Friday, January 30, 2009

Richard Ingram: Legitimate bad... well, you know

I thought this would be hard to beat. Turns out I was wrong. Lucid Idiocy has a new favorite piece of legislation from the 2009 Georgia General Assembly.

I met Richard Ingram in 2007. He had lost much of his left arm while serving in Iraq and was working as a legislative intern for state Sen. John Douglas.

But what he really wanted to do was get back in the Army. The Army was resisting, because one of his hands had been blown off.

Turns out, he did get back in the Army, winning commission as a second lieutenant, according to Sen. Douglas. Senate Resolution 89: The coolest legislation of the 2009 General Assembly:
WHEREAS, Second Lieutenant Richard Ingram is the first severely wounded soldier from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to overcome amputation and become an officer; and ...

WHEREAS, in 2005, Lt. Ingram's 48th Infantry Brigade was called to Iraq and he put his studies and his life on hold to preserve the ideals of freedom and democracy; and

WHEREAS, while patrolling the town of Yusufiyah, just south of Baghdad, on July 20, 2005, Lt. Ingram's vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, causing injuries that forced the amputation of Lt. Ingram's left arm; and

WHEREAS, after returning to the United States for medical treatment, Lt. Ingram retired on medical grounds and resumed his courses at North Georgia, but refused to let his dream of serving his country and defending freedom end; and ...

WHEREAS, after making a case to the Army Inspector General, the long-time policy of refusing officer commissions for severely injured soldiers was changed; and

WHEREAS, nearly 4,000 men and women currently belong to the Wounded Warrior Program, soldiers classified as severely wounded by at least a 30 percent disability, 113 of which have continued with military service as either active duty or reserve; and

WHEREAS, Lt. Ingram is the first from the Wounded Warrior Program to restart his career as an officer after proving he had the physical ability to lead a platoon despite his injury; and ...

WHEREAS, receiving no special accommodations for his injury, Lt. Ingram finished second in his platoon of 50 cadets, using his high-tech prosthetic arm to perform expert marksmanship and do almost 80 push-ups in two minutes; and

WHEREAS, after having taken his oath of office as a second lieutenant on December 13, 2008, Lt. Ingram will lead an engineer platoon in the 10th Mountain Division, likely to see combat again in Afghanistan, and hopes to complete Airborne and Ranger school in the future; and

WHEREAS, a driven and dedicated soldier with sheer perseverance on the battlefield and back home, Lt. Ingram serves as a role model not only for disabled veterans, but for all Americans; and

WHEREAS, this remarkable 25 year old embodies the spirit of service, willing to find meaning in something greater than himself and serving as a guardian of this nation's liberty.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE that the members of this body commend Second Lieutenant Richard Ingram for his brave and admirable service in the defense of the United States of America and congratulate him on the distinction of being the first severely wounded soldier to become an officer.

UPDATE: HB 143 passes, HR 1 debate delayed, sausage no longer being churned out here at an impressive pace

UPDATE: House Bill 143 passed 117-55. Story on the main site. Interestingly, the House adjourned shortly after the vote without taking up House Resolution 1 (the assessment cap). That was unexpected.

Majority Leader Jerry Keen said it was simply a time issue: It's Friday, legislators need to get back to work or spend time with their families, since most of them will be back up here Sunday to be ready for a Monday morning session, he said. He also said the leadership didn't expect debate on 143 to last more than about 15 minutes.

That's interesting, because I certainly expected it to last longer than 15 minutes. And I wouldn't say that I'm a superior predictor of House debate lengths than Rep. Keen.

House Democratic Minority Leader DuBose Porter offered an additional reason for the adjournment: "And they didn't have the votes," he said.
----
The House of Representatives is debating House Bill 143, which would basically "save" the homeowners tax relief grant to fund last year's property tax break for homeowners and "kill" it for this year and tie it to revenue growth in years after that.

You can watch online here. But you should probably just get back to work, because I have a feeling you're going to need to make some more money and pay some more taxes.

So far, common law marriage, the integration of the University of Georgia, migration to America, an Albany legislator's "Uncle Nimrod" and the 95 South Song "Whoot There It Is" have all been referenced in arguments for or against the bill.

It's like watching the old Kent Brockman quote in action: "I've said it before and I'll say it again: Democracy simply doesn't work."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Friday: Property tax reform hits the House

Friday should bring the first major floor debate of the 2009 session of the Georgia General Assembly: Debate over HR 1, the reassessment cap bill, and HB 143, which seeks to guarantee homeowners tax relief grant funding for this year, but makes it harder to come by in future years.

I filed a very long legislative notebook this evening, with lots of comments from separate press events that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Majority Leader Jerry Keen held today. So be sure to check that out on our main legislative coverage page.

I'll leave you with a good summary quote from Lt. Gov. Cagle:
"Revenues are declining, expenses are going up and raising taxes is off the table. So we have to make the tough choices and those services that we can do without, we will do without."
As Cagle said this, I couldn't help but notice he's got a sweet 46-inch-or-so Samsung flat screen T.V. hanging in his office. Maybe that's not fair to bring up, because there are sweet flat screens all over the Capitol.

Also, The Macon Telegraph and the rest of the newspapers / Web sites that actively cover the legislature get free office space. And by "free," I mean provided by the taxpayers.

No flat screens, though.

Lucid Idiocy officially has a favorite piece of legislation for 2009.

House Resolution 146, congratulating the city of Hoschton on breaking the world record for most scarecrows within a city limits, will be very difficult to beat.
WHEREAS, the committee set a goal to have 4,000 scarecrows within the city limits of Hoschton, Georgia, on September 1, 2008, and this goal was surpassed with an amazing 5,441 scarecrows, earning the city a world record from the World Records Academy; and

WHEREAS, the scarecrow count of 5,441 was proudly verified by John Oxendine, State Insurance Commissioner, and Shane Short, Executive Director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce; and

WHEREAS, the committee worked valiantly advertising the Hoschton Fall Festival of September 26 and 27, 2008, which resulted in a new record for attendance with approximately 25,000 attendees...

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES that the members of this body commend the Hoschton Fall Festival Committee on its world record with the Most Scarecrows in One Location, its worldwide recognition through media coverage, and the enormous contribution this effort made to the local economy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You know you want more property tax reform analysis. You know it, and I know it.

If you've been thinking, "Hey, how's all this homestead exemption stuff going to shift tax burdens in my community?" I think the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute can address that question for you.

They've put out a 3-page paper that you can download here.
HR 1 has implications for local government funding and education funding, as well as tax equity and fairness. In acting upon such legislation, it is important that policymakers consider the implications for new residents, first-time homebuyers, and property owners with stagnant or slowly inproperty values, as these are the Georgians who would have taxes shifted to them.
The reason for that shift is simple: Property value growth is capped as long as you own a property. So that's a benefit for long-time homeowners and people who own homes in areas that are growing quickly, and thus increasing in value.

