Friday, January 29, 2010

State hospitals cross breaking point for feds

From Shannon McCaffrey at the Associated Press:
Georgia and the Justice Department last year entered an agreement over care at the state-run hospitals. Georgia agreed to improve suicide risk assessment and find ways to prevent patient assaults on other patients within a year.

The Justice Department says it has been monitoring conditions in the hospitals and finds that they remain unsafe.

L.I.P. now available on Twitter

Not under that name, though.

twitter.com/TravisFain

I'll tweet routinely on state politics for the rest of this legislative session, but there will still be a lot things here that you won't see on Twitter.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"When hope was disappearing": WW II veterans given Legion of Honor medals at Georgia Capitol

Men that France said took the beaches at Normandy were given the Legion of Honor Thursday at the Georgia state Capitol.

This is the highest honor of France, and the French ambassador thanked them for their service.

"You were all true heroes," he said, "who were there when hope was disappearing."

I cannot here do justice to their stories. But their names, from a press release from the French Consulate:
"Veterans Crawford Ferguson from Charlotte, N.C. (8th Air Force), Leonard A. Gardner from Myrtle Beach, S.C. (90th Infantry Division), Ken L. Faulkner from Birmingham, Ala. (137th Infantry), Willie E. Lambert from Dawsonville, Georgia (320th Infantry), Robert P. Mechling from Brentwood, Tenn. (8th Air Force), James L. Miller from Byhalia, Miss. (27th Armored Infantry Battalion), and Marsh C. Pickett from Greenwood, Miss. (18th Corps Artillery), have confirmed their presence. Also, James Brothers from Elisabeth City, N.C. (104th Infantry) will be represented by a family member.

They will receive this reward in recognition for their courage. Among their many heroic deeds, they participated in the Normandy landings, which were decisive in the liberation of France."

Crawford Ferguson, 8th Air Force, Charlotte, N.C.

Selling local-government debt to investors

One thing I'd like to highlight from this story about the proposed monetization of GEFA loans:
It’s not clear how much the companies and other buyers stand to gain over the life of the deal, but it could be as much as $275 million over the $300 million they’d have to pay in cash up front, figures from the governor’s office suggest.
That's based on the fact that the GEFA Board has OK'd the sale of up to $575 million in outstanding debt. The governor's office has estimated revenue from the eventual sales at a little less than $300 million.

Gonzo lawmakers

Every weekday during the session at 5:30 p.m., Georgia Public Broadcasting airs a half-hour show called Lawmakers covering the day's events under the Gold Dome.
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CORRECTION: I messed up the time. It's at 7 p.m., with a replay at 5:30 a.m.
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I am very rarely home in time for the show. But I do like to read Drifting through the Grift's often witty, and always inside, recaps.

A few highlights from the first couple of weeks:
Senate bill to prevent racial profiling in traffic stops. It's sponsored by a Democrat so let's all guess the chance of passage.

Rep. Rob Tela...Telee....that dude running for Attorney General wants to take DNA at the time of arrests. Strange that a candidate for the top lawyer post in Georgia doesn't understand the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

No texty on the cell phone while driving bill. I predict this will be a hot distraction during this session.

Labor Commissioner Thurmond, my former boss, asking for bipartisan support to find jobs. Why this man doesn't run for higher office is a mystery.

Tom. You need a little flair in your outfit. You're looking a bit like a mortician from a small town.

Whereas Glenn Richardson always looked like "bad, dirty Sunday School teacher", Ralston looks like everyone's favorite deacon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cooperation photo Wednesday

Note: May not be a regular feature.

Much has been made of the new culture and spirit of cooperation at the Georgia state Capitol. And today brought more tangible evidence: New Speaker of the House, and former Georgia state senator, David Ralston visited the Senate.


Image: Liz Erikson, House Photo Office.

The AJC wrote about the encounter, and everyone seems to be happy.

No doubt, things are different. But how they are different remains to be seen. The rubber has not yet met the road at the Georgia State Capitol, and the House and Senate have a history of disagreement that dates back long before Glenn Richardson became everyone's favorite bad guy.

Plus, does anyone remember this? That was 2008.

So we shall see what all these promises to work together amount to, but certainly there are encouraging signs of cooperation, early though it is in the session. And that goes for bi-partisanship as well as bi-chambership.

I spoke to state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield today about a bill she's proposed, and she expressed some optimism about getting it passed, despite the "D" behind her name.

"I haven't felt (the bi-partisanship) yet, but I'm looking forward to it. ..." she said. "I'm excited ... I'm dusting off some bills that have been sitting around since last year and hoping I get a fighting chance."


Bi-partisanship in motion: State reps. Glenn Baker, D-Jonesboro, and Bubber Epps, D-Dry Branch, leave a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast Monday morning with Republican Speaker of the House David Ralston.

Harbin: No sacred cows, all depts. face new cuts

Update: Read the more fully realized newspaper article about this here.

House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin said this morning that his committee will be looking for hundreds of millions in new cuts in the state budget.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed hospital tax is a particular target, as Speaker of the House David Ralston said Monday.

"We're going to make the cuts," Harbin said. "I really just don't see a tax increase of any kind passing this floor. ... Every department, I think, is going to have to take cuts."

Also unpopular: Gov. Perdue's plan to balance the budget by selling outstanding GEFA debt and spending the cash in fiscal 2011.

"We're not saying no, but we're going to ask some tough questions," Harbin said.

I've got math to do, but getting rid of these proposals would mean finding hundreds of millions in new cuts. Said Harbin: "Every program is in play. There are no sacred cows this year."


Harbin on the House floor Wednesday, with state Rep. Joe Wilkinson.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get ready for TAX CUTS!

House and Senate Republicans will start making their case for the return of HB 481 this week.

From the House Communications Office:
ATLANTA – On Thursday January 28, 2010, State Representative Tom Graves (R-Ranger) along with House and Senate leaders will hold a press conference to announce the Jobs, Opportunity, and Business Success Act of 2010 (JOBS Act 2010).
There are plans for overflow seating from a small broadcast room and, like most House and Senate press conferences these days, you can watch this one online.

This is the return of the bill from last year that would have eased back on the capital gains tax and instituted a bunch of economic incentives meant to spark hiring. Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed it, and it's a good bet that the new version will include triggers tied to economic recovery for at least some of the cuts, and especially the capital gains tax cut.

Gov. Perdue has indicated that he'll insist on that before signing cuts into law.

Bi-partisan fundraiser for Haiti in February

CORRECTION: I apologize for the original headline, which indicated this event was Thursday, Jan. 28.
...
From the speaker's office:
ATLANTA- House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced a fundraiser, House Helping Haiti, to benefit the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. The event will take place on Thursday, February 11th from 5:30-7:00PM at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot.

“The people of Haiti have experienced unbelievable loss and destruction since the earthquake on January 12th,” said Speaker David Ralston. “I believe that we are in the position to help this nation get back on its feet. That is why House Republicans and Democrats are joining together in a bi-partisan effort to host a fundraiser to bring much needed funds to Haiti to help provide people with food, water, and other supplies.”

