Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Too many emails today?"

There were an awful lot of "there's a fundraising deadline tonight, please give me some money" emails today from political types. But only one truly belongs on this blog.

From the Democratic National Committee:
Friend --

If you're like me, you're getting bombarded with emails today from all your favorite Democratic leaders and candidates, all asking for help before tonight's FEC quarterly fundraising deadline.

So here's my request for you: Read them. Donate to your favorite. Every Democrat in America is facing vicious and outlandish attacks -- because we're making change on health care, student loans, and more, and the GOP can't stand it. They need your help.

But I have a second request. After you give, donate to the Democratic National Committee. Because we're fighting for each and every one of those Democrats every single day, and building a grassroots organization to back them up.

And if you chip in $25 or more before midnight, we'll send you an "I stand with the President" T-shirt to say "thank you." Donate now.
A minimum amount of shame called. It wants to set up a first meeting.

Baker v. Georgia GOP going national

From Attorney General Thurbert Baker's gubernatorial campaign:
I know many of you have been keeping up with the controversy surrounding Thurbert's decision to not pursue a frivolous lawsuit to try to block the healthcare reform law. If you'd like to hear Thurbert address the matter on television tonight, he will be appearing on MSNBC's “Hardball with Chris Matthews” (which airs live at 5:00 pm ET) and on “The Rachel Maddow Show” (which airs live at 9:00 pm ET). Both shows are also replayed at various times in the evening.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A hiccup, or more, on the budget

Update: Walter Jones at Morris News wrote about this issue with more depth. He also got a comment from Gov. Sonny Perdue, who says things will "be fine." Jim Galloway gets into the negotiations to come between Senate Republicans and Democrats.
Only time will tell just how significant it is, but after weeks of telling anyone who'd listen how much they were working together, the House and Senate have come to some split on the 2011 state budget.

The Senate Finance Committee this morning merged HB 1023 (the JOBS bill, which contains tax cuts) with HB 307 (the hospital tax, which contains a tax increase).

The House canceled all the budget subcommittee meetings it had slated for today, which puts in doubt its plan to vote the budget out of the House and into the Senate this week.

So there's some gamesmanship on the budget, as there is every year. We'll see what it amounts to. But Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers has been saying for most of the session that he thinks the state needs massive layoffs, and that's not what's in the House budget.

So, give it a few days, and we'll see what the real differences are between the House budget and the Senate budget.

There are certainly innocent mitigating factors that could be delaying things, aside from any disagreements. Many senators plan to attend former state Sen. Nancy Scheafer's funeral tomorrow. And Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams said this morning that Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill's sister died Monday.

Williams said he still expects the House to vote a budget out this week, and that the 2010 legislative session will wrap up in mid-April.

But we are approaching the homestretch here, where everyone must play their hand. So keep your hat on, we could end up miles from here.

Flamethrower language from the Dustin Inman Society

Though the Georgia General Assembly has passed several immigration reform bills in recent years, they don't have the teeth some would like to see. This is an e-mail blast today from The Dustin Inman Society:
Our three bills that were pending in the Georgia legislature that would have provided language to help protect the American worker in Georgia are dead. The sound you may have heard late Friday night was the unsurprised sighs of relief from Jerry Gonzalez, the ACLU and Georgia's illegal alien-employing business community.

The bills were diluted and then killed by a coalition of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), the Georgia Department of Labor, the crazies in the ethnic-based illegal alien lobby.

But they were finally and most directly killed by the Speaker of the House, David Ralston and Georgia's Lt. Governor, Casey Cagle.

Speaker David Ralston runs the Georgia House of Representatives. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle runs the Georgia Senate.

For all of my GOP friends... please note that Ralston and Cagle are Republicans and have clearly picked a side on the illegal immigration crisis. They went with the money and the black-market labor. Not that the Dems give a hoot about the American worker when it comes to illegal immigration either.

The out of work and beleaguered Georgia citizens be damned.

I wish I were making this up. It is all true. I would direct you to the AJC or other news reports on the fact, but in an effort to further their amnesty-again agenda, most media outlets understand the importance of keeping the existence of the bills a secret and to never mention the fact that they were killed by Ralston and Cagle.
I followed up with D.A. King, the society's president, and asked him if he was a little heavy on the flamethrower language. His response, via email:
"Trying to create pressure for attaching to live bills. But pls take note of the fact that ALL laws that actually have penalties over the years are aimed at the alien. Find one that is enforced or has penalty for local gov or businesses. If they were serious about JOBS JOBS JOBS and the budget the first and easiest move would have been to enforce the laws they have already passed to encourage black market labor to migrate out of Georgia."

Monday, March 29, 2010

By the way, Green Door met today

The House Green Door Committee met today on the budget. Basically that means the House leadership and various budget committee chairs huddled on the 2011 budget, which is likely to be voted out of the House later this week.

Shhhhh. We're spending your money. Click to enlarge.

The meeting was not closed to the public, but it wasn't announced, either. That is common practice for Green Door meetings. House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin said no major budget changes were made. He said the meeting was mostly about giving Speaker of the House David Ralston an opportunity to hear from House budget writers and "see if there's anything he's got any real heartburn over."

Speaker Ralston said he didn't see any major changes forthcoming.

I understand the group began meeting about 10 a.m. this morning. I arrived at 2 p.m., having heard about the meeting by chance. I don't think anyone else from the press corps was there at all today, and the meeting played out to an audience of empty seats.

I got several looks as I walked in. If you enlarge the picture above and focus on the gentleman on the far left (state Rep. Mickey Channell), perhaps you can divine their intent.

"We have a lot of meetings here that are not closed," Speaker Ralston said after the meeting. "We advertise some and others, it just gives us a chance to have a frank discussion."

So, just to summarize: The top elected officials in the Georgia House of Representatives met in secret for several hours today to have a frank discussion about $17 billion or so of your tax dollars.

And they get to do this because the Georgia Supreme Court decided in 1975 that the General Assembly is not an agency of state government, and thus exempt from the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

Bob Ryan: Adams a "schemer and an intimidator"

This piece by Bob Ryan, a sportswriter for The Boston Globe, just hammers UGA president Michael Adams, a candidate to replace the late Miles Brand as president of the NCAA:
Michael Adams is a spinmeister. He is a clever and ruthless politician. He was once chief of staff to then-Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker. He knows how to amass allies — a power-seeking liquor magnate named Donald Leebern being the most prominent — and he knows how to wield power. He is not a leader. He is a schemer and an intimidator.
Whammy. Hat tip to Georgia Sports Blog for the link.

AP, Wash Post: Georgia just misses money in federal Race to the Top

Looks like Georgia placed third and missed out on funding for now.

From Dorie Turner at the AP:
ATLANTA — A source says the U.S. Department of Education has picked Delaware and Tennessee for the first round of its "Race to the Top" competition.
And from The Washington Post:
Georgia, ranked third in the contest, and Florida, considered a favorite to win, fell just short of a threshold for awards that Duncan set himself. More than $3 billion remains in the fund, and they could win some in a future round.
Update: The governor's office just put out this statement:
“We were hoping to be among the Final Four in the Race to the Top competition, but unfortunately this time only two winners were chosen. I spoke with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning and he complimented Georgia on our strong application and commitment to education reform. I promised him Georgia will reapply in June and we will be tough to beat in the second round of awards that will be announced this fall. The Department will provide us valuable feedback on our application, and I am confident that we are a top seed heading into round two. I want to especially thank the 23 systems that have joined with Georgia for this competition, and we look forward to celebrating with them later this year.”

Pro-marijuana, anti-health care reform advocates to make the same legal argument

There doesn't seem to be much going on today at the Georgia Capitol. The House and Senate go back into session tomorrow, and there are very few committee meetings today.