It's also a disincentive to move. HR 1 is probably going to be discussed on the floor of the House of Representatives Friday.

DuBose Porter: I'm running for governor

Though he'll wait until after the 2009 General Assembly session to make a formal announcement, House Democratic Minority Leader DuBose Porter this afternoon confirmed what many at the state Capitol have expected for some time now: He will be a candidate for governor in 2010.

That would make Porter the second Democrat seeking the office, after former Georgia National Guard commander, and Macon native, retired Adjutant General David Poythress. Five Republicans have said they'll seek their party's nomination.

Porter, D-Dublin, said he wanted to wait until his children finished high school to consider a run for the state's top office. Now that they're in college, he said he has the "time and opportunity" to "change the priorities of what is happening in our state."

"We'll make an announcement after the session," Porter said this afternoon.

Porter said his priorities have long been education, health care, conservation and job creation.

"(Those are things) I've worked on for years and I'd like to take it to a new level."

UPDATE: Ed at Tondee's Tavern makes what I would think is a sound assumption: That this also means Roy Barnes is not running for governor.

CORRECTION: No need to disclose who I forgot, but five Republicans have said they are running for governor, not four. My apologies. They are, in alphabetical order: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Karen Handel, political activist Ray McBerry, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and state Rep. Austin Scott.

Seth Harp just isn't scared

If you want politicians who have guts, who don't worry about political consequences and are willing to pursue potentially unpopular policies, I think you want Columbus area state Sen. Seth Harp.

So far this session, Harp has proposed merging majority white colleges with historically black ones, making it illegal to hire an actor to play an attorney in a television commercial and allowing communities to hold referendums allowing Sunday sales of packaged-to-go alcohol.

The argument against Super Speeder fines

Gov. Sonny Perdue's Super Speeders bill has been introduced again, and it would apply a new fine to folks who drive more than 85 mph, or 75 mph on a two-lane road.

This is supposed to raise $23 million a year, according to the governor's office, to fund trauma care. It also discourages the behavior that causes a lot of the serious injuries in the state.

But you will often see critics say that the money will be difficult to collect, presumably because the folks who are driving that fast are unlikely to pay their fines.

But a state representative mentioned another reason the other day: Judges. A local judge, faced with tacking on this fine or simply making a defendant pay the local speeding fine, may well reduce the charge.

For example: If the speeder was going 86, kicking in the super speeder fine, the judge might lower it to 84. That way the speeder only has to pay the local fine, which he or she may be more likely to actually pay.

UPDATE: From Perdue Press Secretary Bert Brantley: "We based it on a 60 percent collection rate, which our folks tell me is a fairly conservative projection."

I have no idea what normal collection rates are for traffic tickets, but the fact that the revenue estimate is based on 60 percent collections seems to strengthen to governor's argument on this. I don't believe I've seen that reported anywhere.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

House Bill 143: Deal cooking on homestead grants?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: My story on this. Salzer's.
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Ways and Means Chairman Larry O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, has filed a bill that would require the General Assembly to fund the homestead exemption tax breaks this year and change the way the money is doled out in future years.

House Bill 143
says the assembly "shall" appropriate the money, which means legislators would have to find an extra $428 million to fund the tax break, since it wasn't in Gov. Sonny Perdue's budget.

That would be done as part of the appropriations process, and the governor would have to sign off on whatever changes the assembly makes to his budget, unless the assembly can over-ride him with a two-thirds vote.

Perdue recently called the tax break "virtually fiscally impossible" for the state to fund.

But the bill is just starting its journey toward becoming law, and will be discussed in O'Neal's tax-code-writing Ways and Means Committee this afternoon.

For fiscal 2010 and beyond, the homestead exemption grants would continue to be funded, but only if the state revenues hit a growth target. The appropriation would also be made in the amended budget, which is hashed out about halfway through a fiscal year, instead of in the initial state budget.

UPDATE: Jim Galloway over at The AJC notes that this could be about (gasp!) politics.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Due to blog policy of avoiding lawsuits, the shysters will not be named

I was going to save this for tomorrow's notebook, but if this doesn't belong on Lucid Idiocy, I don't know what would. Get 'em, Sen. Harp.

If you hate those lawyer commercials that all seem to feature the same “lawyer” over and over, state Sen. Seth Harp has a bill for you.

Harp, R-Midland, has filed Senate Bill 41, which would require the people portraying lawyers in a commercial to actually be lawyers. It would also require that attorney to actually meet with any clients the T.V. ad brings in.

Harp, who is an attorney, said he’s already been told by the Georgia Bar Association that the bill might be unconstitutional. But he filed it anyway, calling some of the commercials out there “tantamount to baiting and switching.”


Trouble for this Napoleon Solo? Surely not.

UPDATE: As Galloway notes, the bill got mentioned on The Tonight Show.

State Rep. Jim Cole now Perdue's top floor leader

Middle Georgia will destroy all other parts of the state with its various horse parks and Go Fish headquarters. From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue today appointed Representative Jim Cole of Forsyth (District 125) to serve as Senior Administration Floor Leader in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Cole takes over the role from Representative Rich Golick who resigned his floor leader position to take the chairmanship of the Judiciary Non-Civil committee in the House.

The emerging argument against HR 1: Rich v. Poor

House Resolution 1 being the property re-assessment cap backed by the Republican leadership.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, in Atlanta Monday for the Georgia Municipal Association's lobbying day at the Capitol, called the measure a "dirty... stroke of genius" from state Republicans.

Reichert said the measure would help affluent landowners and give candidates a sound bite to use against those who oppose it come campaign season: My opponent voted against a tax cut.

"It's a brilliant political strategy, but that is exactly what it is. ..." Reichert said. "A wolf in sheep's clothing to the little guy."

Savannah City Manager Michael Brown, who spoke against the resolution during a public hearing this afternoon, said the cap would shift taxes from large, out-of-state corporations, to local homeowners. Big businesses, he said, have all kinds of lawyers to figure out how they can avoid paying taxes.

And, since the cap is only reset when property is sold, "businesses will never transfer property again," Brown said.

"They'll have all of their land and assets tied up in trusts," he said.

Today's Georgia Supreme Court decisions

Couple of interesting ones today. Listed by case name, with my clever summary, then the official summary from the court's press office.