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have joined forces to lead a major relief effort to benefit Haiti.

“We appreciate the opportunity to join in the effort to help our neighbors in Haiti,” said Rep. Dubose Porter. “When tragedy hits we need to pull together as one people to help those in need with our thoughts and prayers.”

Private school scholarship shifts and HOPE

I wrote a pair of pieces for Monday's paper looking at how budget cuts and other changes will affect various state scholarship programs next year.

The first piece, about the elimination of scholarship funds meant to help would-be Georgia teachers and nurses get an education, you can read here.

The second story is about Gov. Sonny Perdue's plan to shift some $29 million in scholarships for students in Georgia private colleges from being funded by the general fund to being funded out of the HOPE program.

Both stories are accurate. But, after reading James Salzer's piece on these same issues in Sunday's AJC, I realized that I didn't really cover the bigger picture:
Gov. Sonny Perdue wants to divert $34 million in lottery money to pay for scholarships and grants now funded by taxpayers, a move that would deepen the financial hole for HOPE and other programs funded by the games.
I focused on how the changes would affect private schools. Salzer looked at the effect on the HOPE scholarship program, which obviously concerns more people.

My friends, this stuff is often complicated. It's always a good idea to read more than one thing about an issue.

Some legislators refused furlough days

The original post here was a piece-meal, breaking account of this story. So I'm replacing it with a link to the better crafted story I've written for The Telegraph:
Seven state legislators, including Macon legislators David Lucas and Robert Brown, avoided furlough days last year as their colleagues and state employees took days off without pay.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A tipping point on sales tax collection reform

You can read the full story here:
ATLANTA — The push to improve sales tax collections seems to have reached a tipping point at the state Capitol as leaders grapple with budget cuts and digest a recent study showing major gaps in the collections process.

It’s not entirely clear how much revenue the state stands to gain from cracking down on tax scofflaws, but it could easily be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And Lt. Gov. Casey on Monday said there’s “a growing desire” among state legislators to address the issue. Cagle and Speaker of the House David Ralston both said they expect movement on it this year.
I didn't mention it in the story, but Speaker Ralston said he plans to meet with Ways and Means Chairman Larry O'Neal about this today. O'Neal has said this is a top priority for him in this year's session.

More details this week on property tax reform

As The AJC noted, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said this morning that property tax reform would get rolling this week, but he didn't give any details.

But Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers said the legislative counsel's office is finishing his proposed legislation, which includes "over 40 changes." Details should be made public later today or tomorrow, Rogers said.

Rogers also said, again, that H.R. 1 will be back again this year.

But since that's a Constitutional amendment, and passage would take Democratic support that wasn't there last year, this may be more about forcing a yes/no vote than it is an expectation of passage.

Ralston, Cagle on bed tax: We sure hope not

Shortly before they spoke to city officials in Atlanta Monday morning for a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast, I spoke to Speaker of the House David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle about Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed 1.6 percent hospital tax.

Last week, DCH Director Rhonda Medows said she didn't see any other way to balance her Medicaid budget without it.

Speaker Ralston said he's asked House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin to "make cuts anticipating that that (tax) will not be in the budget."

He said the cuts will likely be throughout the budget, not simply within the medical portion of the budget where the tax would send revenue, but he wasn't specific. Their hands are tied in someways. When the state accepted federal stimulus funds, it agreed not to cut Medicaid funding.

He re-iterated a common refrain for Republicans looking to balance the budget without new taxes: "There's a lot of concern, and I share that concern ... that any kind of (new) tax in this environment is counter productive."

Lt. Gov. Cagle called the tax a "very controversial" proposal that the General Assembly was able to avoid when Perdue proposed it last year. He was hopeful that would be the case again, though he noted the state's budget situation this year may be even worse than it was last year.

"There are no guarantees, unfortunately," he said.

Update: I turned this news into a longer story for The Telegraph. It includes some analysis of the tax:
The $395 million in new state spending on health care would allow the state to draw down federal money to support Medicaid at a ratio of three federal dollars for every one in state. That means the full impact from the two fees would be closer to $1.4 billion.

Friday, January 22, 2010

By all means, if it's good for banks and lawyers

It's funny, one of the arguments in favor of selling debt held by the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to help balance the state budget is the same argument I've heard against it.

From Dave Williams at The Atlanta Business Chronicle:
“This comes at a good time for banks and bond lawyers,” he said. “I look at this as an economic stimulus measure.”
I'm not sure I'd of said that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winners and losers on the hospital bed tax

Dr. Rhonda Medows, head of the Georgia Department of Community Health, basically told state legislators today that they have to pass the governor's hospital bed tax.

"I cannot find $506 million in cuts to fill that hole. ..." she said. "I simply do not have it in my base to do that. ... Without the new revenue I cannot see how this is going to be accomplished."

It will still be rough sailing for the proposal, though. Republican legislators killed the tax pretty quickly last year and, this year, even Democrats are against it, dubbing it "the sick tax."

It's not entirely clear to me why Democrats are against it, since the tax is supposed to help the poorest hospitals. But I digress.

In the end, tax proposals always come down to winners and losers. And, with this tax, Medows said 39 hospitals would see a net increase in funding if the tax passes, due to their high Medicaid rolls. The top entrant: Grady Hospital in Atlanta, which would get an extra $12 million.

Another 39 facilities would break even, she said. And then 84 facilities that do "little to no Medicaid" business would pay out more than they would receive in return.

Update: You can download the list of all these facilities here.

Education cuts: Do we need $36 million in testing?

It was interesting yesterday to hear state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox complain, strongly, about the effect education cuts will have on Georgia schools. But she never asked for more money.

I wrote a piece about it for today's paper, which you can read here. You can find just about all the legislative stuff I do for The Telegraph, plus Associated Press coverage, on our General Assembly home page.

One thing I left out of the story, but found interesting: The state spends $36 million a year on K-12 testing. Of that, $21 million is for tests required by the state, but not required by the federal government, Cox said.

State Rep. Jimmy Pruett, R-Eastman, questioned the the spending during yesterday's education budget hearing. Superintendent Cox said her department is reviewing the issue and may do away with some tests, particularly in first grade. She said losing the first grade tests would save the state about $700,000 a year.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

GMA gubernatorial debate Monday in Atlanta

Update: The NFIB has its own debate Wednesday afternoon next week. It's much shorter, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Sloppy Floyd Building. Details here.
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From a Georgia Municipal Association news release:
WHEN: Monday, January 25, 2010, 1:45 – 5 p.m.

WHERE: Atlanta Hilton Ballroom West, 2nd Floor

WHAT: The Georgia Municipal Association will host a Candidates forum at its annual Mayors’ Day Conference. Democrats will debate first, followed by the Republicans. Insider Advantage’s Matt Towery will serve as moderator. Panelists are: Tom Crawford, Capitol Impact; Susan Hoffman, co-host of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Lawmakers,” and Charles Richardson, Macon Telegraph.