So I'll spend my time writing about things I didn't get to cover in detail during Friday's fast-paced crossover day. But, meanwhile, I think this is entertaining.

California voters will decide in November whether to legalize marijuana and tax it, giving the cash-strapped state an estimated $1.4 billion a year to help balance the budget.

Now, if California votes to legalize the possession of small amounts of weed, they will run afoul of the federal supremacy clause in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. This, of course, is the same clause Georgia and other states will want to get around as they fight to exempt themselves from federal health care reform.

So, if California votes to legalize marijuana, and then tries to enforce that vote in court, west-coast pot smokers and Georgia conservatives will be making essentially the same legal argument against the federal government.

I find that hilarious.

Friday, March 26, 2010

And rules is meeting again. Update: HR 1087 shot down

These guys sure know how to run a railroad.

Update: The meeting was brief, and called to make what was described as a minor amendment to HR 1087, which makes tax scoff laws ineligible to hold public office. But because the resolution was a structured rule measure, it had to go back to rules to get amended.

Amending legislation that says who can, and cannot, hold elected office: That does seem like the kind of thing you out to be doing at 11:50 on a Friday night.

It is unknown right now whether the House faces a midnight deadline to wrap things up. The Senate recessed long ago, and will officially adjourn at midnight. That would presumably mean that the Senate won't allow any more bills to "cross over" after midnight.

HR 1087 is in the House floor now, and sponsoring state Rep. Calvin Hill said "We're running out of time, please." So, it does look like a deadline looms.

Update: Speaker of the House David Ralston is shutting down debate on this thing, ostensibly to beat the midnight deadline, which I'm pretty sure passed a minute ago.

Update: HR 1087 has failed 117-31. It needed a 2/3 majority, or 120 votes.

Update: And it has failed a second time on reconsideration, 116-18. That's it. The House has adjourned. Have a nice Saturday.


In the anteroom after the House adjourned Day 30, Speaker of the House David Ralston said debate ran long on several bills, and quite a few things he wanted to bring to the floor didn't make it. He said debate ran long on several items, though he had asked reminded legislators of the time constraints "all evening."

Because I asked him about it, he spoke specifically to House Bill 993, which would have helped fund the state's sports and music halls of fame in Macon. State Rep. David Lucas, D-Macon, was upset the measure didn't get to the floor, but I imagine the speaker could have been talking about a number of measures.

"I had hoped and planned to give Rep. Lucas a vote on that," Speaker Ralston said. "So he has a right to be upset."

No texting while driving has passed the House

The House is now debating cross-state insurance sales (HB 1184).

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver congratulates state Rep. Allen Peake on his no texty while drivey legislation.

Nothing like waiting til the last minute

If your parents happen to serve in the Georgia House of Representatives, don't ever let them tell you not to put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

The House Rules Committee has just emerged from what I believe is their fourth meeting of the day, adding 13 more bills to the calendar at 9:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after the House started its day. None of these sounded like laws Georgia can't live without.

One of them is HR 1086, the House effort to keep the federal government from forcing health care reform on Georgia, a resolution that has already failed the House once.

I cannot say why, after 30 legislative days, the House leadership has needed three supplemental calendars to get through Crossover Day. It certainly seems like you'd wake up knowing what you want to accomplish, but what do I know.

The Rules Committee gets its supplemental on.

I did put this question to Rules Chairman Hembree: Hey, what's up with all the supplementals?

Said Hembree, "Everybody has a great idea that they want passed."

Crossover Day: A late update

We're nearly 12 hours into today's legislative session. The Senate has gone home, and the House is about to go back into session with several big bills still to come.

The elimination of the refundable low-income tax credit, the JOBS bill, no texting while driving, Milton County ... the list goes on. The House passed HB 1055 earlier today, to raise a bunch of fees, as well as the hospital tax.
Update: The JOBS bill has passed.
Please check the main site later tonight or tomorrow for full run downs. I'll run down some of the smaller, but still interesting, bills that have passed below — bills you might miss, because they probably won't make headlines. But easily the best thing that happened today was this:

That's Max and Shirley Harper, both doorkeepers for the Georgia House of Representatives. And tomorrow is their 56th wedding anniversary.

Bills that have passed the House:
  • House Resolution 1686, which dedicates roads and intersections in various Georgia counties in the name of four soldiers who died in service of their country. The resolution to honor Lance Cpl. Seth Sharp, 1st Sgt. John David Blair, Lance Cpl. Kristopher Cody Warren and Sgt. Jeffery Jordan was unanimous.
  • House Bill 853, which regulates tanning machines and requires warning signs stating that they can cause skin cancer. The bill passed 129-28.
  • House Bill 1198, which taxes non-Georgia residents who receive deferred income and stock option benefits above $5,000 from Georgia entities. The bill passed the House 158-3.
  • House Resolution 1203 and House Bill 1020, which would change the rules on penny sales taxes that fund education projects, if voters OK the change in a Constitutional referendum. Current law states these "ELOSTs" or school "SPLOSTs" can only be used for capital purchases, such as building new schools. The legislation would allow the revenue to be used to fund daily operations. The resolution calls for the Constitutional referendum, the bill sets out other details. Both passed easily.
Bills that passed the Senate:
  • Senate Bill 332, which requires school systems to file an annual report by August 1 of each year, detailing any incidents of students bringing weapons to school. The bill passed the Senate 43-0.
  • Senate Bill 474, which requires, among other things, that anyone who takes "possession of a bear accidentally killed by a motor vehicle" notify law enforcement within 48 hours. The bill passed the Senate 41-2
  • Senate Bill 496, which creates a $30 million needs-based college scholarship program. The bill would give several hundred dollars a year to students from low-income families. Georgia's well-known HOPE Scholarship doesn't include any income caps, and sponsoring state Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, argued that the small needs-based scholarships are needed. The bill passed the Senate 45-4.
  • Senate Bill 502, which cuts the pay for members of various appointed state authorities, including the state Board of Education and the Board of Regents. The bill states that appointees will be reimbursed for expenses, but won't get the per diem or expense allowances they have been entitled to. The bill, which passed the Senate 40-2, would not affect legislators, who also receive per diems.
  • Senate Resolution 1075, which dedicates various highways in honor of people and groups. The Duane Allman dedication along U.S. 41 was part of this resolution, and would extend the dedication from Pio Nono Avenue to New Street instead of just from Holt Avenue to College Street. The resolution also dedicates U.S. 27 in north Georgia in honor of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The road "was a historic trail ... that the Army of Tennessee marche to the battle of Chicamauga" on, said state Sen. Jeff Mullis, who chairs the Senate's Transportation Committee.
  • Senate Bill 426, which would dock the pay of local school board members if their systems is failing and they are named, by a school accrediting agency, as part of the reason why. The bill passed the Senate 47-0.
  • Senate Bill 515, which forbids local school boards from furloughing teachers or other personnel if the school system has a reserve fund equal to at least 6 percent of its total budget. The bill passed the Senate 35-11.
  • Senate Bill 517, which does away with the state's portion of local property taxes. Most of a community's millage rate, which is used to figure taxes, is set by local governments. But .25 of a mill is charged by the state. The bill would only allow that to be charged in the case of an emergency. It passed the Senate 31-14.
  • Senate Bill 518, which requires all Georgia public schools to teach "a study of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States and the Georgia flag." The bill passed the Senate 44-0.
Bills that failed:
  • House Bill 1343, which would have increase probationers' fees from $23 a month to $30 a month. The bill failed in the House 72-89.
  • House Bill 236, which creates a legislative committee to review state departments one at a time and recommend whether or not they should continue to be funded. The bill failed in the House 77-81.
Bills that aren't on the calendar and are probably about to die:
  • State Rep. Geisinger's bill OK'ing horse racing in Georgia.
  • Drug testing for welfare recipients.