IN RE: D.H., A CHILD (S08A1853): You can have pot without touching it:
But in today’s unanimous opinion, written by Justice George Carley, the Supreme Court finds that although D.H. did not have “actual possession” of the marijuana, he did have “constructive possession” of it. He had the rolling papers needed to smoke the marijuana, and both he and the other boy admitted they’d just purchased the drug and were headed to a construction site to smoke it.

IN THE MATTER OF: K.R.S., A CHILD (S08A2005):
If he's obviously in a gang, you can charge him:
For the second time this month, the Georgia Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional “The Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.”...

The youth, “K.R.S.” was charged in juvenile court with simple battery, battery and influencing a witness for allegedly cutting a person’s hand, hitting another in the head, and slapping a third in the face. (Due to his minor status, the youth is identified by initials only.) As a result of those charges, K.R.S. was also charged with two counts of street gang activity, which is a felony. Prior to a formal hearing on the charges, his lawyers filed a pre-trial motion to dismiss the street gang counts. Specifically, they claim the act fails to define “criminal gang activity,” or what it means to be illegally “associated with” a “criminal street gang..."

“We disagree,” Justice Hugh Thompson writes for the Supreme Court in today’s unanimous decision. The law clearly defines a street gang as an association of three or more persons engaged in criminal gang activity, and it lists 10 offenses that constitute “criminal gang activity,” the opinion points out. “We find the description of these enumerated crimes…provide[s] sufficient notice to the ordinary citizen and clear guidance to law enforcement authorities as to what conduct is forbidden under the statute.”

ACCG legal opinion: Game changer on the homestead exemption money?

I don't have a press release or the opinion in hand yet, but I understand that the Association County Commissioners of Georgia has gotten a legal opinion on the $428 million for local governments that Gov. Sonny Perdue left out of his amended 2009 budget proposal.

The bottom line: They believe that, if the state does not fund the homeowners tax relief grant, which funds the homestead exemption on local tax bills, county's will have no choice but to raise taxes.

I'm told the opinion says they cannot simply cut spending, or get the rest of the money out of reserves. It says they will have to re-bill homeowners.

If - and with legal opinions there's always an if - this takes away the argument that allegedly bloated local governments can simply cut spending to make up for the lack of state funding, it would add strength to the argument that Gov. Perdue's omission would amount to the largest property tax increase in state history.

UPDATE:
The opinion is from Jim Grubiak, the ACCG's general counsel. You can download it here. I'm not going to type whole sections of it here, but basically it says the gratuities clause of the state constitution would prohibit local governments from extending a tax credit of this type to homeowners.

HB 122: Counties, cities and school boards must put budgets online

I try not to write about too many bills before it becomes obvious which ones have a chance to move forward. But this one caught my eye.

House Bill 122, sponsored by state Rep. Ed Lindsey, R-Atlanta, would require counties, cities and school boards with budgets over $1 million to "develop and operate a single searchable website accessible by the public, at no cost, that provides:"
  • All sources of revenue, itemized by amount.
  • The annual budget.
  • A list of all contracts and obligations of more than $1,000.
  • An itemization of salaries and other expenses paid to all public officials and employees.
UPDATE: I spoke to Rep. Lindsey and he said it's based on a bill state Sen. Chip Rogers got passed last year which required the state to start this Web site.

"What goes for the state... ought to also work for the (larger) local governments," Rep. Lindsey said.

The bill hasn't been assigned to committee yet, Lindsey said, but he expects it to go to governmental affairs. Lindsey said he's spoken to several members and gotten a generally positive reaction to the bill.

UPDATE 2: House Rules Chairman Earl Earhart has dubbed this bill, "cool," which can only help its chances.

"Transparency is cool," Earhart said. "And we need to do more of it."

UPDATE 3: Secretary of State Karen Handel's press office notes that Secretary Handel has had her own transparency site up and running for some time now. Visit it here.

Situation normal for Macon, Bibb at the statehouse

I know, I know - I was worried, too. But, rest assured, we continue to fight over pretty much everything in this community.

Story up on the main site. But really all you need to know is this:
ATLANTA — Macon and Bibb County's legislative delegation, which would typically meet as one, instead held two separate meetings this morning: Republicans in one building and Democrats in another.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Jekyll deal: What they're promising

I don't know as much as I probably should about the Jekyll Island redevelopment deal. But I know promises to remember when I see them.

From House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons, state Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and state Rep. Roger Lane, R-Darien, in an editorial printed in The Telegraph:
Through oversight and appropriate legislation, Jekyll Island will remain a special place with 65 percent of the island remaining in a natural state. The developed portions will feature enhanced public areas, including a new, large “signature” beachside park that will provide beach access to all Georgians, whether visiting for the day or taking a family vacation.

A newly renovated and expanded convention center will allow us to capture conventions — many held by Georgia-based associations — that currently meet outside the state. And the compromises made by the development partners will keep Jekyll Island an affordable vacation spot for future generations of Georgia families.

Jekyll Island will be a model for restrained and responsible coastal development, and a model for teamwork among elected officials, state government and the private sector.
And, from the Brunswick News, Eric Garvey, Jekyll Island Authority spokesman. Garvey was discussing the $50 million in bonds that the state is putting into improvements on the island:
The money would be used strictly for the beachfront public park the authority is committed to constructing, Garvey said, and not as part of Linger Longer Communities master plan concept.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Do we really need 159 counties?

Just a little weekend food for thought.

If you were going to establish the state of Georgia today, I doubt you would build it with 159 counties. We are second only to Texas in this country for sheer number. Yet you seldom hear anyone suggest consolidating Georgia counties, despite the obvious cost savings associated with that.

But, without prompting, two different people suggested this to me this week in two separate conversations. The first was Larry Snellgrove, a former Houston County Commissioner. The second was state Rep. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody.

Both were in favor of it. Both said it will never happen.

The state constitution requires every county to have a sheriff, clerk of court, probate judge and tax commissioner, doing away with some of our counties would surely save money on other administrative jobs as well.

There'd be other efficiencies. For example: I doubt the good people of Ben Hill and Irwin counties would see their quality of life suffer if the two merged and bought office paper or sheriff's cars in larger bulk.

Why do we have so many counties in Georgia? Your state library system has the answers:
Although the source of the statement has never been verified, reportedly there was a rule of thumb in Georgia that every citizen should be within a one-day round trip by horse or wagon from the seat of county government.

In reality, however, other factors more commonly were behind the push to create new counties. Sometimes, residents of a remote area felt the county was not provide adequate services (particularly with respect to grading dirt roads). Personal disputes and political controversies frequently led to the division of an existing county.

For instance, until 1871, Watkinsville served as the seat of government for Clarke County. However, that year Athens supporters persuaded the General Assembly to designate Athens as county seat. Expectedly, residents of western Clarke County were unhappy about the change. The dispute ended four years later when the legislature created Oconee County out of the western half of Clarke County.