WHO: Confirmed Candidates: Roy Barnes, Carl Camon, DuBose Porter, David Poythress, Nathan Deal, Karen Handel, Ray McBerry, Austin Scott.

Also Invited: Thurbert Baker, Eric Johnson, John Oxendine

Those jobs? They were in Milledgeville

You know, that economic crater that used to be home to more state government jobs per-capita than just about anywhere else in Georgia?

The narrative from this morning's budget hearings appears to zero in on the fact that the Georgia Department of Corrections has shed more than 1,500 jobs in the last two years.

This comes as no surprise in Milledgeville and Baldwin County, where River's and Scott state prisons both closed within the last year or so. Together they employed about 548 people.

The governor's new budget calls for the closure of two more prisons there, Men's and Bostick. Together, they employ about 287 people.

It's not part of the Department of Corrections, but the Bill E. Ireland Youth Development Campus there has also been shut down.

There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel for Milledgeville, which was once Georgia's capital city. It's in the running for one of the private prisons the state has been turning to more in recent years, and Central State Hospital stands to gain from the governor's decision to put more funding toward mental health and disability programs.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Out of the budget: Lots of stuff

The word "eliminate" (as opposed to "reduce") shows up 65 times in the governor's 2010 amended budget and another 104 times in his 2011 budget. Most of those instances are job reductions, a couple of filled positions gone here, a few more unfilled ones there.

But some programs are also gone. I'll list them here, with very little context. These are not the biggest number cuts, but the elimination of various programs. Make sure you check out the cuts at the bottom. A lot of scholarship programs would die.

For fiscal 2010:

Judicial Council:
- eliminate Children, Marriage and Family Law. (54,582)
- eliminate funds to administer the bar examination by moving to a self-sufficient fee per HB 283 (211,000)
Dept. of Community Health:
- eliminate consultant contracts with Nichols Cauley for services related to the health and human services agencies restructuring. (760,000)
Dept. of Defense:
5. Eliminate one platoon (approximately 40-50 students) at each academy. (369,744)
Georgia Forestry Commission:
5. Eliminate 12 filled fire control positions. (355,208)
Georgia Bureau of Investigation:
5. Eliminate 38 vacant positions. (1,516,100)
Dept. of Juvenile Justice:
5. Streamline service delivery and eliminate 25 full-time positions and 4 part-time positions. (1,235,410)
5. Streamline service delivery and eliminate 15 positions. (778,618)
Dept. of Labor:
- eliminate 49 vacant positions
Dept. of Natural Resources:
5. Streamline service delivery and eliminate 15 positions. (778,618)
8. Eliminate contract funds for Clean Cities ($10,000) and the Clean Air Campaign ($620,000).
Solid Waste Trust Fund: Eliminate operating funds. ($1,407,138) (editor's note: it comes bacin in 2011, albeit with a cut).
Georgia Student Finance Commission:
1. Eliminate the Guaranteed Educational Loans program. ($3,160,883)

Fiscal Year 2011

Judicial Council:
Eliminate funds to administer the bar examination by moving to a self-sufficient fee per HB 283 (211,000)
Dept. of Community Affairs:
3. Eliminate funds for the Georgia Rural Water Association. (321,750)
Dept. of Corrections:
5. Annualize closure of Scott State Prison (1,748 beds). (10,133,835)
6. Annualize closure of Bostick State Prison (694 beds). (7,265,880)
7. Realize savings from the closure of Montgomery State Prison (384 beds) in August 2010. (4,683,505)
8. Realize savings from the closure of Men's State Prison (662 beds) in January 2011. (3,979,134)
Dept. of Economic Development:
Eliminate contract funds for the Georgia Humanities Council. (139,050)
8. Eliminate contract funds for the Georgia Historical Society. (60,000)
9. Eliminate contract funds for the Historical Marker program with the Georgia Historical Society. (30,000)
10. Reduce grants for local welcome centers. (160,000)
1. Eliminate funds for the Georgia Medical Center Authority. ($300,000)
Department of Education:
1. Eliminate funding for the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center. ($250,000)
1. Eliminate funding for the Education Technology Centers (ETCs). ($3,571,841)
1. Eliminate funding for National Board Certification. ($7,209,486)
1. Eliminate funding for the National Science Center and Foundation. ($500,000)
1. Eliminate funding for RESAs. ($12,093,399)
Georgia Forestry Commission:
6. Eliminate 12 filled fire control positions. (421,030)
Dept. of Juvenile Justice:
3. Streamline service delivery and eliminate 25 full-time positions and 4 part-time positions. (1,713,271)
2. Streamline service delivery and eliminate 15 positions. (987,105)
Dept. of Labor:
5. Eliminate funds for the Georgia Council on the Hearing Impaired (Hinesville Location). (127,000)
Dept. of Natural Resources:
5. Eliminate funds for the Georgia Council on the Hearing Impaired (Hinesville Location). (127,000)
3. Eliminate contract funds for Clean Cities ($10,000), the Clean Air Campaign ($620,000) and environmental monitoring ($100,000).
1. Eliminate funds to the Agrirama Development Authority to reflect the transfer of operations to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. ($775,248)
1. Eliminate funds for the Lake Allatoona Preservation Authority. ($75,000)
1. Eliminate funds for the Southwest Georgia Railroad Excursion Authority. ($211,595)
Dept. of Public Safety:
7. Eliminate contract funds with the Fulton regional police academy. (271,952)
Board of Regents:
1. Reduce funding for personal services and operating expenses ($835,812) and eliminate funding for seed capital fund ($2,500,000).($3,335,812)
2. Eliminate funding for the Vidalia Onion Research Project. (200,000)
2. Eliminate funding for the Food Industry Partnership program. (1,500,000)
4. Eliminate funding for the Traditional Industries Program. (1,593,654)
5. Eliminate funding for the Vaccine Collaboration Grants initiative in the Georgia Research Alliance program. (1,600,000)
6. Eliminate funding for the Bio-Refinery program. (200,000)
Dept. of Revenue:
3. Eliminate one-time funds associated with the Data Warehouse project. (3,703,000)
5. Eliminate funds for software maintenance contracts. (470,000)
Georgia Student Finance Commission:
1. Eliminate the Engineer Scholarship program. ($710,000) (Mercer University in Macon)
1. Eliminate the Guaranteed Educational Loans program. ($3,189,883) (Provides forgivable loans to students enrolled in critical fields of study, which include programs such as nursing, physical therapy, and pharmacy.)
1. Eliminate the Promise Scholarship program. ($5,855,278) (provides forgivable loans to students in their junior and senior year who aspire to be teachers in Georgia public schools.)
1. Eliminate the Teacher Scholarship program. ($5,332,698) (Provides forgivable loans to teachers seeking advanced education degrees in fields of study with critical shortages)
1. Eliminate the Tuition Equalization Grant program. ($29,765,194) (Promotes the private segment of higher education in Georgia by providing non-repayable grant aid to Georgia residents who attend eligible private postsecondary institutions.)

