Georgia Politics for January 29, 2015

29
Jan

Georgia Politics for January 29, 2015

On January 29, 1779, British forces captured Augusta, Georgia.

Walter F George Vienna Georgia

Walter F. George was born on January 29, 1878 in Preston, the county seat for Webster County, Georgia. Ron Daniels has a brief bio of the United States Senator who gave his name to a Law School, a courthouse, and a lake. The photo above is a bust in the town square of Vienna, Georgia, in Dooly County, where George made his home.

On January 29, 1892, the Coca Cola Company was incorporated in Georgia in Fulton County Superior Court.

On January 29, 1955, Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin signed legislation granting the power to take land needed for the Stone Mountain Park through condemnation if negotiations to buy it fell through.

On January 29, 1977, Congressman Andrew Young resigned his seat to accept the nomination by President Carter as United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

On January 29, 1998, a bomb exploded in a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic, killing a police officer. Eric Rudolph would later admit to setting that bomb, along with the Centennial Park bombing in 1996, and the bombing of a Sandy Springs abortion clinic and an Atlanta bar in 1997.

General Assembly Committee Meetings

8:00am – 9:00am House Natural Resources & Environment – 506 Coverdell LOB
10:00am – 11:00am House Convenes
12:00pm – 1:00pm Senate Rules Upon Adjournment – 450 CAP
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Interstate Cooperation – 123 Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Science & Technology – 318 Coverdell LOB
1:00pm – 2:00pm Senate Health & Human Services – 450 Capitol
1:00pm – 2:00pm House Governmental Affairs – 506 Coverdell LOB
2:00pm – 3:00pm House Judiciary Civil – 132 Capitol
2:30pm – 3:30pm Fleming Sub of House Judy Civil – 132 Capitol
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Veterans, Military, and Homeland Security – 125 Capitol
3:00pm – 4:00pm Senate Higher Education – 310 Coverdell LOB

 

Georgia Senate to consider SB1, insurance for Autism

Today, the Georgia Senate will consider Senate Bill 1 by Senator Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton), which will require some healthcare plans to cover certain treatments for children six or under who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Yesterday was declared Autism Day under Senate Resolution 56 by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell). Dave Williams of the Atlanta Business Chronicle wrote about SB1,

Studies have shown that early intervention helps children with autism get back into school programs and interacting with other children as soon as possible.

“Autism is becoming an epidemic that Georgia cannot afford to ignore,” said Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, chief sponsor of Senate Bill 1. “We are taking steps to ensure the public and private sector work in concert to provide the best outcomes for these young Georgians and their families.”

From WABE’s Michelle Wirth,

[T]he [Senate Insurance and Labor] committee unanimously approved the bill. Those who favor it say early treatment would reduce state costs, because it’s twice as expensive to put a child in a special education classroom versus a normal one.

The bill now goes before the full Senate, where’s it’s likely to pass. But the legislation is expected to face trouble in the House, where Speaker David Ralston has already expressed concerns about the cost to businesses. Last year, the bill failed after being combined with a bill to legalize the use of cannabis oil for those with seizure disorders.

House takes up Supplemental Budget for FY2015

The state budget process comprises two major bills each year: the Supplemental Budget for the current Fiscal Year trues up accounting in the budget passed in the previous session to bring spending in line with actual revenues; after that, the House passes a forward-looking budget based on revenue projections for the next Fiscal Year. Today, the Georgia House of Representatives will debate House Bill 75, the Supplemental Budget for FY2015.

Click here for an overview of the annual budgeting process.

Proposed cuts to healthcare insurance for education employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, included in the FY 2016 budget, are seeing pushback from local systems and employees.

“The first fundamental thing to start with is how important the work is these employees do,” said Coweta County School Superintendent Dr. Steve Barker. “They are essential employees … (and) serve a critical role for us.”