Hospital tax passed the House

The vote on House Bill 307 was 141-33.

Race-based abortion bill passed the Senate

33-14, after two hours or so of debate.

A resolution calling upon the press corps to put our names in the newspaper ...

You will be glad to know that the Georgia House of Representatives is arguing right now over a resolution to tell the governor to do what the governor has already said he will do, and which Attorney General Thurbert Baker has said the governor can do.

Your tax dollars hard at work.

Crossover Day lucidity: Requiring kids to study the pledge

I officially have a favorite Crossover Day bill, Senate Bill 518:
To amend Part 2 of Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to competencies and core curriculum, so as to require a study of the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States and the Georgia flag as a part of the required studies regarding American institutions and ideals; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
The pledge of allegiance is 31 words and school children say it every day. So presumably this would be a short class.

Update: This bill passed the Georgia Senate unanimously.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ethics reform clears committee

Coverage from Shannon McCaffrey at The Associated Press. Two paragraphs caught my eye:
The bill would establish an abuse of power provision for state legislators. It would ban lobbyists from initiating e-mail contact with lawmakers while the elected officials are in committee or debating bills. ...

Four Democratic amendments were shot down by party line votes in the committee Thursday. One would have added sexual harassment to violations covered under the new the abuse of power provision. The other would have placed a $50 cap on gifts, excluding meals and some work-related travel.

Gov. Sonny Perdue: A good sport

Me: Governor, I want to take a picture of you cramming a Nu-Way hot dog into your mouth.

Governor: Alright, here we go.

Happy Macon Day at the Georgia Capitol.

Bottom image: Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert.

Your Crossover Day Senate Debate Calendar

From the Senate Press Office:

SB 143 - Public Meetings; limitation on action to contest agency action, recording, notice of time/place; change certain provisions
SB 161 - Insurance; require certain coverage for autism spectrum disorders; provide definitions
SB 332 - Public School; reporting by local boards of education regarding expulsion/disciplinary actions for students bringing weapons to school
SB 336 - Georgia Boxing Association; recognized as a governing body for amateur boxing, wrestling, and martial arts
SB 362 - Property; liens of mechanics/materialmen; waiver and release upon payment
SB 373 - Peace Officers; investigation of a applicant's good moral character; applying for appointment or certification
SB 399 - State Government; no department/agency shall implement any provision of federal health care reform legislation
SB 419 - Drivers' License; provide for notation; post traumatic stress disorder; members of armed services/veterans
SB 426 - Education; prohibit per diem for at-fault board members during time local school system has its accreditation revoked or placed on probation
SB 449 - Georgia Golf Hall of Fame; abolish; disposition of property
SB 451 - Early Care/Education Programs; provide for certain procedures subsequent to death occurring in a family day-care home, group-day care
SB 456 - Redevelopment; directors of downtown development authority designated as urban redevelopment agency; serve as commissioners
SB 474 - Wildlife; possession of native wild animal killed by motor vehicle; provide exceptions and conditions
SB 482 - Insurance; life settlements; revise certain definitions
SB 490 - Hazardous Waste; amend certain definitions; update provisions to make consistent with federal regulations
SB 496 - Education; establish the HOPE needs based scholarship; definition; provide for eligibility requirements; scholarship amounts
SB 501 - Transportation Department; modify provisions for the State Transportation Board; provide for the appointment of a treasurer
SB 502 - Public Officers; provide all nonelected members of state authorities, boards or other bodies; compensated only for actual expenses
SB 505 - State Transportation Board; limit membership on the board to one five year term
SB 511 - Waste Management; declaration of policy and legislative intent; provisions
SB 512 - Sales/Use Taxes; provide state revenue commissioner with authority to collect sales/use taxes from businesses that may not be obligated
SB 515 - Educators' Salary Protection Act; enact; prohibit furloughs; local school system personnel when local reserve funds are available
SB 517 - Ad Valorem Taxes; manner and time of making the state ad valorem tax levy; revise and change provisions
SB 518 - Education; require study of the pledge of allegiance to the flag of United States and Georgia flag; American institutions and ideals
SB 519 - Motor Vehicles; motorized cart; modify definition; change hours of operation; provide local governments decide operators be licensed
SB 520 - Transportation Dept.; provide for an Intermodal Division within the department
SB 521 - Education; provide for enrollment counts for students in certain dual enrollment programs
SB 523 - Georgia Sports Hall Of Fame Authority; reconstitute the governance; provide for new governing body for authority and its members
SB 526 - Public Roads; provide for regulation of oversize and overweight loads on streets or highway
SB 529 - Crimes and Offenses; specify certain acts that constitute criminal abortion
SR 513 - Joint Georgia State Fire Services Study Committee; create
SR 1075 - CSA Army of Tennessee Highway; dedicate
SR 1287 - Taxes; prohibit the levy of state ad valorem taxes except in the case of an emergency

Your Crossover Day House Debate Calendar

Just set by the Rules Committee. The bill numbers are listed below, and where I could do it quickly I've included a brief explanation.

Rules Chairman Bill Hembree said he expects that there will be a supplemental calendar as well, but that will be set tomorrow. Also, after the initial speaker, debate on each piece of legislation will be limited to an hour.

House Bills:
1055 (raises a bunch of fees), 307 (the gov's hospital tax), HB 236 (legislative committee to review govt efficiency), HB 1000 (deals with bear hunting, other hunting rules), 1405 (sets up GOP commission to overhaul tax code), 853 (regulates tanning facilities), 293 (deals with video poker machines), 478 (requires municipal judges to be attorneys), 517 (basically a property tax assessment freeze), 817, 889, 938 (no texting while driving), 1040, 1104 (deals with juvenile offenders), 1184 (cross-state insurance policy sales), 1198, (tax bill), 1219 (does away with refundable portion of low-income tax credit), 1221 (sales tax bill), 1234 (changes DOT Board terms to 2 years), 1242 (DOT Board ethics), 1249 (tax exemptions for businesses creating jobs), 1268 (insurance bill), 1283 (allows department heads to raise state fees), 1284 (similar to 1283), 1343 (changes fees charged probationers), 1364 (Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool), 1402 (deals with college loans), 1407 (dental services for Medicaid and PeachCare recipients), 1431.
House Resolutions:
1 (Constitutional amendment to keep property taxes lower, companion to HB 517), 21 (Milton County), 136, 1446 (2 year terms for DOT Board member), 1448 (tax exemption for businesses creating jobs), 1513 (names a bunch of roads), 1686 (names an intersection in Bartow County).
Noticeably absent: HB 1218, the governor's transportation funding bill.

Update: Democrats did not seem happy about this calendar.

There was quite a bit of unsuccessful objecting before this picture.

Isakson out of the hospital

From his office:
ATLANTA – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., was released from Northside Hospital Thursday after being admitted earlier in the week with a bacterial infection.

"Senator Isakson is still recovering from the bacterial infection, but his doctors felt that his condition has improved enough that he could go home and continue his recovery there. Senator Isakson is feeling so much better and he is glad to get back home. He and his family are very appreciative of all the prayers and good wishes they have received this week," spokeswoman Joan Kirchner said.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Not a good evening for Sonny Perdue

Gov. Perdue's push to fold the state pardons and parole officers into the Georgia Department of Corrections went down in flames this evening on the floor of the Georgia House.

The vote against House Bill 1030 was 59-108, which presumably means House members like parole board members more than they like lame duck governors.