Another important reason for the large number of counties is that with each new county came jobs and political power. New counties also meant numerous elected and appointed offices to fill, including a sheriff, judge, court clerk, ordinary (probate judge), tax commissioner, coroner, surveyor, and other positions. Also, until 1965, each Georgia county – no matter how small – was entitled to at least one representative in the General Assembly. Thus, with each new county came a new state legislator.
Horse and buggy travel times, power struggles, increased opportunity for cronyism... good reasons all. Carry on.

Walker on mental health: Privatization "not a given."

Mental health advocates have been concerned for months about a proposal to privatize the state's mental hospitals.

Because the state's facilities are old and expensive to maintain, and due to a general trend toward privatizing services under Gov. Sonny Perdue, the state has been pushing that way.

Except today, during her legislative budget hearing, Department of Human Resources Commissioner B.J. Walker made it clear that this is not a full-speed-ahead kind of proposal.

"The issue of privatization is not a given, or a panacea. ..." she said. "Privatization is a question."

This may come as a welcome sign of flexibility for mental health advocates who felt privatization was a done deal, and that those with mental illnesses wouldn't get the same level of care from a private provider more interested in the bottom line.

Still, Walker said the state has requested proposals from companies to provide mental health services, which would mean the state could close its existing mental hospitals. She noted that the state is not very good at getting new facilities — which are needed — built quickly.

For example: The Payton B. Cook Forensic Building, which is essentially a jail for people with psychiatric problems, began construction in 1999. It's construction budget was $17.5 million, according to the DHR's public affairs office.

The budget has risen to $29 million and the building was just turned over to the DHR in October.

Great moments in bureaucracy

"I apologize for the fact that we can't seem to get out of our acronyms. And I don't even know them."

- Georgia Department of Human Resources Commissioner B.J. Walker, to state legislators.

You can watch today's round of budget hearings live here. I don't know why you would do that, though. Unless there's just too much happiness in your life. The Department of Community Health is up about 10:30.

Medicaid discussions!

State-run golf courses losing $2 million a year?

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation sends out a list of "Friday Facts" you can sign up for. Today's contained this item:
A 'hole' lot of red ink: Testifying at a legislative budget hearing Thursday, Chris Clark, Governor Sonny Perdue's pick for commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said Georgia's eight state-run public golf courses operate at a loss of about $2 million a year. The state golf courses that are run under private contracts, on the other hand, are operating at or near break-even. The good news is that DNR plans to actively seek private management for the state-run courses.
Interesting. This AJC piece notes that the DNR plans to eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for golf courses.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Georgia: Brought to you by anyone but Pepsi, the state of Florida, the University of Florida or the Church of Satan

This piece, about the possibility that the Georgia DOT might sell advertising on it's HERO trucks, reminds me another money-making opportunity the state could get into.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Jim Donald once told a room full of reporters that the DOC's Web site gets about 2 million hits a day, mostly because people want to find out whether someone they know is in prison.

I question the figure, but let's put that aside for now. The Macon Telegraph gets a lot of hits. But I can say with certainty that we would be more than happy to have 2 million hits a day.

So, if we can sell advertising on our Web site, why can't the state of Georgia?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

UPDATED: No school nurses, no raises for National Board Certified teachers

THURSDAY UPDATE: Here's the full story I wrote about the school nurse issue. Another thing I wish I'd noted (though when it comes to education cuts there are plenty of things to note) is that the state isn't planning on giving National Board Certified teachers their 10 percent salary bumps in 2010.

That will save about $12.3 million. And, while there seems to be quite a bit of support for wedging school nurse funding back into the budget, the bonuses may prove less popular, particularly with all the layoffs in the private sector right now.

Said state Rep. Fran Millar, vice chairman of the House Education Committee: “I don’t think it’s a time to be worrying about that you didn’t get your raise.”
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What is funding that isn't in the governor's recommended budget for 2010, Alex?

School systems can still have school nurses, but the state won't to pay for them unless legislators can work something out and get the money back in the budget.

State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox discussed the issue at length this afternoon during her budget hearing with legislators.

"As a teacher who started in the 80s in Georgia... as a teacher it was very comforting to know you had a nurse, especially after Columbine. ..." Cox said. "Of all the things that are getting shifted and eliminated, this line items concerns me the most."

This post is better than this budget hearing

One of the wonderful things about working at the Capitol is that you can spend two hours pouring over the state budget, then walk into the Capitol rotunda and be treated to singing.

Last Friday, after most legislators had left the Capitol, I happened on a middle school choir singing in one of the wings. I put together a short video, with pictures from around the Capitol.

I'm about to sit through an afternoon of state budget hearings. If something fantastic happens, I'll put up a new post. Less than that, I'll just put it below the video.



UPDATE: Gov. Sonny Perdue just told legislators in a budget hearing that he wanted to fund the homeowner's property tax relief grant, but, "ladies and gentlemen, I literally could not find" the money for it.

He told them that, if they can, "I'll rejoice with you... (but) it became virtually fiscally impossible."

Full story filed on the main site, but it's mostly just the governor's comments and some background.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Walker: DOT governance shift possible, but it's clarity that's needed

Jim Galloway over at The AJC has been on top of Gov. Perdue's push to change the way the Georgia Department of Transportation operates. No legislation has been filed or confirmed by the governor's office, but the theory is that the state DOT Board would not longer be elected by House and Senate members, but appointed by the governor, lt. governor and speaker of the house.

The DOT Commissioner, in turn, would be appointed by the governor. This, Galloway has suggested, may be the change in "governance" Perdue requires to support new funding source for the DOT's well-documented need for more money.

It would seem difficult to convince legislators, who now have the power to name their own DOT board member by a secret vote in each of the state's congressional districts, to give up this power. But Board Member Larry Walker, the board's vice chairman and a former state legislator from Perry, says it could happen.

"If the speaker and the governor and the lt. governor got behind it and they pushed it hard enough, they could probably pass it," Walker said. "It wouldn't be easy."

More important, though, Walker said, is bringing more clarity to the way transportation is managed in this state. Right now there is a "hodge-podge" of groups, Walker said.

Off the top of my head, I can think of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, MARTA, the State Road and Tollway Authority and any number of regional organizations that work with the DOT.

Walker said "whatever (the governor and legislature) want to do is fine with me" when it comes to naming DOT board members. But "I would like to see some clarity."

By the way, now Galloway has a piece up about the state potentially taking over MARTA, which has its own funding problem.

America, America

A friend of mine happened to be flying home from England on Sunday. He reports:
The Kenyan boys choir is going to D.C. for Obama's inauguration.