Budget hearing schedules

If you want to get an idea of the information you'll be seeing this week about the state's budget, peruse these day-by-day schedules of budget hearings.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sheffield, 30, to take on Brown in state Senate

I wish I'd done a better job on this "conservative candidate challenges Senate Democratic Leader" story in today's paper.

Not mentioned: In addition to being a personal trainer, and Kinetix manager, Matt Sheffield said he has written two children's books, which he seems to have a good line on publishing. He also does freelance graphic and web design.

He is married, without children. He and his wife Katelyn live in Dry Branch, Georgia.






Image via Facebook from Bill Knowles, Bibb County.

Friday, January 15, 2010

In the budget: More horse park money

The horse park at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, which has gotten some attention in past budget coverage, would get another $9.1 million for upgrades in Gov. Perdue's 2011 proposal.

That would fund phase three at the park, with all three phases together costing taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $26 million.

House committee assignments out

You can download the lists here.

Typically I only follow a few committees closely, but there don't seem to be a lot of major chairmanship changes. Bill Hembree is the new rules chairman. Ben Harbin remains head of appropriations, Larry O'Neal of Ways and Means, Jay Roberts of Transportation and Brooks Coleman of Education.

Perdue budgets: 3 furlough days, hospital bed tax back, layoffs avoided, no cap gains cut

I'll get links to download Gov. Sonny Perdue's budget proposals up soon. I'll also actually read some of the budget soon. This piece is based almost entirely on the governor's press conference.

I've moved this story over to the main site:
State employees including teachers, will face 3 more furlough days between now and June 30, but likely none in the fiscal year after that, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Friday as he announced his budget proposals.

Perdue also announced another proposed cut in state education funding, which he put at "less than 3 percent." Most other state departments and agencies would see 8 to 9 percent cuts, though Perdue said he hopes they can be absorbed without substantial layoffs.
Update: You can download the governor's budget proposals here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Budget handwriting on the wall: teacher furloughs

From Julie Hubbard at The Telegraph:
The Bibb County school system proposed up to a five-work-day reduction for all 2,700 employees Thursday, since the system expects another $4 million to $5 million cut in state funds this year.

“The goal of the administration is to go in and be proactive at addressing this instead of waiting until the legislative session is over,” said Ron Collier, the school system’s chief financial officer.
I expect the situation is similar all over Georgia.

Perdue's budget out tomorrow at 11:45

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue will hold a press conference TOMORROW, Friday, January 15, 2010 at 11:45 a.m. to release his Amended FY 2010 and FY 2011 budget proposals.
Something interesting from today's transportation press conference. Asked if there would be any tax increases in his budget proposals, Gov. Perdue said no.

But, when asked whether any state fees, some of which haven't increased in decades, might go up, the governor kind of smiled.

"You added another word," he said, adding a "thank you," before ending the press conference and walking out.

Perdue: $300 million more for trans., plus regional tax votes in 2012

Details from the governor's announcement today:
Gov. Sonny Perdue said Thursday that he’ll recommend an extra $300 million toward transportation projects this year, then push for regional votes in 2012 to add another penny to local sales taxes for more roads, bridges and mass transit.
I'll drop comments from the House and Senate leadership into this post as I get them.

Update: The House and Senate transportation committees are also passing P3 (public private partnership) rules today that would eventually govern how the state works with private companies that want to build roads and other projects, then charge tolls to make the money back.

The Senate committee has already passed the rules, which are an inch or so (correction: more like 3/4) thick. I'm in the House committee now, listening to a man currently under investigation by the GBI, pitch the rules to the committee. Committee members are being told that, if they amend these rules, it will delay projects in the pipeline, so please don't do it.

But don't worry about any of that, because I'm sure it will be fine. Just pay attention to the governor's announcement.

Update 2: Back on the governor's plan, comment from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle:
"Providing more jobs to Georgians is my top priority and there is no question that we must improve our existing transportation infrastructure in order to attract new business. I have been a long time advocate for a TSPLOST model and have been very encouraged by conversations regarding this proposal with the Governor and newly elected Speaker Ralston and look forward to further discussion.”
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis was more full-throated with his support, saying he's "very excited" about this plan. Mullis said he thinks it will pass and that it will pass looking "pretty close" to what the governor pitched today.

"He's asked us to work with him to adjust it," Mullis said.

Update 3: House Transportation Chairmain Jay Roberts said he also thinks this will pass. No word from Speaker of the House David Ralston.

Perdue: Georgia will do its part in Haiti

The governor made a fairly large announcement on transportation about an hour ago, and I will have that up shortly. But let me start where he did during this afternoon's press conference.

There is "an unspeakable level of human misery" in Haiti right now, Perdue said.

Reports indicate that the country's capitol city, Port Au Prince, has been flattened. We do not know how many are dead. Making things worse for survivors, the docks and cranes at main port have been destroyed, making it more difficult to get supplies there.

Gov. Perdue said the Georgia National Guard and Georgia Emergency Management Agency are on standby, waiting to hear how they best can help.

There are plenty of charities operating in Haiti, including CARE, the Salvation Army and the United Nation's World Food Program. And prayer is always a good idea.

Also, I'm about to file a story about Gov. Perdue's plan to spend an extra $300 million a year on Georgia transportation, and his hope that this can be done for 10 years and a total of $3 billion. How much of Haiti do figure we could rebuild if we took just one year's worth of that money and used it down there?

And how many extra minutes would you be willing to spend in traffic to do that?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Not everyone in Houston Co. loves Sonny Perdue

Though I cannot say that this woman lives in Houston County. From The Telegraph's story comments:
juanine wrote on 01/13/2010 05:44:50 PM:

Great news. Glad his Governership is over. His promises don't amount to anything. He lied to get into office. Please don't send him back to Houston Co.
The governor really did say next to nothing Wednesday morning, as Jim Galloway notes.

And what does this line mean:
“I am for doing with a little less if it means a lighter burden and a brighter future for the next generation.”
That's not even the line Galloway quoted, which means the governor repeated himself on this point.

Given that Georgia is a balanced budget state, how does it actually do that without rejecting stimulus funds or forgoing new bond indebtedness in the governor's last budget?

Update: The esteemed Bert Brantley, the governor's communications director, says neither theory is correct. The mystery continues.

Perdue, Reed, Atlanta Boys Choir for MLK at Capitol Thursday

If you can go I highly suggest it. Attempts will be made to bring you video. From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue will speak at the State of Georgia’s 25th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Tribute Program, TOMORROW, Thursday, January 14, 2010, at 10 a.m.

WHO: Governor Sonny Perdue
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle
Speaker David Ralston
Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta

Leah Ward Sears, former Chief Justice of the GSC.
Martin Luther King III and the King Family
Clayton – Pres. and CEO, Trumpet Awards Foundation
Dr. Michael Youssef - Rector, Church of the Apostles

Sen. Emanuel Jones – Chairman, Legislative Black Caucus
Ft. McPhearson Color Guard
Atlanta Boy Choir

The Democratic Response: Brought to you by Under Armour

Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond gave the state Democratic Party's response to Gov. Sonny Perdue's state-of-the-state speech a few moments ago.