“It would really discourage me from driving,” said Loretta Herring, a bus driver for the school system. “I’ve been here for 19 years. It’s not for the pay. It’s for the benefits and for the kids.”

Herring had planned on staying a bus driver with CCSS until retirement, but if this proposal passes, her plans will change.

“I can go someplace else and get better pay but not the benefits like I have now,” she said.

Deal told media outlets the issue behind this proposed health care coverage cut was one of “fairness.”

“We have to be mindful that to require someone to work at least 30 hours (to receive coverage) is also a requirement we have for other state employees,” Deal said in an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “And if we make exceptions …. then in fairness, we have to look at employees who are in the state system.”

House Transportation Funding Proposal Unveiled

Yesterday, State House leadership unveiled a plan to fund needed transportation infrastructure repairs and maintenance.

• 29.2 cents per gallon excise tax, replacing existing excise and sales taxes*

• $100 million in bonds to be issues for transit projects

• A hipster fee on fully-electric vehicles of $200/year for personal vehicles and $300/year for commercial vehicles – it’s hard to imagine a fee more narrowly tailored to primarily hit liberals – proceeds dedicated to transit

* An excise tax is levied on a unit sale, like a gallon of gas or a fifth of liquor and the amount does not change if the unit price goes up – so the proposed excise tax would raise 29.2 cents if gas is at $2 per gallon and 29.2 cents if gas is at $4 per gallon. Sales taxes are tied to the actual price and fluctuate as a function of price. Additionally, excise taxes are usually “baked into” the cost shown at the pump or on the shelf, while sales taxes are added at the cash register.

Dave Williams of the Atlanta Business Chronicle writes of some of the challenges faced by the legislation.

First, about half of the money it intends to raise – $500 million – would come from a new 6-cents-per-gallon local excise tax on gasoline, subject to public votes in cities and counties. The tax would replace the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) many communities now are collecting, once those taxes expire.

“They’re taking what used to be local revenue and giving us the ability to replace it if the locals have the political will,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. “We’ll have to go out and sell that to the voters.”

Another sticky issue is how legislative budget writers would replace the $175 million a year the state’s general fund currently receives from the fourth penny of the state sales tax on gasoline for such purposes as education and public safety. That fourth penny, along with the rest of the sales tax, would be replaced by the proposed excise tax.

It’s worth noting here that local governments are not required to use their current excise tax proceeds for transportation and in many localities, the funds are used for part of the general government operations, further complicating things for cities and counties. Under the plan, local governments would have an ability to replace part of the lost revenue by levying additional local taxes.

I imagine that county and municipal governments are hard at work discussing the transportation funding plan, in much the same way you or I would be busy discussing the issue if someone redirected our monthly paycheck into their account and told us to go get a second job.

Great discussion of the issue comes from Walter Jones of Morris News Service,

The complicated proposal includes cutting undisclosed non-transportation expenditures now funded with part of the state’s sales tax on gasoline, converting that sales tax to an excise tax, indexing the new excise tax for inflation and improving mileage, imposing a fee on electric vehicles and borrowing lots of money with bonds.

“It’s really not a sleight of hand,” said House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, a tax lawyer who once chaired the House Ways and Means Committee.

That [29.2 cents] figure includes the sales tax local governments charge on gasoline purchases when their voters approved for special construction projects over limited time periods. Those taxes would continue to be collected until they expire as scheduled, and then cities, counties and school districts could impose new, per-gallon taxes as long those funds are spent only on transportation.

“We don’t feel like that is a tax increase,” said House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla.

He said that by replacing the tax that local governments impose, the legislature isn’t raising taxes. But Clint Mueller, a lobbyist for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said the cities, counties and schools could claim the same thing.

“If we both ‘replace’ the same amount, somebody is doubling down,” he said.

And from Kathleen Foody with the Associated Press,

Local government associations already expressed concern Wednesday with the package, arguing cities’ and counties’ $500 million share of the sales tax on gas would be lost to the state. The package would allow local officials to increase their local excise tax on gasoline and dedicate that money to transportation projects.

