption (in October) for buying "energy efficient products or water efficient products with a sales price of $1,500.00 or less." Only regular folks can get the exemption, not people purchasing for "trade, business, or resale."

That the language in the version passed by a Senate committee. The House's original bill, according to the Speaker's office, was a year-round tax credit for builders who bought energy and water efficient devices. It seems that would have made it more likely for these devices to make their way into more homes by encouraging builders to install them instead of just existing homeowners, but what do I know. It looks like the full Senate hasn't voted on the bill yet.

SB 463: Sets restrictions on the usage of gray water (that's water from your bathtub) in outdoor watering.

HR 1022: It's the water plan. I don't really know what it does. I seem to remember the word "toothless" getting thrown around a lot, but that may not be fair. Both the House and Senate passed it and the governor signed it in February. SB 351 is some companion legislation, setting up an oversight committee. It looks like the Senate. has passed it, but not the House.

That's all I know about, and I called the speaker's and governor's press offices and asked them to suggest any legislation they felt I should look at.

UPDATE: From Neill Herring, a pro-environment lobbyist at the Capitol who is one of the most knowledgeable people I've met on these issues:
There is a chance we will get an income tax exemption in HB 1226 in addition to the sales tax holiday.

There is also a requirement in HB 1281, the outdoor watering bill, that the EPD make new drought rules by the middle of next year, and I would hope that those rules would contain some strong conservation measures, since, as the Speaker implies, saving is the cheapest way to get more water.

The most useful thing I can think of thhat is entirely unaddressed is state help for water utilities in redesigning their rates so that conservation of water does not also damage their income and credit. This is specialized activity that are hard to do "in-house" and hiring the experts is not cheap.

UPDATE on April 8: Not all of these passed, but here's an AJC article summarizing water issues this session.

The Montana Sheep Institute - they do good work

Much of the information should be similar to that available at some of the "Kick the Door Down" sites already linked here, but these guys sent me a press release. You can download the latest "Pig Book" cataloging earmark spending from Citizens Against Government Waste:
In fiscal year 2008, Congress stuffed 11,610 projects (the second highest total ever) worth $17.2 billion into the 12 appropriations bills. That is a 337 percent increase over the 2,658 projects in fiscal year 2007, and a 30 percent increase over the $13.2 billion total in fiscal year 2007.

Alaska led the nation with $556 in pork per capita ($380 million total), followed by Hawaii with $221 ($283 million) and North Dakota with $208 ($133 million). CAGW has identified $271 billion in total pork since 1991.

For the first time, the names of members of Congress were added to the projects. The top three porkers were members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, beginning with Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) with $892 million; Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) with $469 million; and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) with $465 million.

The Pig Book Summary profiles the most egregious examples, breaks down pork per capita by state, and presents the annual Oinker Awards. All 11,610 projects are listed in a searchable database on CAGW’s website www.cagw.org. Examples of pork in the 2008 Pig Book include:

$3 million for The First Tee;
$1,950,000 for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service;
$460,752 for hops research;
$211,509 for olive fruit fly research in Paris, France;
$196,000 for the renovation and transformation of the historic Post Office in Las Vegas;
$188,000 for the Lobster Institute in Maine; and
$148,950 for the Montana Sheep Institute.

Courage is waiting until after the election

I don't mean this as a criticism of state Rep. Roger Williams, who is apparently just trying to protect fellow Republicans on this thing. But what does this say about us as a Democracy:
State Rep. Roger Williams (R-Dalton) says he has pulled the plug on legislation to permit Sunday retail sales of alcohol, out of deference to fellow Republicans who might face tougher elections if forced to vote on the issue.

But Williams says he’s gotten assurances that the measure will be one of the first “out of the chute” next year.

So the logic is: Not this year, we've got elections to win. But once we hoodwink those idiot conservative Christian groups into re-electing us, we'll bring this back up. They're so dumb, they'll never remember what we do by the next election.

I don't really care if they legalize Sunday sales. But if I was dead set against it, as some are, and I saw this strategy materializing, my first question at every campaign debate would be: "Are you going to vote for Sunday sales?"

It does seem like there's a lot that could go wrong

Creative Loafing's always entertaining Golden Sleaze Awards are out. This is, by far, my favorite:
Rep. Ron Forster, R-Ringgold: Against stiff competition, Forster may have succeeded in drafting the flat-out stupidest bill of the year. Titled the "Life to Life" program for reasons we couldn't discern, the legislation would have allowed the Parole Board to outsource prison labor to private companies working in overseas war zones. Yes, you read that right: If Forster had his way, Halliburton could use Georgia inmates to dig latrines in Kabul or build roads in Baghdad. "Seems like there's a lot that could go wrong," observed a fellow legislator when Forster presented his bill in committee. No shit. Of course, Forster made clear that the program would be voluntary, inmates would get to keep 60 percent of their earnings (the state would get a chunk as well) and those who survived their tour of duty would be eligible for early parole. Actually, Forster told the committee, he originally wanted to give inmates the chance to get out of prison by joining the military, but learned the Army doesn't take convicted felons. Bummer. Needless to say, Life to Life died a quiet death.