Gov. Perdue didn't discuss much policy, and neither did Commissioner Thurmond. The upshots seemed to be that Democrats are willing to work with Republicans, despite the mess Republicans have made of things while controlling the House, Senate and governor's office.

Also, vote Democrat in the 2010 governor's race, because two party leadership works better, and is less subject to corruption.

Commissioner Thurmond also said this, referring to the state Capitol:
"It is our job to protect this house. We must protect this house."
I think it would have been cooler if the Democratic legislators behind him had been clapping in unison (video)


Thurmond: WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE!! Except he didn't shout it.

Seay: Require first aid in high school

Interesting bill from state Sen. Valencia Seay. From the Senate Press Office:
ATLANTA, GA.- (Jan. 13, 2010) – Yesterday, Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) introduced SB 298, which would require mandatory certification in basic first aid as a graduation requirement for all Georgia students. The course, offered in eight grade and higher, will provide a standard for certification and provide an opportunity for participating students to obtain a basic, hands-on first-aid certification. ...

If passed, SB 298 will require certification through a mandatory first aid course for all students beginning in 2014. Local schools boards will be able to use volunteer instructors under the condition that they are approved by the State Board of Education and have served as a certified volunteer for organizations such as the American Red Cross.

Gov. Perdue: State of the State

Gov. Perdue will be speaking to the General Assembly, and the state, at 11 a.m. No full live blog, but I will hit the high points here as soon as possible.

The governor has made it clear that this, his last state of the state speech, will be a personal one. He choked up as he thanked his wife:
"Mary, I'm not sure I've ever told you this before, but you're the person that I want to become. ... and I thank you for all that you've done. My loving wife and the first lady of Georgia."
Perdue is pitching his changes for teacher pay.

He is also putting a number on his proposal to put more funding toward mental health and caring for the disabled:
That obligation should carry a tangible effort. It’s a hard thing to do in these budget times … the budgets that I will release on Friday will include additional investment – $20 million in 2010 and over $50 million in 2011.
That, folks, is about it. Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond will give the Democratic response at 2 p.m. But Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown's analysis was simple: "Where's the beef?"

My initial coverage in The Telegraph.

Update: Just to add a bit of context to these mental health/disability funding numbers - The current FY 2010 budget for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities, the department split out of DHR last year to focus solely on these issues, is about $1 billion, according to the department.

That means the extra $20 million the governor proposed is about a 2 percent increase, and the extra $50 million in FY 2011 would be a 5 percent increase.


Update 2: The governor's office says the percentage increases are actually 3.83 percent increase in 2010 and an 8.7 percent in 2011. It is exceedingly hard to tell from the budget documents I have, given the creation of that new department last year.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Earl Ehrhart: Clearly an evil doppelganger

Remember that show Knight Rider, and how Michael Knight had some sort of evil twin named Garth Knight, but it was really just David Hasselhoff with facial hair?













Well, in one of the more important developments of this legislative session, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, has grown a goatee, presumably making him an evil doppelganger who drives a heavily fortified 18-wheeler, or possibly evil Spock.










Ehrhart: Now evil. I don't make these rules, society does.

Perdue: Sell insurance across state lines

I almost forgot something important from Gov. Sonny Perdue's speech this morning. From his office after the speech:
In his remarks the Governor also unveiled a health insurance reform proposal that will allow individuals to buy health plans that have been approved for sale in other states. Currently, consumers can only purchase individual plans that have been specifically approved for sale in Georgia, which limits their ability to find the best plan for their specific needs.

“With sweeping insurance mandates from Washington on the horizon, the time has come to open up the individual insurance market and allow consumers to find the plan that best fits their needs,” Governor Perdue said.
I also got the sense that the governor, and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, do not like what the Democratic Congress is doing with health care reform.

The return of the HB 481

House Bill 481 was a series of tax credits meant to spur jobs, as well as a capital gains tax cut that led to Gov. Sonny Perdue's veto last year.

When Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said this morning that he wants to "focus very deeply on cutting taxes," he was talking about the return of these measures, as well as a renewed look at overhauling the state's property tax system.

So it's not a major new tax initiative, but a continuation of ongoing efforts.

State Rep. Tom Graves, who carried this bill last year, said a new bill is under construction. He said the governor's office has already been brought in, in the hopes that the bill will meet his approval sooner, rather than later, in the process.

Perdue: Overhaul teacher pay, more $$ for mental health, disability services

Coverage of Gov. Perdue's comments this morning at Eggs and Issues is up on the main site:
Gov. Sonny Perdue called for an overhaul in the way teachers are paid and promised more funding to care for the disabled and mentally ill Monday.

He also said he's more optimistic than he has been in years that Georgia will reach a water-sharing agreement this year with Florida and Alabama that will safeguard Atlanta's drinking water.

Good morning from the World Congress Center

Comments from the governor, lt. gov and Georgia speaker of the house at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's Eggs and Issues breakfast ...

9 a.m.: That's it, folks. I'll write a new post fleshing out details on some of these proposals shortly. Particularly, whether Lt. Gov. Cagle is supporting tax cuts and details on Gov. Perdue's education reforms bolded below.

8:54: Perdue on education: Will introduce a bill allowing teachers to opt into a new program where pay isn't based on getting new degrees, but student achievement. They will be able to make as much as administrators and top coaches. Current teachers can stay in the current system or opt into the new one. New hires will be in the new one.

Giving salary increases for degrees "may have been the right thing to do." But "why would we continue to base pay on a proxy of an advanced degree" when we can base it on "student growth and achievement?"


8:51: Perdue on transportation: Now that the planning process has changed it's time to talk about new funding. "And with apologies to Forest Gump, that's all I have to say about that today. Stay tuned." Note: Gov. Perdue's state of the state speech is tomorrow at 11 a.m.

8:48: Perdue: Will introduce legislation this year to allow insurance policies to be sold across state lines. "The restriction on interstate commerce, frankly, has never made sense to me."

8:47: Perdue: Congress' actions on health care have been "Unmanageable and unimaginable when you look at the numbers." Cutting pecial deals for votes instead of building a good nationwide plan is wrong. "If they did that in Dodge county we'd prosecute them. In fact, we have."

8:46: Perdue: We're working on a plan "that will not only encourage, but expect conservation" of water.

8:44: Perdue on tri-state water negotiations: We hope to propose an agreement for legislative approval this fall. Myself and the governors of Alabama and Florida would like to solve this issue before leaving office this year.

8:43: Perdue: Worst Roy Barnes joke ever.

8:42: Perdue: I've got 362 more days as governor. And I've learned a few things "that may come in handy" this year.

Gov. Sonny Perdue is up next. The chamber is running a slide show to introduce him. The upshot: Gov. Perdue is awesome for business.

8:37: Ralston: Obamacare "A very unwise policy that Congress appears to be on the verge of adopting." "We need to let the free market work."

