Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 27, 2012

Recently, the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter has taken in three litters of puppies, causing a space shortage. This means increasing euthanasia, and all dogs there are at risk. These three pit mix puppies are among those who are available for adoption today.

Also among the dogs at risk at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter are this German Shepherd baby boy with awesome ears, and a senior Pomeranian who deserves to live his sunset years in a loving home.

Between now and December 23d, all dogs and cats at Gwinnett County’s shelter can be adopted for the low cost of $30.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Newt Gingrich left the door open for another presidential run in 2016.

The former Republican presidential candidate and House Speaker said he has not ruled out running for president in 2016 — but first the GOP must take on a “very serious analysis” of what went wrong in 2012, Gingrich said.

“I have no idea at this stage,” Gingrich said, referring to another run for the White House.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says that Georgia might become winnable for Democrats in 2016.

“Georgia is an achievable target for Democrats in 2016,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a frequent Obama surrogate during the campaign. “What you’re going to see is the Democratic party making a drive through the geography from Virginia to Florida.”

That will be easier said than done — particularly when the Democratic nominee is not Obama — but powerful forces in the region are eroding GOP dominance. The trends pose difficulties for a Republican Party shifting toward Dixie since the “Southern strategy” of the Nixon era, which sought to encourage white flight from the Democratic Party.

In Florida, the portion of all votes cast by whites this year fell to 66 percent, down from 73 percent in 2000. In Georgia, the number of white voters declined while African-American registrations increased nearly 6 percent and Hispanic voters grew by 36 percent.

Legislators who represent Clayton County are determined to ensure that their county remains the butt of late-night talkshow humor by defending Sheriff-elect Victor Hill.

From an article by Rhonda Cook at the AJC:

To remove Hill is “totally disrespectful to the voters of Clayton County,” said Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. “Allow the judicial system to do what they do.”

Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, has drafted a letter asking the governor to leave Hill alone until the criminal case is resolved with a trial.

“It seems to me, governor, that when certain people can’t get their wishes at the voting booths, then they employ raw, unmitigated, egregious and flagrant attacks on the Voting Rights Act,” he wrote. “This is unconscionable. The people of Clayton County are tired of this shabby and condescending treatment from people who don’t even live here.”

From Jim Galloway’s Political Insider:

Once Hill takes his oath of office in January, Gov. Nathan Deal has the option of suspending Hill until his legal issues are resolved. The Georgia Sheriffs’ Association last week recommended the governor take that route, and even suggested a replacement.

[S]tate Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale. “I was appalled and taken aback when I heard the sheriff’s association giving a recommendation for a replacement of our sheriff-elect,” she said. “The voters were crystal clear when they elected [the] sheriff-elect. They were crystal clear when they rejected the former sheriff.”

Seay said the sheriff’s association had acted “prematurely,” and in “total disrespect to the voters in Clayton County.”

Expanding Medicaid would cost the State of Georgia “only” $2.5 billion dollars, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, while allowing the state to cover more residents and bringing in $33 billion in federal money. The only problem? Georgia can’t afford the $2.5 billion, which liberals call a “modest increase in spending.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has said Georgia can’t afford to expand the program, which is already facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars, even with the substantial federal help. Deal’s budget office pegs the cost of Obamacare and a Medicaid expansion to the state at $3.7 billion through 2022.

Deal has also expressed concern that the federal government — already facing a $16.3 trillion deficit — won’t hold up its end of the bargain.

Advocates of entitlement programs have long lowballed future costs to taxpayers, Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said.

“Regardless of whether the new costs are $2.5 billion, $4.5 billion or $6.5 billion, the state of Georgia doesn’t have the money to pay for it without a huge tax increase, crowding out all other spending or both,” Robinson said.

“For a modest increase in spending, we get a pretty dramatic increase in coverage,” said Tim Sweeney, a health care policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

“Someone thinks it’s free money when it’s not,” he said. “If we go bankrupt, there’s no way to bail out the United States,” said Ron Bachman, a senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an Atlanta-based think tank focused on market-oriented proposals.

Last night, Common Cause held a public forum to discuss financing of a proposed new Atlanta stadium.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta Falcons have been negotiating a deal for a potential new stadium for the past two years. The facility, which would cost a minimum of $948 million but is expected to surpass $1 billion, would replace the 20-year-old Georgia Dome.

More than 100 people came to the Monday evening forum organized by Common Cause Georgia, which featured Georgia World Congress Center executive director Frank Poe on the panel.

“Our focus has been to try to get the best deal possible for the authority and the state of Georgia” for a new stadium, Poe said.

Common Cause Georgia board member Wyc Orr, a panelist, said more information is needed on what infrastructure or other costs the city of Atlanta, the state and Fulton County could be responsible for. “Those are critical details that we think should be known in advance,” Orr said.

Georgia Tech associate professor Benjamin Flowers, another panelist, called for more discussion on what the public could get in return for its investment.

A poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July found that 67 percent of respondents oppose using hotel-motel tax money for the building.

Today, Georgia Power executives will appear before the Georgia Public Service Commission to update the agency on progress and expenses in the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

Twice a year, the utility’s executives testify before the commission about the plant’s progress. On Tuesday, they will review expenses from January to June so the commission can determine if they are permissible and should be passed onto customers.

Georgia Power has already reported $900 million in possible cost overruns. But the expenses are the subject of a lawsuit so officials said there won’t be testimony about them Tuesday.

Commission chair Tim Echols says the hearings help decide who should bear added costs.

“Commissioners essentially become the risk-sharing mechanism for consumers,” he said in an interview. “We’re their eyes and ears on that board, making a decision whether things are passed along to them via their electric bill or whether those expenses are born by Southern Company and Georgia Power.”

Mark Williams is a spokesman for Georgia Power.

“The project is progressing well,” he said in an interview. “We are more than one-third of the way through with the construction. There will be some details about the costs — all the costs that have been expended to this point on the project.”

The United States Energy Department is seeking plans for a demonstration project to address nuclear waste storage. The SRS Community Ruse Organization is currently studying whether the Savannah River Site might have a role in a storage solution.

That study, to be completed early next year, is not specifically connected to the recent demonstration project notice, but would certainly explore the site’s possible role in projects involving outside locations or businesses.

“There is a potential that SRS could play a part of it, but we haven’t heard of anything specific to that proposal,” McLeod said, noting that such a demonstration project would likely require participation from a utility-owned, actively operating power reactor.

Walter Jones writes that energy production policy may be shifting at the Georgia Public Service Commission.

What happened is the Georgia Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to endorse efforts by a start-up company to overturn a law, the Territorial Act, that has divided the state for four decades into geographic monopolies for 94 utilities run by cities, rural cooperatives and the giant Georgia Power Co.

The upstart, Georgia Solar Utilities Inc., seeks its own monopoly as a generator of solar power with permission to sell to retail customers. Since it can’t produce electricity when the sun isn’t shining, it would always be dependent on other utilities for supplemental power as well as for transmission, billing and customer support.

The commission vote doesn’t guarantee General Assembly agreement, but it does provide a push.

The commissioner who sponsored the resolution, Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, had been in the legislature in 1973 and voted in favor of the Territorial Act.

“I was there in 1973 when the act — legislation was passed,” he said. “Solar wasn’t even in the dictionary, I don’t think, at that time, much less photovoltaic…. It was something that wasn’t anticipated at that time.”

He argued for removing obstacles to consumers who want access to more power generated from renewable sources.

McDonald wasn’t the only veteran policymaker whose vote demonstrated a change of position. Commissioner Doug Everett, a great-grandfather and conservative legislator in the 1990s, also supported McDonald’s resolution.

“You know, everybody in here realizes I’ve always fought solar because I did not think the technology was there for cost effectiveness. But it’s changed, technology has changed,” he said.

The cost of photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity has plummeted in recent years and by 30 percent in the first six months of this year due to a price war between Chinese producers. The result is solar is becoming competitive without tax breaks, mandates and subsidies from other energy sources, Everett said.

“But something else has changed that disturbs me even more, and very few people mention this. But this (federal) administration has said it’s going to destroy the coal industry,” he said.

The Dougherty County Commission voted to levy a 2% excise tax on energy used in manufacturing.

Votes by Georgia counties on the excise tax, which Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard stressed was a “continuation” of special-purpose local-option sales tax and local-option sales tax funds already being collected by the county, became necessary when the state approved 2012 legislation to phase out the 4 percent energy tax that the states collects from those businesses over the next four years.

“I’d like to reiterate that this is not a new tax on our manufacturers,” District 1 Commissioner Lamar Hudgins said. “We’re voting to continue collecting the local tax.”

Governor Nathan Deal previously said that repeal of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing was an important component in attracting new jobs from Caterpillar and Baxter International.

Former Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Fanning Lasseter will report to federal prison next month to begin serving her sentence for accepting bribes in association with rezoning votes.

Lasseter, who was mayor of Duluth for a decade before becoming a county commissioner, will begin her 33-month sentence for bribery Dec. 12 in a Marianna, Fla. prison, according to an order filed in federal court before Thanksgiving.

In the face of a lawsuit challenging Gwinnett County’s funding of Partnership Gwinnett with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the County Commission may double down with another payment.

This time, though, the county’s annual Partnership Gwinnett agreement — on Tuesday’s zoning hearing agenda — stipulates that the money must go to a new nonprofit set up for the economic development program, keeping the money from mingling with the chamber’s private donations.

“With the need for jobs and business investment, I believe that it is critical we continue to focus on economic development,” Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said Monday, lending her support to the program credited with bringing 12,000 jobs to the county. “I also believe that combining resources and efforts across community segments strengthens Gwinnett County’s position relative to other communities with which we must compete.”