Impressive.

By the way, I counted 20 Republicans and three Democrats given sleaze awards. Not being in leadership roles at the Capitol, the Dems really had to work at it to be included. One didn't pay about $46,000 in taxes, one pled guilty to money laundering charges in a federal investigation and one ran up about $1,700 in questionable travel reimbursements.

Hat tip on this goes to Peach Pundit.

UGA cuts water usage by a fifth

I understand that Georgia tech actually tripled its water use during the drought.

Georgia: We care about the environment. And we're good at football. Unlike you, nerd:
The University of Georgia has cut its water use by 21 percent in the five months since a task force laid out ways to conserve the vital resource, according to statistics the university released Tuesday.

UGA could save even more water this spring and summer, when irrigation normally drives water use up, according to Ralph Johnson, director of UGA's physical plant.

Last fall, the UGA Athletic Association cut water use at Sanford Stadium by about 75 percent, partly by employing toilet monitors during football games to ask fans not to flush toilets unnecessarily.

But the most conservation has come from UGA's biggest water users, the research labs, said Ken Crowe, assistant director for utilities in UGA's physical plant.

UGA used 27.3 million gallons a month less from November through February compared to the same four months last year; about 17 million gallons of that saved water has come from UGA research buildings, which use nearly a third of the water consumed on campus, Crowe said.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I'm eating nacho cheese to protest my recent weight gain

I can think of a lot of ways to protest higher fuel prices. Driving around in a circle isn't one of them.

But, hey, what do I know:
ATLANTA -- A group of independent truckers circled metro Atlanta to protest rising diesel-fuel prices approaching $4 a gallon nationally.

About 30 truckers gathered Tuesday morning at the Flying J truck stop in Jackson for the convoy north on Interstate 75 to Atlanta.

Georgia State Patrol troopers observed the trucks on the perimeter highway, I-285, where they moved in an orderly way at appropriate speeds, some with their caution lights blinking, patrol spokesman Trooper Larry Schnall said.

Logjam breaking on tax reform? And the end of the session in sight

As we get down to the end of the session here, this will not be a good place to follow it. The links over there to the right (especially Insider Advantage, the Political Insiders and our own home page) will be.

But since I've been following this baby for a year now, I do want to call attention to the latest lunge in tax reform:
It’s no April Fools joke, but maybe it’s a little hardball. House Speaker Glenn Richardson sent a message to the Senate Tuesday that it’s time to quit playing games over tax relief and offered a proposal that would cut taxes in Georgia by $1.5 billion - both by axing the tag tax, as he proposed, and reducing the income tax rates, as Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle proposed.

Toward that end, and his urging, the House returned two bills to the Senate, as amended by the House, to accomplish that goal.

“There can be no further games here. There can be no further amendments,” he said in a speech from the House well. “They can either vote to agree and accept this and it will go on the ballot, or they can disagree. If they disagree, they will have voted against giving Georgians tax reform.”

You gotta love a man who, in nearly the same breath, says he's refusing further negotiations, and if you don't sign off on things as they stand, then that's just your fault.

By the way, the insiders note that the other big tax issue, transportation tax reform, is a shadow of its former self.

And, presumably, somewhere, someone is talking about the 2009 state budget.

10,000 would have been excessive

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce sends out a routine legislative update during the session. This morning's had an interesting tidbit:
In this two-year session that will end Friday, almost 5,000 bills and resolutions have been introduced...

Is there anyone reading this who thinks we needed 5,000 new laws and/or resolutions commending various high school football teams?

There are 180 state representatives and 56 senators. The governor, of course, also proposes legislation. So that's 237 elected officials to write legislation. Maybe I should also include Constitutional officers, but I won't. And we'll pretend for a minute that lobbyists don't actually write a lot of the laws.

Let's say "almost 5,000" means 4,700. No doubt this is on the low side. That would be 19.8 pieces of proposed legislation per elected official.

There are 80 days in the two year legislative session. That's 58.75 pieces of proposed legislation per legislative day.

UPDATE:
Joe Fleming at the chamber gave me a more definitive number: 4,836. That changes the numbers to 20.4 and 60.45.