Our flight was delayed 3 hours, so the are singing to everyone here in the terminal. They are singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness." It made me cry a little bit. Our country is pretty special, even if we suck at football.
The "football" he refers to is soccer. And I agree on all points.

The inaugural prayers

The text of Rick Warren's prayer is online at a site called Christianity Today:
When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.
UPDATE: From Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction, courtesy the Associated Press, which has the full text:
... keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

On the inauguration of Barack Obama

I find myself unqualified to write about what it means that we have elected the first black president of the United States. So I asked a friend of mine to write about it.
The first moments after Senator Obama was projected to be the winner of the election were perhaps the most surreal in my life. I was speech less, I didn’t know what to feel, or to say. My immediate thoughts were of those who had come before me. My Grandfathers, neither of whom lived to see this moment. I also thought about my parents, who grew up in the South and knew what it was like to attend segregated schools. What about Dr. King? Was this the realization of the dream that he defined 40 years ago?

I never really thought I would see this day. I followed this election closer than any other in my lifetime, but somehow always thought that victory would elude Senator Obama’s grasp. I spoke to a friend on the phone earlier in the day who said “Obama’s got this one in the bag”. I still didn’t believe it could happen. America just wasn’t ready. Those “real Americans” that Governor Palin spoke of would never vote for a black man, let alone one named Barack Obama. But something happened. Some how, this politician connected with all Americans in a way that no politician has ever connected with the American people throughout my lifetime. The events of the country led some to trust him who would ordinarily not have. The financial crisis, the war, the partisan division, the country seemed to need him, and he always seemed to rise to the occasion. From the race speech in April to the acceptance speech in Denver, his words seemed to calm us. His presence re-assured us, he was ready to lead, and we needed to be lead.

I know that the election by itself will not solve all of our racial problems. But maybe it will allow us to talk about race differently than we have before. To see that we have much more in common than we ever believed. That if we come together, we can solve the major problems that face us all. We are placing an awful lot of pressure on the shoulders of one man. For our country’s sake, I hope he is up to the challenge.
Nick Studymine is a native of Macon, a University of Georgia graduate and a Georgia social worker.


Image: McClatchy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

King day again, and all of its reminders

Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern man is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one's enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist.

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "Loving Your Enemies" sermon, collected in Strength to Love.

AJC: Perdue gets $21 million loan on limited collateral

The AJC breaks another big one out of Houston County. Alan Judd reports:
Gov. Sonny Perdue faces a personal financial challenge this winter that rivals state government’s budget crisis: repaying a $21 million loan that comes due March 1. ...

The lender — a farm credit bank based in Perry — allowed Perdue to put up collateral worth less than 20 percent of the loan’s value, according to a security deed filed in Houston County Superior Court. Commercial lenders typically insist on a far greater level of collateral, and the federal agency that regulates farm banks requires strict underwriting standards to guarantee loan repayment.
In a related story, I'm pretty sure I want to be some combination of AJC reporters Alan Judd, Andy Miller and James Salzer when I grow up.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rep. Doug Collins is home from Iraq

It seems appropriate to end on something that really matters this holiday weekend. Welcome home safely, Rep. Collins. May every soldier be as blessed.

State Rep. Doug Collins has returned from his post in Iraq, and he took his seat Friday in the Georgia House of Representatives.

The Gainesville Republican spent the last 4 1/2 months serving overseas as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves. He was struck, he said from the well of the House, by the change in surroundings.

One day you see nothing but concrete barricades surrounding you. A week later you're walking marble floors at the Capitol and sipping coffee with state leaders.

In a rare moment for the House, the entire chamber fell silent to listen as Collins, his voice wavering, spoke on the importance of "the little things" in life.

He said emails served as "daily reminders of a world far away" during his tour.
"It was always a pretty good day when I saw some e-mails," he said, thanking three House members who wrote him routinely.

"And to the rest of you, believe me, there's something to be said about an e-mail," Collins said. "Maybe you need to find somebody that you haven't talked to in a while and send them an e-mail."

Is the state building bomb shelters in Cairo?

Somehow, I guarantee you Urban Meyer is involved in this...

Buried within the more than $2 billion in budget cuts Gov. Sonny Perdue has recommended this year is an odd little item: "Remove one-time funds provided in fiscal 2007 to construct a bomb shelter in Cairo."

Egads! Has the Cold War begun again? Has the state dismantled a north Florida plot to bomb lovely Cairo, Georgia, and thus avoided the need to build an emergency shelter for the citizenry?

Alas, as it often is in state government, the answer is less interesting. The line item refers to a "shelter" that houses a Georgia Bureau of Investigation bomb squad truck, according to state Rep. Gene Maddox, who represents Cairo and much of the surrounding area in deep south Georgia.

The state has about seven bomb-dismantleing robots, Maddox said. One of them, as well as the truck that delivers it, is stored in a building in Cairo.

But there remains some intrigue behind this deleted $60,000 line item.

"I thought it had already been paid. ...," Maddox said. "The shelter's been built for 2 years."

It's a nice place you've got here

If you've never visited your state Capitol, or if you haven't been since you were a kid, you should come see it.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

State, feds, settle on mental health inquiry

UPDATE: Judd and Miller's story in The AJC.
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Fairly huge breaking news late today. The AJC has been all over this story from the beginning, so I'll look to them for coverage this evening and tomorrow.

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today the state has reached a settlement with the Justice Department regarding the state’s seven psychiatric hospitals. The state facilities involved in the settlement include: Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta, Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville, East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, West Central Georgia Regional Hospital in Columbus and Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome. ...

Specifically, Georgia has agreed to improve incident reviews and investigations, mental health treatment planning, seclusion and restraint protocols, medical and nursing care, and discharge planning in all of its psychiatric hospitals. Georgia agreed to target and achieve improvements within the areas of choking and aspiration risk assessment and prevention, suicide risk assessment and prevention, patient-on-patient assault prevention, and more consistent emergency medical codes within the first year of the agreement.

Copies of the settlement documents were filed today in federal court and will be available on the Justice Department Web site upon approval by a federal judge.

SCHIP passed the House today

Blog for Democracy reminds me that it's not just the Georgia Legislature in session.

SCHIP expansion vote roll call here. Macon Congressman Jim Marshall voted against.

CORRECITON:
It was yesterday (Wednesday).

Balfour: Georgia Power nuclear bill to move fast Earhart: Homestead exemptions / Sunday Sales strong in House

It's early, but it's never to early to pick a few of the more than 225 pieces of legislation that have been dropped and handicap their chances.

In both the House and Senate, the rules committees have a lot of say over what moves forward and what doesn't, since they set the daily agendas for the full House and Senate.

Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour today said it's too early to say which bills will move and which won't, but he did single out one piece of legislation: His bill to allow Georgia Power to charge existing customers a fee to cover the cost of expanding its nuclear facility near Augusta.

On the House side, Rules Chairman and Lucid Idiocy favorite Earl Earhart said he doesn't see a fast track for much of anything, except maybe a leadership-supported bill that would cap property tax value re-assessments. After last year's extended back-and-forth over property taxes, that issue has been vetted pretty well, he said.

Earhart said transportation legislation will probably take quite a while to pull together, and Balfour said the speed that issue moves in the Senate will depend largely on what the House does.

But Earhart said he sees good chances for a State Sen. Seth Harp's Sunday Sales bill, which would allow communities to hold referendums and decide whether they want to allow packaged alcohol sales on Sunday.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle has already said he won't block this bill in the Senate, and Earhart said that "if it gets to the House, I suspect the House passes it fairly quickly."

The biggest stumbling block for that bill has been Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has threatened to veto the bill in years past. But Harp said that, with a wide enough margin of victory in the House and Senate, he thinks the governor may sign the bill. May being an operative word.

"It's my purpose that we show him that it's the state that wants this and it's not just Seth Harp in Columbus," Harp said.

Finally, much has been made of the large amount of money ($428 million) legislators will have to find if they want to rescue the homestead exemption grant. But Earhart said he thinks it will get done. He notes that the constituency of homeowners is larger than just about any other constituency that might want to protect something in the state budget.

"If we need $450 million, there's so many places we can go," he said.

Galloway: Perdue about to rock DOT... again

I initially dismissed rumblings that Gov. Sonny Perdue wanted to changed the way the Department of Transportation Board is elected, thinking General Assembly members would never agree to give up that kind of power.

But it sure seems to have legs. Jim Galloway reports:
(House Majority Leader Jerry) Keen has had a bill in his pocket that would take the power to choose member of the state transportation board out of the hands of ordinary lawmakers and hand that authority to a triumvirate: the governor, the House speaker, and the lieutenant governor.

The governor would be given the authority to appoint the agency’s top executive — the state transportation commissioner. That duty now falls to the transportation board.

But Keen said he’s backed off his initiative after conversations with Perdue, who likes the idea and intends to incorporate in a sweeping overhaul of the state’s transportation system that will be presented to the Legislature this session.

House Committee chairmen list is out

Courtesy Georgia Legislative Watch.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

State legislature: 6 pecent cut. Department of Education: 8 percent cut

I'm looking at the percentage cuts various state departments took. The Senate and House of Representatives budgets were cut 6 percent in the governor's 2009 amended budget.

But education lost 8 percent of its budget. The Council on Aging lost 24.8 percent of its budget. Veterans services were cut by 11 percent. The Supreme Court by 10.74 percent.

The governor's office itself, 10.82 percent. Homeland security, 18.65 percent. The Office of the Child Advocate, 13.57 percent.

Those figures are from a spreadsheet the governor's office provided. I'll try to get it online so you can see it yourself, if you like.

UPDATE: Thanks to The Telegraph's online staff, you can download the pdf here.

Homestead exemptions get axed

UPDATE: I've seen it myself now, and it's definitely not there. It's in (or not in) the Department of Revenue section of the budget. Story up on the main site.
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I haven't gotten there yet, but Dick Pettys notes that the state grant that funds the Homestead Exemption, which lowers property taxes, is not in Gov. Perdue's budget recommendation.

You can read it here, but you need a subscription. Some of Pettys' other stuff isn't behind the firewall, though and you can access the main Insider Advantage site here.

Leaving out the homestead money means that, if legislators want to keep those checks flowing to counties, they'll have to find another $400 million plus in revenue or additional cuts. That can't be easy when the governor just cut more than $2 billion himself.

Middle Georgia projects in the 2010 bond package

These are the local projects Gov. Perdue wants to borrow money to fund in fiscal 2010. If you're following along at home, they start on page 409 of your FY 2010 budget proposal, downloadable here.

Universities, colleges and technical colleges*:
  • $1.26 million for nursing equipment at Gordon College in Barnesville.
  • $13.4 million to design and construct renovations at Huntington Hall, Ohio Hall and Isaac Miller Science Building at Fort Valley State University.
  • $9.83 million to renovate Ennis Hall at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
  • $500,000 to renovate and equip Georgia Hall at Middle Georgia College in Cochran.
  • $20.1 million to build a teacher education building at Macon State College.
  • $800,000 for infrastructure and renovations at the University of Georgia campus in Griffin.
  • $17.68 million to design and build a new Center for Health Sciences at Central Georgia Technical College in Milledgeville.
  • $19.3 million to design and build a new Medical Technology Building at Griffin Technical College in Griffin.
* There are also a line items for $70 million for various repairs statewide, $10 million for "science-based economic development" equipment and infrastructure, $21 million for technical projects nearing completion statewide, $14 million to replace obsolete technical college equipment statewide and $20 million for technical college repairs and renovations statewide.

Other Middle Georgia projects*:
  • $1.15 million to design and build the Jeff Davis Public Library in Hazelhurst.
  • $2.43 million to replace roof and natural gas line at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville.
  • $360,000 to design and build phase 2 of the Department of Veterans Service cemetery expansion in Milledgeville.
  • $505,000 for renovations to the Wood Building at the Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home in Milledgeville. This sum will match federal funds.
  • $315,000 for electrical improvements at the Vinson Building at the Georgia War Veterans Home in Milledgeville. This sum will match federal funds.
  • $15.65 million to complete the Georgia Department of Corrections' headquarters and training academy relocation to Forsyth.
  • $1.38 million to convert Baldwin State Prison to a mental health prison in Milledgeville.
  • $450,000 for public restrooms at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.
  • $380,000 to expand the McGill Building at the fairgrounds and agricenter in Perry.
  • $600,000 for a new parking lot at the fairgrounds and agricenter in Perry.

* There are also line items totaling $15 million to construct and repair Department of Corrections facilities statewide, $5 million for DOC security upgrades statewide, $11.11 million for construction and repairs statewide for the Department of Juvenile Justice, $1.5 million for Americans with Disabilities Act improvements statewide, $3.5 million for new equipment and repairs for the Georgia Forestry Commission, $5 million for repairs to unnamed state parks, $3 million to bring dams into compliance with the Georgia Safe Dams Act, $1.25 million to renovate state farmers markets statewide, $45 million statewide to fund water and sewer construction loan programs,

Other non-Middle Georgia notables:
  • $25 million for a new conference center and oceanfront public park on Jekyll Island
  • $49.8 million for a new parking deck at the state Capitol
  • $10.75 million for something called "continued implementation of the integrated tax system" and an "enterprise data warehouse" at the Department of Revenue.
  • $35.3 million for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority to buy buses, build park-n-ride lots and administer a grant program on various state routes.
  • $36 million to deepen / expand the Savannah harbor.
  • $26 million for a special collections library at the University of Georgia.
  • $43 million for a learning commons at Georgia Tech.
  • $31.2 million for an academic facility at Gainesville State College in Hall County.
  • $14 million to design and build Don Carter Park in Hall County.
  • $13.6 million for a new Oakwood Diagnostic Laboratory Facility for the Georgia Poultry Improvement Association in Hall County.
On those last three - Hall County is where Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is from. Just glancing at the budget, I'd say Hall County did relatively well.