Even bigger, though, the House and Senate both re-appointed conference committees for a couple of pieces of transportation legislation: House Resolution 206 and House Bill 277. Those were the vehicles for last year's version of a transportation funding plan, which then Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson seemed to put on hold at the end of the session.

If the House and Senate are getting ready to fire that conference committee back up, that means they don't think the governor's transportation bill is going anywhere.

They would not be alone in that opinion. The idea would be to resurrect one of the various transportation funding plans that have come close to passing, but haven't passed, in the last few years. Probably some sort of regional T-SPLOST like the Senate was pushing last year, but only time will tell.

The new conferees for the House are Majority Leader Jerry Keen, Caucus Chair Donna Sheldon and Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts. For the Senate it's President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, Transportation Chairman Jeff Mullis and Judiciary Chairman Preston Smith.

House Ethics meets tomorrow, 10 a.m.

For those who have noticed that, hey, we don't have an ethics bill yet and crossover day is Friday: The House Ethics Committee will meet tomorrow.

That doesn't mean you should expect a bill to come out, though. Chairman Joe Wilkinson said he expects to be nailing down the details for a while still, and the final bill will likely be pasted into a Senate Bill to get around the crossover day deadline.

Senate Bill 308, the gun bill, has passed

The bill would expand the areas you can carry a firearm in Georgia. It passed the Senate 41-12 a moment ago and moves to the House.

It basically does away with the state ban on carrying a gun in a bar or church, or on a college campus. But the Board of Regents, which sets policies for college campuses, and bar owners and church boards, would be able to decide whether or not to allow guns there.

State Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, sponsor of SB 308.

Cross-state insurance becomes a women's issue

Update: SB 407, and it's companion in the House, both ended up passing two days after Sen. Unterman helped shoot 407 down. Jim Galloway has some excellent coverage on this issue.
Senate Bill 407, which would allow out-of-state insurance companies to sell their policies in Georgia, has caused a real stir in the Georgia Senate this afternoon.

About a dozen women from the Georgia House of Representatives have come into the Senate chamber to show their solidarity against the bill. Most of them are Democrats, but state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Burofd, is leading the charge against this thing.

Sen. Unterman and others said they had to fight hard in recent years to mandate that Georgia insurance companies cover various women's health issues, such as mammograms. Out of state policies wouldn't be subject to those mandates, leading to concerns that Georgian who buy them won't get the coverage they deserve.

There are also concerns that large companies will buy cheaper out-of-state policies and then pawn them off on employees who probably won't notice that they've gotten a bare-bones policy not fully regulated by the Georgia Insurance Commissioner.

The commissioner would be able to suspend out of state sales if he or she thinks the policies are bad for Georgians, but since insurance companies give generous campaign donations to insurance commissioners, that was little comfort to opponents of the bill.

Update: Sen. Unterman has been successful, getting the bill tabled for now. She's going around the chamber patting some of the men on the back and saying thank you.

Ladies from the House cast a watchful eye on the men of the Senate.

Sen. Unterman: Don't you dare vote for this bill.

Update: State Sen. Judson Hill, who has been trying to get this bill passed for four years now, says all 50 states mandate that insurance companies cover mammograms and reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy, among other procedures.

He said that some Georgia families without insurance might be able to afford it if they were able to buy out-of-state policies.

"This bill was about one thing: Individual choice and freedom. ..." Hill said. "(We need to) ignite the competitive forces in the (insurance) market place."

Wednesday thus far at the Georgia Legislature

I'm sitting in the Senate, but have been watching the House via the Internets. Both chambers have voted on a bunch of bills, none particularly high profile, with the possible exception of Senate Bill 418. Below are the ones I've deemed most interesting so far.

All of these bills can be read online at Though it's not up-to-the-minute, you can also see how individual senators and representatives voted on a bill by looking it up there.

In the House:
House Bill 1069, which gives Georgians an income tax credit of up to $2,500 if they purchase energy efficient appliances and other equipment, including efficient light bulbs. The credit, which passed the House 165-4, will only go into affect if federal money is available to fund the program, as expected.

House Bill 1233, which says that expert witnesses brought in to the Public Service Commission to talk about the need for rate increases be paid by the utility company seeking the increase. Supporters argued that these costs should not be borne by state taxpayers. Opponents argued that it will increase utility rates as the costs are passed along. The costs can be hundreds of thousands of dollars per case. The bill passed 114 to 49.

House Bill 1321, which allows local governments, in some cases, to use E-911 fees to purchase radio equipment for public safety officers. The bill passed the House 168-1.
In the Senate:
Senate Bill 418, which would create a database of prescriptions for pain killers and other controlled substances. The database would be accessible by doctors and pharmacists, be held by the state Board of Pharmacy and be open to law enforcement only with a subpoena, sponsoring state Sen. Buddy Carter said. This bill was controversial last year in the Senate, and some privacy concerns remain this year. But unauthorized release of information in the database would be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on whether it is purposeful, Carter said. The bill passed the Senate 38-9.

Senate Bill 414, which makes sure that, when firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement officers die in the line of duty, an indemnification payment of $100,000 will go to their parents or siblings if they're not married. Currently they only get the payment if they are dependents of the deceased, according to the Georgia Department of Administrative Services. The bill passed the Senate 48-0.

Senate Bill 423, which creates a new crime for "smash and grab" burglaries. Currently juveniles, who sponsoring state Rep. Preston Smith said are often used in these crimes, can only be charged with a "delinquent act" if they smash a businesses window and rob it. This would make the burglary a felony, for the juvenile and, if an adult puts them up to it, for the adult as well. The bill passed the Senate 47-0.

Senate Resolution 1231, which will ask voters to amend the state Constitution in November to allow the state to enter into multi-year contracts with private companies that will focus on making energy saving improvements. Currently long-term contracts are prohibited and there are several efforts to change that for transportation projects, building leases and for this issue. The resolution passed the Senate 47-3.

There was an attempt in the Senate to paste language meant to restrict interbasin transfers of water from one part of the state to another into another water bill. Senate Bill 462, which would limit these transfers, hasn't been moving forward in the Senate, so supporters tried to jump start that effort by inserting part of that bill into Senate Bill 442, which deals with emergency water plans. The effort failed after state Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry and chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee, rose against it. Tolleson said more study is needed before the state makes laws on interbasin transfers.
Both chambers are at lunch now. It will probably be late afternoon or evening before the Senate gets to the day's main events, the gun legislation in senate bills 291 and 308.

Gun bills, 65 others up today

Between the House and Senate rules calendar's there are 67 bills and resolutions on the floor today at the Georgia General Assembly. Two in the Senate, Senate Bill 308 and Senate Bill 291, deal with concealed carry laws and/or where you can carry a gun.

Both are at the tail end of the Senate calendar, so it's going to be a long day. Luckily, one hour after the Senate went into session, senators are reading to each other from the Declaration of Independence as it relates to health care reform in Washington, D.C.

So we're well on our way. Updates here throughout the day.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Harbin: State court fee increase shelved

Update: In the final bill that passed the House Friday, March 26, the state court fee increase had been dropped to $50.
House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin said this afternoon that the proposed $100 increase in state court fees, which was unpopular with county governments, will be removed from the House's fee-raising bill.

The bill will still raise about $100 million in new revenue. Apparently previous revenue estimates for the bill were overly conservative, allowing the court fee increase to be easily removed.

The hospital tax cleared committee

House Bill 307 passed the House Appropriations Committee this afternoon. It's a 1.45 percent tax/fee on hospital revenues for three years, with no increase allowed over that period, and sunsetting after the 3 years.

And a big piece of the budget falls into place.