“They’re taking what used to be local revenue and giving us the ability to replace it, but obviously the locals have to have the political will to replace it,” said Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

Governor Nathan Deal released a statement on the transportation plan, here in its entirety,

The release of a transportation bill is a positive step forward in the process of delivering for Georgians the transportation improvements we desperately need,” said Deal. “There’s still a long way to go as the plan winds through the General Assembly, but we now have a starting point and something to build on. We know what our challenges are – they are well documented – and we’re now working toward the solutions. I am committed this year to passing legislation that will provide for Georgia the transportation infrastructure it needs to keep our people and goods moving efficiently throughout the state for the next generation.”

Here’s my two-cent political analysis: this funding plan allows some folks to go out there in public and say with a straight face that it is not a tax increase. If it passes, however, I would expect local governments to raise local excise taxes to replace the money that has been gobbled up, and in doing so, point their fingers directly at any local legislators who voted for it and say, “they forced us to raise taxes on y’all.” And after that, you might see some state and county officials deciding to run for the state legislature against those same incumbents, accusing them of forcing a tax hike.

News from around Georgia

United States Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) will speak to the Morehouse College Republicans on Monday, February 2, 2015 at 10:30 AM at Martin Luther King Jr. Chapel on the Morehouse campus.

The Judicial Nominations Commission, in its near-infinite wisdom, has released a short list for nomination to fill two judicial seats in DeKalb County.

Among the names submitted to Gov. Nathan Deal by his Judicial Nominating Commission are two prosecutors, a state lawmaker with a bankruptcy practice, a former State Court judge who went back to representing plaintiffs, a longtime federal public defender, the owner of a domestic law practice, an assistant attorney general and a white collar criminal defense lawyer.

Deal’s office has not yet said when it will interview the candidates to replace Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker, who is stepping down in March, and State Court Judge Eleanor Ross, who was recently appointed to the federal bench.

Notable from a political perspective is the short-listing of State Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), though all the nominees are very impressive.

• Mike Jacobs, 39, is a six-term Republican state representative who sits as chairman of the MARTA Oversight Committee, which reviews the budget of Atlanta’s transit system. In a letter of nomination to the JNC, former State Bar of Georgia President Ken Shigley referred to Jacobs as “practically the founding father of the city of Brookhaven.”

I seem to recall having said at some (many) point(s) that the best way to be appointed to the bench in Georgia today is from a seat on a lower court bench or a seat in the Georgia General Assembly. I’m struggling to remember to whom I said that.

 

Jamie Ensley of Atlanta has been elected President of the national Log Cabin Republicans, the first elected from the deep South.

Georgia State economist Rajeev Dhawan spoke to the Mayor’s Luncheon in Newnan, addressing Georgia’s state economy.

The days of using unemployment rates as an indicator of good economic health are long gone, according to Rajeev Dhawan, director and professor of the Economic Forecasting Center of the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University.

“Construction is big in Atlanta,” Dhawan said. “The two new stadiums for the Falcons and Braves will create a ripple effect in the next few years.”

However, Midtown Atlanta is seeing the rise of 5,000 to 6,000 residential units in one square mile. Dhawan believes that millennials are choosing to cluster their residential options – spurning automotive transportation along with MARTA.

“They want to live where they work and don’t want the hassle of a drivers license,” he said. “Fulton County is currently producing 80 percent of the multi-family building permits in metro Atlanta.”

Dhawan’s forecast for Georgia’s health care sector isn’t as optimistic.

“The health care sector that used to add around 15,000 jobs annually only added 3,000 last year,” Dhawan said. “Other sectors have picked up the slack, such as the film industry.”

Georgia film production accounted for $1 billion in direct spending for 2014, but still remains just 0.7 percent of the GDP of Georgia.

University System of Georgia online courses set an enrollment record this semester with 6700 students, up 40% from last year.

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