8:35: Cagle: "One size fits all doesn't work" in education. Career academies (which he supported the creation of a few years back) are relevant to kids, who see how the training can lead to jobs and "this I think is the future of our state." Focused on expanding that opportunity to every child in this state.

8:31: Cagle on transportation: "I think the T-SPLOST concept makes sense, particularly as a regional" tax. But it's just one tool. "Looking at toll roads and other revenue sources are going to be very critical." Ralston: Optimistic the House and Senate will work together on this.

8:28: Ralston: Hopeful that we get an interstate compact on water before sessions end. Short of that, we'll be talking conservation in the legislature. "It's one that we're going to have to quit talking about" and do "what we should have been doing" 10-20 years ago. Cagle: "Speaker Ralston hit it right on the head." We need to plan on regional reservoirs. "We've got to do a better job of capturing that water, managing it responsibly ... make sure Atlanta has an abundant supply."

8:27 - Ralston: We need to "ask some really probing questions" of state programs as we look for cuts.

8:26: Cagle: We need to "focus very deeply on cutting taxes." My goodness, did he just say we're going to have deep tax cuts this year? Update: Apparently not. Cagle said he was referring to some of the job-creating tax breaks, and the capital gains tax, vetoed last year by the governor.

8:25 - Cagle: I'm pro job creation. No tax increases. "Right-size" state government for the 21st Century. "We've got to have foundational changes," particularly since we just spent a bunch of federal stimulus money. "And so we've got to have a real change."

8:20 - Lt. Gov. Cagle and Speaker David Ralston are on stage, seated in tall chairs, for a Q&A session.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Speaker of the House David Ralston

The man from Blue Ridge is now speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives.


I didn't get the name of the young lady congratulating him here, but I like this picture.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

From the Wild Hog: Gun law momentum questionable, and a ban on texting while driving

I'll be at the state Capitol tomorrow morning and throughout the 2010 legislative session. But here are a few notes from the session kickoff "Wild Hog" shin-dig next to the state Capitol tonight ...

Proposals to broaden Georgia's concealed carry laws have been getting some press, and a bill is in a House subcommittee. But I don't know how much appetite, to use Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's word from last year, there is to change the laws.

Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams said tonight that no one has talked to him about changing the rules, which perhaps is not surprising, since it's a House initiative.
---
Update: I was neglectful here. State Sen. Mitch Seabough also has a gun bill.
---
But soon-to-be House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones said she'd rather leave the laws as they are.

"I'm a great supporter of Georgians being able to protect themselves," she said. "I'm pretty comfortable with our current gun laws. We've got some really big challenges this year. ... That's what's going to take my attention this year. .. We've got to put first things first this session."

That doesn't mean she's necessarily speaking for the House leadership, though. It's hard to say what those dynamics will be.
---
Update: Freshly minted Speaker David Ralston's seat in the House had been next to state Rep. Tim Bearden, who is pushing for these concealed carry changes. But Speaker Ralston said he hasn't discussed the proposals with Bearden. Asked what chance they have for passage, Ralston said: "I'm not sure where that's going to land in the priorities this year."
---
State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said he's going to drop a bill soon to outlaw texting while driving, regardless of age. It will probably be messed with an effort to limit the ban to teenage drivers, he said. Peake said he got a call one day from a guy who had seen him pass on the interstate (Peake, like other legislators, has a state plate with his district number on it) texting. The guy told Peake he was a bad example and "he was right," Peake said.

Everyone I spoke to agreed a transportation funding solution would be found this session. Speaker to be David Ralston said it would be a priority, along with the state budget and changing the House's rules to "promote floor debate" in the first few weeks of the session.

But no one seemed to know, or to be willing to say, just what it will look like. Sen. Williams said "the governor has some ideas," and until he weighs in Williams said he couldn't give hard details.

H.R. 1 and other property tax reforms are coming back. So is the effort to do away with the annual ad valorem tax on vehicles.

Secretary of Education Kathy Cox said she doesn't know whether to expect more teacher furloughs. She said the governor's office is playing things close to the vest on the budget. She did say that several changes are in the offing to give local systems more flexibility. That includes waiving class size regulations, which of course means you need fewer teachers.

Said Cox: "The legislature has to help with class sizes."

Moving inmates and saving money

This perhaps dovetails with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's announcement that the Georgia Senate will establish its own Commission for a New Georgia.

I wrote a piece for The Telegraph recently looking at the state's Transitional Centers where criminals, including those guilty of violent felonies, finish out their sentences, going out on their own during the day so they can transition back into society. There have been several cases recently where inmates in the Savannah program were accused of fresh crimes while living at the center.

From the story:
It’s hard to say how typical this is. ... the state doesn’t keep statistics on transitional center residents arrested during their stays.
It's an interesting issue, and I'd appreciate it if you'd read the story.

But when it comes to the state's budget, let me share something else I learned through this story. One of the men accused of attempted armed robbery while he was living in the Savannah center was Eugene Waters, who has been in state custordy since 1996. And here is Mr. Waters' transfer history, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections:
As to the correctional facilities and their dates, our records show that Mr. Waters transferred to the Georgia Diagnostic & Classification Prison from the Bibb County jail on September 26, 1996; on April 29, 1997, to Valdosta S.P.; on June 22, 2000, to Hays S.P.; on February 4, 2003, to Dodge S.P.; on October 21, 2004, to Coffee Correctional Facility; on January 10, 2006, to Dooly S.P.; on April 5, 2007, to Johnson S.P.; on August 7, 2007, to Dooly S.P.; on Feburary 7, 2008, to the Turner Pre-Release Center; on March 4, 2008, to D. Ray James Prison; on December 11, 2008, to Sumter County C.I.; on December 18, 2008, to Georgia State Prison; and on September 1, 2009, to Coastal T.C.
That's 13 transfers in 13 years. I have no idea if this is typical, nor have I come up with an expedient methodology to test whether it's typical. I do know it's expensive, given the security measures needed to transfer a prisoner.

I asked the department why Mr. Waters was moved so many times. Unfortunately they didn't answer that question, instead explaining why an inmate may be moved in general. From a department spokeswoman:
There are a variety of reasons that inmates are moved within our system:

-Medical, mental health or programming needs
-Safety and security
-Change in security level
-Facility mission change
-Move closer to family
-Moved to meet other institutional needs for details when special skill sets are required

Friday, January 8, 2010

December revenues: Light at the tunnel's end

From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that net revenue collections for the month of December 2009 (Fiscal Year 2010) totaled $1,402,181,000 compared to $1,489,148,000 for December 2008 (FY09), a decrease of $86,967,000 or 5.8 percent.

The percentage decrease year-to-date for FY10 compared to FY09 is 13.7 percent.
We're now comparing bad financial months to slightly worse ones. And what that means is this: For the first time in more months than I care to count up, the year to date percentage decrease went down, not up.

Update: I did count and think it's 11, if you also count the changeover in fiscal years, which you do.

Fundraising numbers rolling in for gov's race

I'll update here as they're filed. The State Ethics Commission continually updates the 50 latest filings.

Totals are rounded and given this way:
Raised in six months* / from loans / cash on hand.