From The Wash Post: How health care affects you

This, from The Washington Post, purports to give you an idea of how health care reform will affect you. You answer a few questions and it spits out an idea of your new tax burden.

Graves resigning to seek 9th District

Peach Pundit was the first place I saw this, from Graves campaign:
(RANGER, GA) – State Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ranger), the leading Republican candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 9th District, released the following statement announcing his resignation from the Georgia House of Representatives Tuesday, March 23, 2010, in order to qualify for the upcoming special election in Georgia’s 9th District ...

“While qualifying for the congressional seat alone would have vacated my house seat, the timing would have been outside the window of opportunity to allow both elections to occur on the same date. Therefore, as a steward of the taxpayer, the prudent decision is to step down early and allow the Governor to set the special elections on the same day.

I should note that, before he saw me taking this picture Monday, Graves had a boot on that table. And that rep. Clay Cox, R-also running for Congress, is clearly sitting on stacked chairs in a House antechamber.

Alternate caption: Lilburn has the upper seat here, but never underestimate Ranger.

Lucid Debate: Health Care

Let me say that I do not pretend to understand health care reform. And that Commissioner Oxendine's statement arrived at 8:50 p.m., Monday. And that I read a only small portion of health care statements Monday.

First sentence of Nathan Deal's campaign email:
I stayed to fight for you.
Attorney General candidate Max Wood:
“It’s time to get tough with the federal government,” Wood said. “We need a leader, not a manager. We need a proven and successful federal litigator, not a negotiator. They passed this bill with unorthodox ‘Chicago politics.’ It’s time we fight back with our own Chicago tactics. We don’t need political advisors sitting in America’s state attorneys general offices, we need wartime consiglieris.”
Calling for the mattresses. Inferring a take over of Immobiliare. Bold.

From John Oxendine:
Oxendine: Georgia should sue Federal Government

I am very disappointed that the House decided to pass a bill that was overwhelmingly rejected by the American people. This bill’s passage will place unfunded mandates on our state budget and significantly increase the cost of insurance on Georgia’s families. This plan is nothing more than a shell game that will also harm patients, doctors, nurses—essentially the entire healthcare workforce, because it puts the federal government in charge of healthcare reform.

I agree with National Right to Life’s assessment that the bill is riddled with provisions that will result in federal subsidies for private insurance plans that cover abortion. The bill also has direct federal funding of abortion through Community Health Centers, and pro-abortion federal administrative mandates.

I urge our legislature to act quickly to pass a bill that requires the state’s attorney general to sue the federal government to challenge the constitutionality of this legislation.
If Wood, a former Middle Georgia U.S. attorney, wins pitching Chicago tactics, I will have to call Charles Bullock and ask if that's a first in Georgia.

Also, Oxendine's statment: Is it just me, or was that measured?

Monday, March 22, 2010

House GOP goes after low income tax credit

Update: I've filed a longer story about the tax credit on the main site.
The House Ways and Means Committee met this evening and passed several tax bills, including one that allows ESPLOST money to be used for maintenance and operation instead of just capital projects, one that calls for a new tenth-of-a-penny SPLOST to fund the arts, and one that goes after retirees who leave Georgia, as well as people who come here to hold concerts and other events.

You know, taxable non-residents as defined by paragraph 11 of code section 48-7-1 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.

But the change that might make the most waves is an end to the low income tax credit for folks who have no tax liability. Basically, there are Georgians who don't make enough income to pay actual income taxes and "yet the state is writing them a (refund) check," said Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin.

Knight, who is sponsoring the bill to do away with this, said the credit was initially a way to refund folks back when Georgia taxed groceries. But the grocery tax hasn't been on the books since Zell Miller's administration.

Now, this change is in House Bill 1219, though at the moment you won't see that in the bill available online. It looks like a new bill has been pasted into the old 1219's place, and the General Assembly Web site hasn't been updated yet, even though the new language has been around long enough to pass committee and for a fiscal note to be completed.

The note says this will probably raise about $22 million for the state in fiscal 2011. For the record, four Democrats in this evening's Ways and Means meeting voted against this change.

Knight, R-Interested in changing the tax code.

Appropriations taking up hospital tax tomorrow

The hour is late and the Georgia House of Representatives is about to end its day. Today's Appropriations Committee meeting, to talk about HB 307, the 1.6 percent hospital tax, has been moved to tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Update: On a related note, House Ways and Means met this evening and passed HB 299 out of committee. That's the other part of Gov. Perdue's latest plan on hospitals. It does away with sales tax exemptions that hospital authorities and non-profit hospitals enjoy.

The fiscal note says this would bring in $108 million to $162 million in fiscal 2011.

Election to replace Deal April 27

From the governor's office:
Governor Sonny Perdue announced today that he has issued a writ of special election to fill the vacancy of 9th Congressional District due to the resignation of Congressman Nathan Deal. Deal submitted his resignation letter last night, effective immediately.

The special election to fill the vacancy will be held April 27, 2010.

Crossover day is now Friday

The Senate has voted on a new legislative schedule.

I imagine the House will follow suit, if they ever stop debating their anti-health care reform resolution (HR 1086), which will never pass because it requires a 2/3 majority, which means bi-partisan support.

But the House has debated it for about two hours now, including one section of debate that dealt with a child named Malachi who ran his own boiled peanut operation.

I promise you, I am not making that up. Anyway, the new schedule:
Wednesday - day 29
Friday - day 30
Tuesday, March 30 - day 31
Wednesday, March 31 - day 32
Thursday, April 1 - day 33
Off the week of The Masters
Monday, April 12 - day 34
Update: The House just voted on HR 1086. It failed 111-61.

Update: There was some rancor in the House over the late schedule change, but it has passed the House.

Coerced race abortion bill passes Senate cmt.

Senate Bill 529, the Senate version of House Bill 1155, passed the Senate's Special Judiciary Committee a few minutes ago.

It was done quietly. Neither the committee agenda on the board in the Capitol, nor the one posted online, indicated that the bill would even come up.

And the committee had two ex officio members show up, sent in by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and Senate President Pro Tem were there, Committee Chairman John Wiles said, to give the committee a quorum. Otherwise it would not have had one, he said.

Sen. Rogers, who said the lieutenant governor asked him to be there, voted for the bill. Williams was out of the room during the vote. The bill passed 4-1, and Rogers was insistent that he was an ex officio member, not a hawk.

Either way, the bill moves to rules, meaning you could see this abortion debate hit the Senate floor in the coming days. The House version cleared committee some time ago, but was recommitted to committee by the House Rules Committee.

For a short primer on the bill itself, and the accusations it is born from, see this story.

Friday, March 19, 2010

An earnest kiss, largely unwanted

Is it just me, or is there a metaphor here for the relationship between the governed and the government?

Where baby = people of Georgia and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle = Georgia General Assembly. Image: Senate photo office.

Have a nice weekend.

Update: In honor of the health care vote, I should note this picture probably works even better as a metaphor for the health care vote.

What's in the ground at Reed Bingham?

This story in Tifton Gazzette / Moultrie Observer, which Jim Galloway called attention to earlier, has got the potential to get nutty:
MOULTRIE — There may be merit to allegations of illegal dumping of hazardous wastes at Reed Bingham State Park. Federal authorities dropped a backhoe into one suspected area Thursday afternoon, and there was an immediate sound of scraping metal. Two drums had been unearthed by 4 p.m. and the digging had only just begun.
Both the EPA and the EPD are involved, and are a bit at odds. There's a fired park director, accusations that the state wants to clear cut trees at the park, and the matter of who buried a bunch of drums of what.