Speech highlights: State of the state

Coverage of the speech is up at the main site now.
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The press has copies of the governor's speech, which he is about to begin. A few quick hits:

The latest revenue estimate for the current fiscal year, FY 2009, is down $2.2 billion to $19.2 billion.

Next year's budget would be $20.2 billion, including a dip into the reserves of about $400 million.

His speech includes some details about changes at DHR, including a continued push to move those with mental illness and disabilities out of public facilities and into the community.

There's also two new departments: The Department of Behavioral Health, which will include mental health and drug programs, and the Department of Health, which will be like the current Department of Community Health, but also oversee some of the DHR's old functions.

DHR would be renamed the Department of Human Services, covering developmental disabilities, aging, the Department of Family and Children Services and child support.

He's speaking now. More later.

UPDATE: Trauma funding is in there, as are increases in Medicaid reimbursements to providers. But it's funded by a 1.6 percent fee on hospitals and health insurance plans, as well as the "Super Speeders" tack-on fees Perdue proposed two years ago.

UPDATE 2: The bond package, meant to spur construction and help the economy, is $1.2 billion. That's not much more than in recent years, when it ran about $1 billion.

I expected more when Gov. Perdue described it as "aggressive," but he notes in the speech that it is "aggressively" increased by 20 percent over last year.

Also, it looks like projects will be sped up under the program, with many projects scheduled for design and construction in the same year.

The budget is out

Gov. Perdue will be speaking to a joint session of the General Assembly shortly. In fact, he's standing about 8 feet away from me,waiting to enter the chamber.

His budget proposals are now online. You can download them here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Perdue: State will dip into reserves next year

It might be old news, but today Gov. Sonny Perdue confirmed during a press conference this morning that he will dip into the state's reserves to fund the budget he'll roll out tomorrow.

That's something the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute had urged him to do.

Trans. funding: Basically we're nowhere new

Here's the 15 second version of what the governor, lt. governor and speaker of the house said about transportation funding this morning.

Governor: We need more money and that's cool by me if the DOT gets its act together. We'll come up with a consensus on how to fund it.

Lt. Governor: Regional T-SPLOST. That's the way to go.

Speaker: Regional T-SPLOST. That ain't the way to go.

I get the feeling I'm either going to still be here in April listening to folks go round and round over how to fund transportation, or the issue won't be settled until next year.

Wait, did Casey Cagle just advocate succession?

Due to his policy of being Casey Cagle, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle didn't say much of substance this morning during his remarks to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast.

But he did have some awfully strong remarks against the U.S. Supreme Court for refusing to review a lower court's decision on Lake Lanier. He said it was "unacceptable" for Washington bureaucrats to try to tell Georgia what to do with it's water.

He said the state has been a good steward of its water. Then he said that, "When it comes to Georgia water on Georgia soil, we must not retreat. We must defend at all costs."

At all costs, baby. All costs.

UPDATE: A comment from the peanut gallery: So, will John Oxendine come out in favor of Washington bureaucrats?

UPDATE 2: So am I dumb, or was I really just saying Lt. Gov. Cagle advocates success?

Secession is how you spell it.

Perdue calls for education, tort reform (NEW UPDATE)

REWRITE: In my haste, I left out what was probably the most important part of Gov. Sonny Perdue's speech this morning at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Eggs & Issues Breakfast: There was a merit pay for teachers portion to his proposal.

I don't fully grasp the details, so I'll have to update later. There was also something about legal immunity for bio companies that fall within FDA compliance, but, again, I need to dig a little into that.

Look for an update later. My original story is here.

UPDATE: Details from the governor's press office:
• The proposal for teachers is based on the Master Teacher program and would allow exceptional teachers who are willing to serve as instructional leaders and mentors in their schools to be eligible to receive pay increases of ten to fifteen percent.

• High school principals who demonstrate improvement in graduation rate, SAT scores and End of Course Tests compared to their school’s most recent 3-year average will be eligible for a $10,000 performance bonus. Principals could also qualify by leading a school that is in the top 5 percent of high schools in the state in these three areas.

• Start new fully-certified math and science teachers at the same salary as a fifth year teacher. Teachers in these fields with less than five years experience would also be brought up to the fifth year pay level. In an effort to encourage and reward elementary teachers who increase their competency in math and science, the Governor’s proposal will also provide a $1,000 annual bonus to elementary teachers who hold a math or science endorsement.
All three proposals would start in the 2010-11 school year. This is the piece on tort reform for bio-companies, directly form the governor's prepared remarks:
As other states have decided, I believe that FDA approval should mean something. It certainly should imply protection from tort lawsuits. This legislation will say that companies with a significant presence in Georgia will not be subject to product liability claims within this state if the FDA approved the medical device, drug or the labeling along with it. The legislation will make Georgia an even more attractive environment for biotechnology companies.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Handel in the gov's race, but can't raise money yet

Several outlets, including The Associated Press, are reporting that Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel will indeed run for governor.

I'd often wondered whether the ban on raising campaign money during the legislative session applied just to legislators, or to others as well.

Rick Thompson, who heads up the State Ethics Commission, said Handel may not raise money during the session because she is a public officer elected statewide.

So she is bound by the same rules limiting fundraising for Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who are also seeking the Republican nomination.

Ugh. Cagle and Richardson have the same birthday

Today is not just the first day of the 2009 session of the Georgia General Assembly, it's Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson's birthday. It's also Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's birthday.

Cagle is 43 and Richardson 49, according to their respective offices.

We're off

Everyone has been sworn to office, so the 2009 session of the Georgia General Assembly is officially underway.

In the House, all members were present, save state Rep. Doug Collins, who was excused because he has been serving in Iraq.

Unfortunately state Rep. Bubber Epps, who beat Allen Freeman last year to represent south Bibb, Twiggs County and the rest of District 147, lost his mother shortly before this session began. But he is here this morning, and took his oath on his mother's Bible, according to Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson.

Richardson is being chosen speaker as I type this. State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, was asked to second the nomination, which is one more sign that he has quickly become well thought of despite being in just his third year in the House.