Scott: $223,000 / $110,000 / $159,000
Deal: $608,000 / $0 / $940,000
Porter: $231,000 / $0 / $225,000
Barnes: $2.7 million / $0 / $2.2 million
Poythress: $304,000 / $185,000 / $283,000
Chapman: $79,000 / $0 / $18,000
Camon: $3,403 / $0 / $12.84
Monds: $10,000 / $0 / $1,423
Baker: $665,642 / $0 / $875,000
Johnson: $681,000 / $0 / $1.3 million
Handel: $516,000 / $0 / $440,000
Oxendine: $1.5 million / $250,000 / $2.2 million
*Since Barnes didn't "start" his campaign until after the last fundraising deadline, his six month total is probably inflated to some extent. Not that it particularly matters.
---
This has already been reported elsewhere, but former Speaker Richardson's MMV Alliance Fund has filed, and does indeed include a nearly $220,000 transfer from Richardson's campaign committee.
---
The state Democratic Party has $132,500 on hand.
---
Senate Majority leader Chip Rogers has filed, $273,000 cash on hand. The Georgia Republican Senatorial Trust: $346,000 on hand.
---
Cathy Cox has closed her gubernatorial campaign account. Final spending: $5.9 million.

You know what I don't know what happened to? The $1.47 million Casey Cagle raised to run for governor. His office called, summarized it as "good for Georgia." $783,000 cash on hand in his Lt. gov account.

Update from the comments: "The report is on line - He returned the donations as recorded on the June 30, 2009 report amended in August." Sounds good for Georgians to me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Roy Barnes: Rich and fat, but a working man

Former Gov. Roy Barnes set the narrative for his campaign early: I'm sorry, and I'm here to listen.

It's hard for me to say how much listening he's doing, but the man is crossing the state, and he's talking to people. I've seen him in Macon three times in the last few months.

When I mentioned this to his driver this evening, he smiled and said, "You've missed a few."

There certainly are some important Democrat politicos supporting other candidates here, but Barnes is planting an unmistakable flag in Macon, home to many Democrat voters.











Barnes tonight with Macon Mayor Robert Reichert.

Tonight, meeting with about 70 people in a Macon club called Studio 32, Barnes said the the state's Republican leadership has been "short sighted." He twice called state budget cuts, to education and charitable services, "criminal."

He said North Carolina is "leaving us in the dust on economic development" by focusing on infrastructure, and particularly passenger rail.

In response to a detailed and, I thought, tough question from involved Macon Democrat Amy Morton, Barnes laid out four years of priorities if elected:
Year 1: Shore up the fiscal situation. Focus on education, stop austerity cuts, help employment.
Year 2: Transportation, "and education again."
Year 3: Recessionary budget problems should be over and emergency measures from the years before should be re-assessed. Finish dealing with water issues.
Year 4: All education.
I'm not sure there are ways to pay for that without a tax increase, but we'll digress from that for now.

Barnes promised to "stay away from the nut issues." He mentioned John Oxendine potentially firing guns off the back porch of the governor's mansion, though he never used the words "John" or "Oxendine."

He compared this race to the governor's races of 1962 in Georgia and Alabama. Georgia elected Carl Sanders. Alabama elected George Wallace, who stood in the school house doors and defied integration. Atlanta became the leading city of the south.

"Listen," he said. "Nancy Reagan is in favor of stem cell research. Have we gotten that extreme in this state?"

Now, the first part of this post was about Barnes' momentum in this campaign, which isn't so young anymore. The rest, I hope, was newsy.

But the parts about Barnes' grassroots popularity occurred to me before I received the statement below from state Rep. DuBose Porter, commenting on the $2.7 million Barnes' campaign says it has raised:
Dublin -- "No one has ever questioned his ability to raise money. While he has been dialing for dollars, I have been out working and listening to the voices of the people. I have been asking Georgians for their concerns while he has been asking for their cash. We have already seen what happened between a big money versus a grassroots campaign and I have choosen to run a grassroots campaign."
If the response to Barnes is the same around the state as I've seen in Macon and Fort Valley, he may be running a money campaign and a grassroots campaign.

Barnes: I HAVE ALL THE MONEY

Not a direct quote.

$2.7 million sounds like a lot to me. From former Gov. Roy Barnes campaign:
Roy 2010, Roy Barnes’ campaign for Governor, announced today that it raised over $2.7 during the last half of 2009. Over two-thirds of Roy 2010’s donors are first time contributors to Barnes. ...

When he started the campaign, Roy said he would not accept contributions from registered Georgia lobbyists. The $2.7 million raised includes no such money.
Gov. Barnes is expected in Macon tonight for a rally. First question: Have you bought bread and milk yet? Question two: Can I have some of your money?

Scott: We raised $375,000

Tomorrow is the deadline for campaign finance filings. As of yesterday, none of the gubernatorial candidates paperwork was online with the Georgia State Ethics Commission, but state Rep. Austin Scott has announced his total in an email this afternoon:
Tifton, GA-Scott For Georgia announced today that they have exceeded their 2009 fundraising goals by raising over $375,000.00 for the July 2010 Republican primary election. Scott For Georgia also enjoys the distinction of having reached this goal even after returning all contributions from lobbyists and special interest groups. "I challenge my opponents to do the same," said Rep. Austin Scott. ...

"We are the campaign of the ordinary Georgian. Our fundraising targets and efficient management style demonstrate the kind of leadership this state will need to move out of the recession," said Scott. "There will be only one special interest in my administration: the Georgia taxpayer."
Win or lose, Lucid Idiocy hearts that rhetoric.

City fight! City fight in Macon!

For those not following the story, state Rep. Allen Peake has really stoked the fires of consolidation and general political movement lately in a town that tends to move slow.

He has suggested, essentially as a stalking horse for consolidation of the city of Macon and Bibb County Commission, the creation of a new city just north of Macon. This was closely followed by his announcement, to WMAZ's Randall Savage, that he will seek general legislation this year to speed a full government merger along.

From the piece I wrote Wednesday:
Peake, R-Macon, may even call for a referendum on a full-blown merger of the Macon and Bibb County governments in November. But since there are a lot of steps before that can happen — for example, deciding what a consolidated Macon-Bibb government would look like — Peake said he’ll also work along two other paths.

Peake said he’ll (also) push, during the legislative session that starts Monday, for a new commission to draft a charter for the prospective government. That’s a process the community has gone through a few times in the past couple of decades. He’ll also ask for a nonbinding referendum in November to take the pulse of the community, asking on local ballots whether people support the concept of consolidation.

“I’m going to pursue each avenue and see how far we get on any of them,” he said.
It would be difficult for at least two of those bills to pass as local legislation, given political splits in the delegation. So Peake has said he will attempt to pass something as a general bill, opening it to debate amongst the entire legislature.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lawyers Guns and Money

Allowing people to carry concealed guns in Georgia churches.