I spoke to EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers about this issue late last week (or possibly early this week) and he said the division, responding to a complaint, used a "ground conductivity meter" recently to search two ares in the park.

They found some buried metal rebar, pipes and electric cable but "no drums or cans were found." The search "didn't find anything hazardous" and water testing wasn't done, he said.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Balfour leaving 7th District race, Senate

Update: Up — Looks like we've got some second thoughts here.
A major announcement tonight, through the Georgia Senate Press Office:
Georgia Capitol – This afternoon, Senator Don Balfour, from the 9th District, announced that he will no longer run for John Linder’s 7th Congressional seat.

“Being a Congressman has been something I thought I wanted to do. Needless to say, when John Linder announced that he was not running for re-election, I jumped at the opportunity to be the new voice of leadership. However, for the past three weeks, I have not been at peace about this decision. I feel this is an appropriate time to let all my supporters know that I will also not be seeking reelection for the 9th district senate seat.” ...

Balfour has enjoyed his 18 years in the Senate, representing the 9th district. He hopes to be remembered for helping in the inception the Georgia Gwinnett College, passage of some of the strongest ethics and eminent domain bills in the nation, as well as, tort reform.

“Now I can focus on finishing session well and running an efficient Rules Committee. I’m looking forward to welcoming my son home soon from his service in Afghanistan as well as continuing my career at Waffle House.”
I think it's safe to say the Georgia Senate is going to miss Don Balfour. I cut out a bit of the release above, but nothing that spoke to his reasons for leaving the congressional race.

l-r: U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, Speaker of the House David Ralston, Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour.
Image: Sen. Balfour's The Facebook page.

1.6 percent hospital tax back in play

I feel certain that the Insider Advantage story on this topic goes into far more detail, but I can confirm, per the governor's office, that the 1.6 percent hospital tax/fee is back on the table.

It seems Gov. Perdue's salvo last week against the hospitals brought them back to the negotiating table in a big way. About 40 hospital executives met with the governor the next day (last Friday) at the governor's mansion, according to Perdue Communications Director Bert Brantley.

The message, Brantley said, was that Medicaid reimbursement cuts and the loss of a major sales tax exemption would be worse than the 1.6 percent tax. So, though the details are far from set, the wheels are in motion to go back to Perdue's original budget plan for Medicaid.

Merit pay put on the shelf

You never say never, but it looks like Gov. Perdue's plan to change the way teachers are paid is done for the year.

Full story on the main site:
ATLANTA — Gov. Sonny Perdue’s push to base teacher pay on student test scores and other measures has been shelved.

State Sen. Don Balfour, who is carrying the governor’s legislation through the Senate, said this afternoon that the bill changing the pay structure will be sent to a study committee.
The AJC has also has some coverage of this on it's "Get Schooled" blog.

Keen: Fees bill won't hit House floor today

There's some talk in the halls that the fees bill, which James Salzer wrote about this morning, will be coming to the House floor for a vote today, despite passing Ways and Means just a few hours ago.

That's not the case, House Majority Leader Jerry Keen said. Keen said he expects the bill to come to the floor next week, probably on Tuesday.

Some worried that the House leadership would try to slip the bill through today, since it includes some $100 million in fee increases, and most of that's in the court system. County governments hate the bill because they fund state courts, but the state would take the increased fee money right into its treasury, instead of earmarking it for those courts.

In other news, state court is poorly named.

Bill sponsor state Rep. Richard Smith and Majority Leader Keen in the House Thursday, probably wondering why they call it state court if the state doesn't fund it.

Full spead ahead for tax code overhaul

I wrote yesterday about the new GOP push to overhaul the state tax system.

But what I did not note is that the Senate leadership is on board with the effort, as well as the House, as evidenced by attendees at today's press conference. The bill passed the House Ways and Means Committee today.

So much cooperation, it took two photos to document.
left to right, top to bottom: Jerry Keen, David Ralston, Casey Cagle, Chip Rogers, Jan Jones, Tommie Williams, Ronnie Chance.

Gratuitous tiny owl photos

Today is state parks day at the Georgia state capitol, and this is a full grown eastern screech owl from Amicalola Falls State Park.

"He's a little bit like a chihuahua," naturalist Andrea Tucker said. "He's got this little bitty body, but he's got an attitude."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Macon hotel / motel bill headed to the floor. UPDATE: Nope.

Update: HB 993 is not headed to the floor anymore. Or perhaps it never was. It did not clear the Rules Committee Thursday morning. Rules Chairman Bill Hembree said he didn't know whether it will or not this session.

Now, Ron Fennel, who lobbies for the Georgia hotel association, which is against the bill, came up and thanked Chairman Hembree after the meeting.

"Very well done," he told Hembree.

Hembree said he didn't know why Fennel was thanking him. Fennel said he was simply thanking the chairman for the way he runs rules committee meetings, and it had nothing to do with the bill being held up.

"I haven't talked to him about that bill," Fennel said.

State Rep. David Lucas said Wednesday that he expects HB 993, which allows Macon and Bibb County to raise their hotel / motel tax to help fund the Georgia Sports and Music halls of fame, as well as the historic Douglass Theatre across the street in downtown Macon, to clear the House Rules Committee Thursday morning.

The state's tourism lobby is calling for volunteers to fight it:
This is NOT a fire drill. We need all of you to contact your legislators regarding the negative impact of HB 993. We may well have to defeat it with a floor vote on Monday, and will need you to come to the Capitol. If you have the ability to contact your legislators tonight, please do so.
It's the old floor fight over a local revenue bill that helps fund state museums that Atlanta legislators want to move to Atlanta with money that the state's Convention and Visitors Bureaus think should be theirs during a brutal budget year fight.

I call this one, "When people say politely that they'll work against your bill." (l-r) Joy Walstrum, Allen Peake (R-Macon), Ron Fennel.

Complete tax overhaul effort coming in 2011

Update: Full story on this in The Telegraph.

With the budget crisis continuing to squeeze state government, the effort to overhaul Georgia's tax system is on again.

This time a committee of economists, business leaders and politicians would gather to review the state's entire tax system and suggest changes. They'd look at sales taxes and the 100-plus sales tax exemptions — some of which benefit only specific businesses and groups — in state code. They'd look at reducing income and corporate taxes, as well as the state's capital gains tax.

They'd look at taxing services instead of just products, an idea that has come up before in Georgia.

"Potentially a total overhaul," said state Rep. Larry O'Neal, the measure's sponsor and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which normally oversees tax-code re-writes.

"The concept is that our revenue system has not kept up with our growth," O'Neal said.

By next January the group would put together a series of suggested tax reforms. Those reforms would bypass the normal tax-code writing process and go to a special committee of House and Senate leaders.

If that group approves of the changes, they would head straight to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. Amendments would not be allowed, according to the House Bill 1405, which would set all of this into motion.

That's unusual, but "it's important to keep the politics out of it and analyze it from the policy standpoint," O'Neal said Wednesday.

O'Neal, R-Warner Robins, is not the only high-profile sponsor behind the bill. Speaker of the House David Ralston, House Majority Leader Jerry Keen and House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones have all signed on, making it's passage all but certain in the House.

This review wouldn't seek to do away with property taxes or "impact local taxes at all," O'Neal said.

Update: Insider Advantage has a piece up about this as well.

Speaker cooking up deal on transportation

Correction: This was just a poor headline, though it certainly may be true. The speaker definitely wants his and the governor's transportation bill to clear committee. So not so much a negotiation, as a negotiation tactic.
Here in the House Transportation Committee meeting, members are going through a new substitute bill on transportation funding and waiting for Speaker of the House David Ralston to arrive.

That's about all I know. But he's not dropping by just to say hello, so there's something important in the substitute.