Pat Robertson’s Regent University will continue to pursue federal intellectual property claims against a renamed Georgia Regent University in Augusta.

The University of Georgia wants to aggressively invest in research to move into the elite circle of national research universities. Georgia Tech has received $1.8 million in federal grant money to actually perform research into microbial diversity. Football loyalties aside, which approach do you think will be more welcome in the Appropriations Committee this Session?

For more news on Georgia education issues, visit www.GaNewsDigest.com and look for the Education heading. The website is updated throughout the day and also features sections on Politics, Energy, and Transportation issues.

The consolidation of two hospitals in the Albany area is before the United States Supreme Court as the Federal Trade Commission charges that the merger was anti-competitive.

The justices heard arguments in the federal government’s claim that two private corporations used a public hospital authority to complete a deal that left one company as the owner of the only two hospitals in Albany, Ga. The Federal Trade Commission says the deal violates federal antitrust law.

The question at the high court is whether an exception in antitrust law for actions taken by a state or its agencies — in this case, the hospital authority — shields the transaction from federal concerns.

Lower federal courts allowed Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to buy Palmyra Medical Center from Hospital Corporation of America for $195 million over the FTC’s objection.

Georgia DOT will try to use more small businesses as part of a federal initiative.

Beginning next year, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to increase efforts to encourage and help small businesses in doing business with the department and its consultants and contractors, state officials said last week.

As part of a federal initiative designed to foster increased nationwide small-business participation in government contracting, DOT plans to promote opportunities for eligible small businesses though its acquisition of materials and professional and technical services, as well as transportation consultant and construction contracts.

The goal of the program will be to facilitate such opportunities “of a size and scope that can reasonably be performed by competing small businesses,” including Disadvantaged Business Enterprises, states a press release from the DOT.

The AJC writes that massive overtime payments to MARTA employees raise safety concerns.

MARTA Police Officer Jeremiah Perdue puts in massive work weeks protecting the transit-riding public. He worked enough overtime to more than triple his pay, taking home nearly $163,000 in the 12 months ending in June.

Perdue, who earned $108,000 in overtime in one year , wasn’t alone in working excessive hours. About 130 police officers and 90 bus drivers boosted their salaries by 50 percent that fiscal period, with 55 officers and 20 drivers nearly doubling their pay. A handful, like Perdue, earned more in overtime than they earned in regular salary, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While some might applaud such a work ethic, the overtime logged by MARTA bus drivers and police officers raises serious financial and safety concerns for the nation’s ninth-largest transit agency.

MARTA rules allow those employees to work 16 hours straight, but sleep deprivation experts say such schedules impair judgment and make drivers, police officers and others who work in potentially life-threatening situations a danger to both themselves and the public.

I suspect State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-City of Brookhaven), who chairs the legislative committee that oversees MARTA, will raise financial concerns about this as well.

The City of Dunwoody added starting its own school system to its list of legislative priorities for 2013.

“It’s not about the city of Dunwoody and our school system,” said Council [Member] John Heneghan. “It’s about local control and our school system. When you work at the capitol it’s not about a municipality, it’s about what is best for the general populace of the state of Georgia.”

Meanwhile, the left-behinds in North DeKalb are exploring creating yet another city.

The new Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association (BWENA) sponsored the information-only meeting at Oak Grove Methodist Church.

“People underestimate how complicated it is,” former legislator Kevin Levitas, who hosted the meeting, said. “It takes a couple years to get a city up and running. People have to understand they are in for a very long haul, with some heated discussions.”

State Sen. Fran Millar, state Rep. Tom Taylor and former state senator Dan Weber described the process Dunwoody went through before it was incorporated.

The Cobb County Commission will figure out how to dispose of an $18 million dollar surplus; Commission Chair Tim Lee proposed “a plan to allocate the additional money includes paying off debt, rolling back the county’s millage rate by .2 mills and technology upgrades to the county’s court system.”

A wildfire in North Georgia has closed the approach trail for the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp is stepping down to start her own environmental consulting firm.

“She hit the ground running and has gotten us in good position,” said Don Stack, an attorney with Stack & Associates, which represents the Riverkeeper. “She probably decided it’s an appropriate time to take a breath and have a normal life.”

When I read a Savannah Morning News headline that “The hunt is on at Bethesda Academy,” my first thought was that I thought the hunting season for high school students started in December.

Over the last three years students enrolled in the historic school and home for boys have helped clear pine thickets, planted native grasses and converted 400 acres into a lakeside sanctuary for wild birds and the hundreds of quail they raise each year.

Now the public can book guided quail and pheasant hunts at the Bethesda Sanctuary.

They’ll even train your dogs to hunt.

“We’re talking about sporting dogs,” said Tom Brackett, director of the Wildlife Management Program at Bethesda. “We can’t train your French poodle.”

True fact: poodles were bred to retrieve waterfowl.

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