Greg Bluestein reported for the AP Sunday, and Galloway updates the situation today, discussing the prospects for adding airports back into the debate:
The rabble who produce our street crime aren’t seduced by foreign affairs. Ask the parents of those five young Muslim men from northern Virginia, arrested in Pakistan while in search of jihad – all of whom could qualify for concealed weapons permits in Georgia.

The prospects for new gun legislation are uncertain. Gov. Sonny Perdue has previously expressed his doubts about concealed weapons in church. David Ralston of Blue Ridge, all but certain to be elected House speaker on Monday, has thus far declined to weigh in.
What are the chances this will be an interesting conversation at the Georgia State Capitol?

I assume you're familiar with Warren Zevon's take on this:
"Never take vacations."

Jim Cole Mercer's next athletic director

I'm kind of searching for a joke of some kind, probably related to Urban Meyer or the futility of trying to keep things secret until a press conference. But I got nothing.

Mike Lough here at The Telegraph has the story, but state Rep. Jim Cole, erstwhile interim secretary in state in waiting, will be named athletic director for his alma mater tomorrow.

He replaces Bobby Pope at Mercer University here in Macon.
The Telegraph has learned the school will announce that Pope and Cole will trade positions this summer, with Pope taking a spot in the Mercer Athletic Foundation and Cole becoming the school's athletics director. Calls to the cell phones of Pope and Cole shortly after the release was sent out were un-returned.

The move was announced Tuesday afternoon in an athletics department staff meeting.
Athletic director is a pretty sweet job, with a chance to be relatively high profile. Many at Mercer have wanted to re-start a football program disbanded during World War II, and Rep. Cole has been involved in the fundraising. Will the program take that direction?

Surely they'd beat Georgia Tech within a few years.

I'm sorry. Too soon?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blanket statements in the governor's race

There's a fine line between being the ethical, outsider candidate in a race and over playing that hand. I'm not saying anyone's crossing that line, I'm saying it's a fine line.

2010 gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel today:
"The guys in the race can't - and won't - clean up the mess," the former secretary of state told about 250 mostly female supporters at an Atlanta fundraiser Tuesday. "They've been part of the good old boy network that's created this mess."
Now that's a good line and it'll play well. Both The AJC and the Associated Press covered this event, which means statewide free press.

But is this true? Is every male candidate for governor part of the good old boy network that's created this mess? Tifton state rep. and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Austin Scott certainly doesn't think so, and put out this statement:
"Mrs. Handel's comments today were misguided, because in fact she accepted more money from lobbyists in 2009 than I have accepted over the past five years combined. I am not corrupt, nor are the vast majority of my colleagues. Furthermore, she has one of the most entrenched lobbyists in the state heading up her campaign fundraising efforts. As for me, I have already returned every contribution made by lobbyists to this campaign, and I respectfully submit that Mrs. Handel and all candidates for governor should join me in doing so. The Georgia taxpayer should be the first priority of every candidate for governor."

The total amount received by Scott over the five-year period is just over $1000, including almost $200 to provide Georgia Aquarium tickets to House pages stranded when the legislature adjourned unexpectedly.
I forwarded Rep. Scott's release to Handel spokesman Dan McLagan for comment. He responded smartly: "Trust me. We weren't talking about Austin."

Over under on how many weeks the session goes before the knives come out at the Capitol? Two. Lucid Idiocy suggests you take the under.

Monday, January 4, 2010

MacGinnitie: "None of those reasons have changed"

I spoke to Sandy Springs City Councilman and Georgia Secretary of State candidate Doug MacGinnitie tonight about the last few days, which saw Gov. Sonny Perdue offer the Secretary of State's position to state Rep. Jim Cole, then give it to MacGinnitie's opponent in the primary, former state Sen. Brian Kemp, when Cole changed his mind.

It sounded to me like a pair of swift kicks to the MacGinnities, delivered by the state's Republican governor.

MacGinnitie said the governor called him Thursday to tell him about Cole, then again today to tell him about Kemp. He said these were brief conversations, that the governor "just called and told me."

MacGinnitie said he would have preferred it if the governor had appointed a caretaker with no interest in running for a full term, but, he said, "it's clearly his decision."

"I'll tell you what I told him," MacGinnitie said. "That I obviously was disappointed, but I had gotten into this race a year ago because I think it's a very important position in this state. ... I'm certain that I can add value to that position over the next four years."

"None of those reasons have changed. ..." MacGinnitie said. "We just keep marching on."

Cole out, Kemp in for Sec. State

It's official: Jim Cole has pulled a reverse Urban Meyer, and won't be Georgia's next secretary of state after all. This will be up on the main site shortly:
Middle Georgia state Rep. Jim Cole, R-Forsyth, won't be Georgia's next secretary of state after all.

Cole was going to be announced today as Gov. Sonny Perdue's appointment to replace Secretary of State Karen Handel, who is leaving office to focus on her gubernatorial run. But he withdrew his name from consideration over the weekend and now former State Sen. Brian Kemp will be the governor's choice.

Kemp is one of several candidates running to replace Handel full time and the governor's choice gives him a leg up, particularly over fellow Republican candidate Doug MacGinnitie, who is a city councilman in Sandy Springs.

Cole was going to enter that race, too, but decided instead to withdraw from politics and remain in Monroe County working for his alma mater, Mercer University. He will serve out his term as District 125 state representative, but not run for re-election later this year, he said.

Cole's move to the secretary of state's office, and the 2010 campaign to keep it, seemed assured late last week. He confirmed that he was the governor's choice after media reports, citing unnamed sources, reported so. But a weekend of soul searching changed things, he said.

"I, literally, went in my little boy's room 15 times Saturday night," Cole said Monday afternoon. "And I just, it was ... something inside of me talking to me that I needed to re-evaluate."

Cole said politics has been "consuming me" in recent years. He said the "competitive juices" will probably draw him back in one day, but not "until I get my children prepared for success."
Obviously this doesn't satisfy the "Gov. Perdue is meddling in the 2010 secretary of state election" crowd. And I imagine some will question Rep. Cole's motives. For the record, though, I have no reason to do anything but take this at face value.

Update: Doug MacGinnitie's campaign sent this out earlier today. Presumably it holds, except for the welcoming Jim Cole part:
"I entered this race nearly a year ago because I think the office of the Secretary of State is vitally important, and I know that I can serve Georgia and add value in that position for the next four years. I certainly respect the Governor's decision making process, but his decision has not changed the reasons I entered the race.

I would like to thank the Republican grassroots and statewide business community for their countless calls of encouragement and support over the weekend - they have been humbling and motivating. I welcome Jim Cole to the primary process and look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Your next Sec. State: Jim Cole

State Rep. Jim Cole, R-Forsyth, is one of a few Middle Georgia politicians I've classified for a while as "electable as hell."

It looks like Gov. Sonny Perdue agrees, and has given him a big vault toward larger political aspirations:
Gov. Sonny Perdue has chosen state Rep. Jim Cole as Georgia’s next secretary of state.
We'll see how this plays out, since Rep. Cole is planning to enter the 2010 race to win the job full time. I can think of a couple of people who probably aren't too happy with the governor's move here.