Presumably something the governor won't veto. I'll update as I can.

Update: There are a couple of main points, though I am just starting to look at the new bill itself.
  1. The speaker showed up to basically say, hey, get a bill out. And hurry up, if you don't mind. Or, more exactly, "This is a good bill. This is a bill that Georgia needs. And, frankly, this bill is past due. ... In a legislative process, it's never a winner take all process or system. We don't always get every single thing we want in a bill. ... But at the end of the day the goal is not to lose sight of the good by striving for what, individually, we believe to be the perfect."
  2. The speaker is asking the attorney general whether or not SB 200 (last year's DOT governance bill, which created the position of planning director) did away with congressional balancing.
Still in question: Whether the "opt-out" (see link above for explanation) is still in this year's bill. Gov. Perdue has said he'll veto the bill if it is, and Speaker Ralston was a little evasive when asked about this in the hallway outside the transportation committee meeting.

But he has confidence that a compromise will be reached.

"I don't think we're at deal breaker stage by any means," he said.

Hey, guys. Hurry up and pass my bill so we can put the things you don't like back in it.

Update: I've read the bill and the so-called regional opt out is still in there, though some people don't like calling it that. But this language, which Gov. Perdue has said would lead to a veto, is still in the new substitute:
If a roundtable does not approve the original draft investment list or an amended draft investment list on or before Oct. 15, 2011, then a regional impasse shall be declared and no election shall be held in such special district.
Initially the bill would have allowed the state transportation planning director to break this impasse, finalize the project list and hold a vote.

The bottom line seems to be that the House Transportation Committee is going to pass this thing out tomorrow, with the regional opt out included. The governor's office is going to try to get that language out of the bill some where between the House floor and final passage, which almost certainly will include a House-Senate conference committee.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nine to nada: Endangered sales tax exemptions

Between what House leadership and the governor have said, you can pretty much kiss the back-to-school sales tax holiday goodbye. The governor has also said the sales tax exemption hospitals enjoy is gone.
Correction: I'm not entirely sure I understand the difference, but the governor's office says the hospital exemption it wants to do away with isn't one of the nine that sunsets this year. So there are apparently a couple of them that are probably going away.
But there are seven other sales tax exemptions scheduled to sunset this year, which means they'll go away unless the General Assembly votes to re-up them. Perhaps they're not doomed, but rest assured they are endangered.

A list of the nine up this year, from the House Ways and Means office:
  1. Non-profit health centers.
  2. Non-profit volunteer health clinics.
  3. Liquified petroleum gas/other fuel used in structures where swine are raised.
  4. Food and beverage to qualified food banks.
  5. Overhead materials used by government contractors in performance of contract with the U.S. government.
  6. Gas/fuel/coal costs (above those that existed during 2008 session) used to manufacture property for resale.
  7. Qualified job training organizations.
  8. Annual sales tax holiday.
  9. Motor fuel exemption for public mass transit vehicles and vehicles operated by campus public transportation systems.
State Rep. Virgil Fludd's HB 1065 would roll back every exemption on the books since 2007, cutting them back by 15 percent until 2013.** Fludd's bill is going nowhere, so the target is squarely on exemptions that will go away without a vote.

So it's going to be interesting, politically, if sales tax exemptions for families sending their kids back to school, and for food banks, and for volunteer health clinics, and for military contractors, and for public transit systems all go away, but Delta and Gulfstream, for example, get to keep theirs.

** Clarification: I changed this sentence to make sure it's accurate. The way I had it earlier could have been misconstrued.

Update: Just to give you an idea of how much money sales tax exemptions (not just the nine above, but all of them) mean to different sectors of the economy, here's a chart from an October 2007 report from the Georgia State University Fiscal Research Center.

The chart shows how much more money state and local governments would receive if they did away with exemptions, but retained the ones in the sectors noted.

Jefferson-Jackson ticket deadline Wednesday

Those wanting to attend the annual Georgia Democratic Party dinner need to get a move on. From Tim Alborg with the party:
Wednesday, March 17th at midnight will be your last opportunity to get tickets to the 2010 Jefferson Jackson Dinner in the Thomas B. Murphy Ballroom of the Georgia World Congress Center.

Click here to get your tickets to hear DNC Chair Tim Kaine lay the course for victory in 2010 and beyond. Also, please join us as we honor Georgia Giant award recipients Tommy Irvin and Andy Young.

Last minute sponsorship opportunities are available by calling (678) 278-2102 or emailing me at

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Flamethrower language on the budget

Opinion from the Rome News-Tribune:
INSTEAD OF RUNNING around acting like the proverbial chickens with their heads cut off, the state’s leaders and legislators should simply take a deep breath and then contemplate the navel of their budgetary crisis for a moment. It is born of their own actions, past even more so than present.

Additionally, it’s not that bad.

Well, at least it wouldn’t be as bad if the politicians just stopped doing some of the things originally done for election posturing. And they wouldn't even has to stop it for all time — just until this very bad financial storm passes.

So, the February state revenues were awful — down almost 10 percent from a year earlier, 34 percent since 2008. This should come as a surprise only to those who placed all bets on wishful thinking, such as Gov. Sonny Perdue basing his 2010-11 budget on tax collections starting to go up any minute now.
The newspaper goes on to endorse improved sales tax collections and a rollback in special interest tax exemptions.

Then there is this, from The AJC:
The state has cut $1 billion from education in just 19 months, inexorably turning the screws on local schools. Turns out that was just practice.

Fiscal 2011, which starts July 1, is already a rotten apple on the teacher’s desk.

The avalanche began when DeKalb County school officials said last month that the system would be short $88 million in its 2011 budget. Since then, so many other shoes have dropped, it’s starting to look like a Rack Room out there.
It's starting to look like something out there, that's for sure.

Friday, March 12, 2010

GBPI fixes the budget

Albeit with a $450 million tax increase. But, hey, ledgers only have two sides, you know?

From the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute think tank:
Georgia is one of a shrinking handful of states that allow income tax filers who itemize to deduct their state income taxes.
Wait. What?
Repealing the deduction for state income taxes brings in badly needed revenue — an estimated $450 million.1 In K-12 education alone, $450 million could have prevented the six furlough days and the additional cuts to the education funding formula in the Amended Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

Many states allow taxpayers to claim the same itemized deductions at the state level as they do at the federal level. However, most states require taxpayers to adjust their federal itemized deductions by adding state income taxes deducted at the federal level back into their taxable income. Most states sensibly disallow the federal deduction for state income taxes in order to prevent the bizarre outcome of state taxpayers using their own state income tax bills to reduce their state income taxes.
I think that's clear. If you stare at it and focus and maybe read it twice, then email your dad who's a CPA and ask him to explain how this deduction works again.

Obviously, all tax policy should be like that.

GBPI has argued for a revenue/tax increase for some time now. They are usually very good with their numbers, though the $450 million figure is sourced to tax modeling by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in March 2010.

The other states with this policy are Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont, according to the GBPI. You can download their four page report here.

They've also crunched the numbers on who this would effect:
... middle-income taxpayers affected (less than 15 percent of this income group) would pay an average of $89 more and Georgians in the top one percent of income, most of whom would be affected, would pay an average of $3,133 more.
So there you go. It hits the wealthy a little bit*. For comparison's sake, the state saves about $45 million a day when it furloughs state employees across the board, according to the governor's office. So this is 10 furlough days worth of new revenue.