I wanted to take a picture of Rep. Epps taking his oath of office, but he sits right in the middle of his row and was difficult to see. This is state Rep. Larry O'Neal, along with his wife, Kathy, taking his oath from close to the aisle.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Isakson: Overhaul the budgeting process

When I saw a press release titled: Isakson Introduces Legislation to End Reckless Spending, I thought, "Sweet. He wants to dissolve Congress. That is bold."

Alas, it is simpler, and more Constitutional than that. From U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson's office:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today introduced legislation to end reckless spending and reform the federal budget process by converting it from an annual spending process to a two-year cycle, with one year for appropriating federal dollars and the other year devoted to oversight of federal programs.

“One of the problems we have in Congress with deficit spending is spending money on projects that shouldn’t be funded with tax dollars and programs that have outlasted their usefulness. So this is first and foremost about changing our budget process and setting priorities for spending,” Isakson said. “Also, under this legislation, if you appropriated during odd-numbered years and did oversight during even-numbered years, wouldn’t it be refreshing to have candidates seeking federal office in even-numbered years talking about the oversight of federal programs instead of how they want to spend more of the taxpayers’ dollars. Congress must become better stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and this legislation is a good step in that direction.”

Specifically, the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, S.169, would require the president to submit a two-year budget at the beginning of the first session of a Congress. Members of Congress would then need to adopt a two-year budget resolution, a reconciliation bill if necessary and two-year appropriations bills during that first session. The legislation ensures the enactment of two-year appropriations bills by providing a new majority point of order against consideration of an appropriations bill that fails to cover two years.

The second session of a Congress would then be devoted to the consideration of authorization bills and oversight of federal programs. Isakson believes the enhanced oversight will result in more accountability of government programs.
Fellow Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss is one of several co-signers.

Fundraising in the gubernatorial race

Casey Cagle has $1.176 million on hand.

David Poythress has $282,980 on hand.

John Oxendine has $870,345 on hand. Also, he says Casey Cagle hates the Second Amendment. No word yet on Oxendine's position on Cagle's position on the other 26 amendments.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: By the way, Commissioner Oxendine is speaking to the Macon Lions Club today at noon at the Vineville United Methodist Church, 2045 Vineville Road, Macon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Britney Spears visiting the statehouse?

Yeah, not really. But I was reading this piece in Governing Magazine about the decline of newspaper legislative coverage and I thought: "How many people really want a headline about a new health Web site and a couple of items that might affect sales tax programs?"

There's a new state Web site at www.georgiahealthinfo.gov that "enables a person to search pharmacies by zip code to determine the best price for prescription drugs, offers quality assessments for medical facilities and provides easy access to the Mayo Clinic’s vast health education database," according to the Georgia Senate Press Office.

Sounds like it could be useful.
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The Georgia Supreme Court is hearing several cases Monday and Tuesday, including one out of Muscogee County that could affect the rules of engagement, so to speak, when for when residents sue over the way counties spend sales tax (SPLOST) dollars.

Basically the court will look at whether it should "require (that the residents) first prove that the city government, school district and library board exceeded their authority as a condition for proceeding with their lawsuit," according to a routine case summary the Supreme Court's excellent public affairs office emailed out.

If the court sides with residents, it would make it too easy to "bring the wheels of lawful governmental activity to a complete stop depending on the whims and desires of any individual taxpayer," the county contends.
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After months of study committee meetings, legislation is ready to go that would allow local governments to contract out to collect sales taxes, instead of the state handling it and sending them a check. A similar system is in place in Alabama that, according to supporters, has increased revenues.

The legislation "would give city and county governments the option of conducting their sales tax collection themselves, outsourcing the collection duties to a private service, or continue to utilize the Department of Revenue (DOR) as their collection agency," according to the Georgia Senate Press Office.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Knowshon Moreno could single-handedly fix the state budget

I'm on the road most of the day today. But, don't kid yourself. This is what's going on.

3:15 p.m. UPDATE: Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno have both declared for the NFL draft and will not play next year for the Georgia Bulldogs.

In other news, I was at a DOT thing earlier this afternoon. The upshot: They still want more money.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"Then they make me naked, they torture me.”

The New York Times has a pretty hair-raising description of the way one man says he was treated over 6 years in U.S. custody.

His name is Muhammad Saad Iqbal and, according to him, he was shipped from one prison to another, beaten, shackled, given electric shocks, deprived of sleep for six months and drugged.

Allegedly, he came to our attention by saying that he knew how to make a shoe bomb. From The Times:
Mr. Iqbal was never convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. He was quietly released from Guantánamo with a routine explanation that he was no longer considered an enemy combatant, part of an effort by the Bush administration to reduce the prison’s population.

Democrats change rules in the House

From the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats unveiled internal rules Monday that would end Republican-imposed, six-year term limits on committee chairmen and make it harder for GOP lawmakers to offer alternative legislation.

In changing how the House operates, Democrats sent a message that they will use the huge majority they won in November to overpower Republicans any time they wish.
Republicans, take heart. The way pendulums work is they have to be pulled really far over to one side to swing back with a vengeance.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sonny Perdue makes $137,310.24 a year

He also gets about $47,000 in travel allowances.

The state launched a new Web site, Open.Georgia.gov that allows you to search various budget questions, including the salaries of state employees.

For the campaign side of finances, and lobbyist reports, the State Ethics Commission's Web site is excellent.

Griffin Bell has died

Judge Bell was a former attorney general and, perhaps, Mercer University's most famous graduate.

Developing story.

Judge Bell's obituary in The New York Times.

Rep. Porter on property tax freeze: Negotiations will be tough

I couldn't catch up with state Rep. DuBose Porter, the Democratic House Minority Leader, for my legislative preview or the Q & A that went with it.

But we spoke this morning, focusing on a couple of major issues.

When it comes to the Republican push to cap property tax reassessments, Rep. Porter said he can't get on board with the legislation as it's written now. He prefers an idea advanced by state Rep. Kevin Levitas, D-Atlanta, which would require local referendums before the freeze/cap could take effect.

"Right now, I think it will be tough (to negotiate between the two positions)," Porter said.

Since either of these tax reforms would require a state referendum, which requires a 2/3 vote by the General Assembly, Democrats are going to be in the game. Republicans make up a majority of the House and Senate, but not a 2/3 majority.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Woke up, it was a Monday morning

UPDATE: This was supposed to have some links included. But forget about it. Although this story about how Robins Air Force Base's G-RAMP program has a good shot at funding in the coming economic stimulus programs, and how cities and other local governments are angling for money, is worth your time.
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Mr. T can make things that wouldn't be socially acceptable under normal circumstances awesome.