* a poor choice of words, not meant to suggest math was done today by this blog. Because it wasn't.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gov to hospitals: Don't mess with me

Update: If you haven't read them yet, Aaron Sheinen (AJC) and Shannon McCaffrey (AP) wrote good budget stories Thursday evening, drawing things together well.
Gov. Sonny Perdue just announced an overhaul of his budget proposal. He lowered the revenue estimate, moved some stimulus money up to 2010, announced some more across-the-board cuts and said he expects an extra $96 million from fee increases in 2011.

But the big thing is that the 1.6 percent hospital tax is gone. In it's place is a 10.25 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursements and a repeal of the sales tax exemptions hospitals enjoy on their equipment purchases.

It was pretty clear that the governor has had enough of the "don't cut us" mentality from hospitals. He's not on board with a tobacco tax. He sent a message.

Said the governor: "Frankly, I don't think the hospital community has been fair."

Now, below is a picture of Jimmy Lewis and Earl Rogers, who represent a large portion of "the hospital community" up here at the Capitol. They responded to Perdue's new budget proposals a few minutes after the governor's press conference.

Looks like they got the message.

The House Appropriations Committee is meeting tomorrow morning. We'll see whether they're on board with these changes. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said today that the House, Senate and governor generally agree on 90 percent of the budget. Perdue evaded a question this afternoon about what's in the other 10 percent.

Update: That appropriations meeting has been moved to Monday at 2 p.m. Also, I caught Speaker of the House David Ralston coming off the floor to talk about this 90 percent thing.

He declined to identify programs in the 10 percent. As for whether hospitals have given enough in this process, it's hard to say what the speaker thinks.

"We're together that every sector of the economy has been hit. ..." he said. "Some more than others. ... The only fair solution is for all sectors to participate."

I'm not sure whether he actually said anything there or not, but I'm leaning toward yeah, he kind of did. And I wouldn't want to be a hospital executive right now.

Class size increase bill moves, property tax reform passes Senate

State Sen. Chip Rogers SB 346 passed the Senate unanimously a moment ago. Other reform efforts (HR 1 and HB 517) passed the House Ways and Means Committee this morning.

Also, bills to allow public school class sizes to increase and cut out some tests passed the House Education Committee this morning. But legislation to start the school year later in August got hit by a truck full of no votes.

Details on the education stuff here.

Perdue to talk budget at 4 p.m.

Presumably he'll talk about the state revenue estimate. I doubt he'll be raising it. From the governor's office:
ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue will hold a press conference TODAY, Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 4 p.m. to make a budget announcement.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cooperation photo Wednesday

I mentioned yesterday that the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house have been meeting routinely to work on the budget. Well, here's purported photographic proof, taken a couple of weeks ago in the governor's office.

Image: Alana Joyner, governor's office photographer.

Feel free to click on the picture to enlarge it, so you can see everyone's expression, and the governor's boots. Caption suggestions welcomed.

Update on ethics: House and Senate will still police themselves, qualifying fees going up

The much ballyhooed push to rework the House and Senate's ethics rules in the wake of Speaker Glenn Richardson's resignation continues at the state Capitol, House Ethics Chairman Joe Wilkinson said today.

Several bills are being merged into one and being reviewed by leadership, constitutional scholars and ethics experts, he said.

"What we are finding is that the current laws are among the strongest in the country," Rep. Wilkinson said.

Some changes will be made, but it looks like the House and Senate are going to continue to police themselves when it comes to ethics complaints against members. Though some complaints can already be filed with the State Ethics Commission, Wilkinson said he doesn't see a problem with the way the House and Senate ethics committees, and their joint ethics committee, review complaints against members.

"I have no problem with it whatsoever, and I consider it an insult that someone would say that these men and women would not uphold the law," Wilkinson said.

You may remember this, where the joint ethics committee dismissed a complaint against former Speaker Richardson in which Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn said the speaker's affair with a lobbyist was common knowledge.

Turns out, it kind of was. But "everyone knows it's true is not evidence," Wilkinson said Wednesday, repeating the argument made when the issue was dismissed. Wilkinson said he also wants to put some sanctions into the ethics rules to deter frivolous complaints. He said a bill will be ready to move in the House before cross over day, which is scheduled for March 25.

Oh, and qualifying fees for public office will go up, he said. Wilkinson said he doesn't know how much yet, but a 10 percent increase has been discussed. The money would fund the State Ethics Commission and might be enough to "build up a reserve" for the SEC, which has seen some budget cuts in recent years.

Abortion debate nears House floor

Update: I put a few more details in the newspaper version of this story.
The chances of a full-blown abortion debate on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives just got a lot better.

House Bill 1155 passed committee this evening 7-6. It would hit doctors with criminal penalties if they preform an abortion knowing that a woman has been coerced to get that abortion because of the baby's sex or race.

This sends the bill to the Rules Committee, which could send it the House floor soon. I don't know the leadership's thinking on this bill, or whether they want this debate, which will get into accusations of eugenics, or this law, or the legal challenges that are sure to follow.

But proponents and opponents I spoke to this evening said they expect this bill to clear rules and make it to the floor.

Bobby Franklin: My rights don't obligate you

I'm listening now to debate on House Bill 1155, which would make doctors liable to criminal action if they perform an abortion knowing that it's being sought because of the race or sex of the child.

And state Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-The Fringe, just had a good one:
"I've heard statements that a person has a right to health care, a right to housing. And I just want to caution us that, since our rights come from our creator, they do not carry corresponding obligations on another person to affirmatively do something. My right to speak does not obligate you to listen. My right to publish does not obligate Rep. Montgomery to purchase what I publish. My right to worship does not require anyone to pay for my preacher. I just caution you on how you loosely throw around the word 'rights.'"
Anyone want to argue with that?

Tom Murphy: 1924 - 2007

They hung former Speaker of the House Tom Murphy's portrait in the Capitol this morning, just outside the main doors to the House of Representatives.

Johnson: We need zero-based budgeting

From former state Sen. Eric Johnson's gubernatorial campaign. He made this announcement in Macon:
Former Senator Eric Johnson, Republican candidate for Governor, today announced his plans to reform the state budget process. As Governor, Johnson will instruct agency heads to implement zero based budgeting and partner with the private sector to ensure that state government focuses on the most essential core functions.

“As Governor, I will direct all state agency heads to implement zero based budgeting so that I, the legislature, and Georgia taxpayers will know exactly what services government is providing and what it costs to provide these services,” said Johnson. “Like the private sector, government should be in a position to make informed decisions based on the total actual costs of different programs, not just changes in expenditures.”

In the Senate, Johnson voted repeatedly to implement zero based budgeting—most recently in 2009.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

HB 168, I knew you'd be trouble

Margaret Newkirk at The AJC:
In its current version, HB 168 preserves and expands the very subsidies it once eliminated. It cuts another kind of rural phone subsidy in exchange, to the benefit mostly of AT&T.
The House passed HB 168 Monday with a very small amendment, sending it back to the Senate. This telecommunications bill came up last year, and deals with exchange fees and universal access charges. I bet you couldn't find 20 members of the Georgia House of Representatives that could explain it to you fully and accurately.*

For example, I selected this paragraph from the bill at random:
As used in this article, the term 'retail telecommunications service' means the offering of two-way interactive communications for a fee directly to end users and does not include the obligations of an incumbent local exchange carrier as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 251, pursuant to 47 U.S.C. Sections 251, 252, and 271 and the Federal Communications Commission's rules and regulations implementing such sections.
It passed the House Monday 145-23. All three of the governor's floor leaders voted against the bill, and the governor's office has a problem or problems with the bill that will be discussed as the House and Senate discuss the very small House amendment that is the only difference between the passed House and Senate versions.

I'm thinking of writing a weekend story about this. So if you know the owners of any rural telephone exchanges, or the president of AT&T or something, give them my number.

* Actual bet proposal, if you feel lucky.