Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for November 30, 2012


The litter of five puppies above was abandoned in a convenience store parking lot and the three girls and two boys will be available for individual adoption beginning Sunday from the Bainbridge Humane Society.

A popular Christmas season fundraiser for local rescue groups and humane societies is the Pet Pic with Santa. Here’s a list of several places to have your dog or cat photographed with Santa.

Gwinnett County is having photos with Santa at their Animal Shelter, as well as discounted $30 adoptions through December 23d.

We understand the potency of using dogs in marketing, but sometimes you really need an outside opinion on whether your business can really use a dog in its ads. Exhibit one is this display ad from a Hall County urologist.

While they don’t say it, I can only assume from the advertisement that “no needles” combined with a photo of a dog with two tennis balls in its mouth means your vasectomy will be performed by a labrador retriever working without benefit of anesthesia. Hope the dog isn’t named Chopper. [language warning at that link]

Angels Among Us rescued one of the most pitiful severely-neglected dogs I’ve seen and is racking up veterinary bills to find out what he needs. Please consider donating to his care if you are able. If you give online, please note in the online form that you learned about Harding from GaPundit.com. When rescues know where the money comes from it is helpful to them, and to us as we are gaining credibility with rescue groups, which I believe will help us save more animals.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Governor Nathan Deal’s experience in Congress will be useful as he monitors the fiscal negotiations and assesses the impact on Georgia.

“When you’re looking at a project where 70 percent of the cost is expected to be paid by the federal government, that first step of getting it into the federal budget and approved is critical.”

Deal recently said he’d ask state lawmakers for an additional $50 million this year to deepen the port so it can accommodate the larger cargo ships expected when the Panama Canal is expanded in 2015.

If Deal’s request is approved, it’ll bring the state’s share to $231 million. The project’s total price tag is $652 million.

Whether or not Congress can reach a debt reduction deal by the end of the year, federal funds are expected to be tougher to come by in 2013. Nonetheless, Deal says the project is in a good position.

“This is a difficult time to get any new projects in the federal budget but we are hopeful. We think the merits of the project hopefully will be able to convince those in Washington to include it in the next budget.”

State Senator Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and spoke with WABE’s Dennis O’Hayer about the impact of Washington’s negotiations on Georgia’s budget.

“As far as the state budget is concerned, there are some effects that would happen that maybe aren’t as severe as the overall impact on the state from sequestration. What we as a state would do, as far as those cuts that flow through our budget, we’re going to look at those individually and on a case-by-case project decide if we need to try to find the funds to replace any or part of that.”

Mediation with attorneys involved in the lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to stop the Savannah Harbor Expansion and dredging of the Savannah River is taking place in Charleston. Because Charlestonians are historically dispassionate about negotiations involving the federal government.

The Georgia Ports Authority approved spending $2 million to upgrade the roll-on/roll-off cargo capacity at Savannah’s Ocean Terminal.

Restoring the full Pre-K calendar will be another of Governor Deal’s priorities in the 2013 Session of the General Assembly.

Gov. Nathan Deal says he’ll put money in his proposed state budget next year to restore all the days cut from pre-K programs.

Reducing them by 20 days, Deal noted in an interview Wednesday, was part of a bail-out for Georgia’s financially strapped HOPE scholarship program.

It’s funded by state lottery revenues, which have failed to keep pace with HOPE-related costs.

Ten days were restored in this year’s state budget.

“And being able to put 10 more back will bring us back to where we were,” Deal said.

Not certain of retaining their spot as the most embarrassing County in Georgia as Honey Boo-Boo’s Wilkinson County home makes a strong play, Clayton County voters will head to the polls again on December 4th to decide runoffs for the School Board. Whoever’s on the ballot, we can county on Clayton County to make the abosolute worst choice.

Republican District Attorney-elect Meg Daly Heap is preparing to take office in Chatham County.

One priority Heap has set is ramping up prosecution of repeat offenders.

A defendant with three prior felonies can be charged as a recidivist, which means even at the state level, they would not be eligible for parole.

“This is a tool we have, and we need to use it,” she said. “They’re getting out and committing more crimes.”

The State Elections Board informed Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry that he’s not allowed to visit election precincts while he’s a candidate on the ballot unless he is actually voting at the time.

Brink Bradshaw and Kelvin Williams, the director of Thomson-McDuffie County Elections and Voter Registration, lodged the complaint with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. They accused Usry of intimidating voters by visiting three polling places during last year’s municipal election.

Usry told state investigators that he had heard rumors of irregularities and wanted to check them out. He said he didn’t know it was illegal for a candidate to visit polling places for any reason other than voting.

Electric rates will be lower beginning in January for Georgia Power customers after action by the Georgia Public Service Commission.

“We have low natural gas prices to thank for this rate reduction,” said Georgia PSC Chairman Tim Echols, in a statement. “But I believe our investment in new nuclear will be our saving grace when gas prices rise again decades from now.”

CobbEMC rolled back electric rates while upping the monthly service charge, but says that most ratepayers will pay less net.

The company and its chairman insist the changes will result in unchanged or lowered bills for more than 80 percent of members.

“Apples to apples, whatever you spent in July of 2012, in July of 2013 you’re going to pay less,” Chairman Ed Crowell said. “The service charge accounts for the fixed costs of every customer, whether they have electricity flowing or not. The wiring, the meter, that stays the same. What we found when we tried to reduce rates was that the Wholesale Power Adjustment had been built up over the years with fixed costs, rather than increasing the base service fee. It hasn’t been bill clearly in the past.”

Georgia Solar Utilities will get stomped on by an 800-pund gorilla attempt to revise the Territorial Electric Service Act in the General Assembly in order to compete with Georgia Power, EMCs and municipal electric utilities.

Economic forecasts from the University of Georgia suggest our state’s economy should slightly outpace the rest of the country in 2013.

“We will outperform the average state in 2013,” Robert Sumichrast, dean of UGA’s Terry College of Business, told hundreds of businessmen, politicians and academics Thursday at the Georgia World Congress Center. “The massive restructuring of the state’s private sector is complete and the real estate bubble is over.”

The economist predicted Georgia will achieve a 2.1 percent growth rate next year, compared with a national growth rate of 1.8 percent. That would reverse several years in which Georgia largely lagged the nation in major economic measures such as job losses, home values and personal income.

The UGA forecast cites a dropping unemployment rate, strengthening job growth and a mild rebound in home values, which it expects to grow 3 percent to 5 percent.

Augusta won’t be as lucky.

the forecast … calls for the Augusta area’s employment to grow by 0.4 percent in 2013. That would be an improvement over the negative 2.1 percent pace for this year.

The metro area will lag the rest of the state’s 2.1 percent expansion and the nation’s 1.3 percent.

“Strong performance of the metro area’s services-producing industries, notably health care and private education, will be a positive for the local economy,” the economists wrote.

Hall County’s housing market is near the bottom of the list of metro areas nationwide.

Among 304 metro areas, the Gainesville MSA, which is basically Hall, is ranked No. 301, with a 5.75 percent drop in housing values over the past year. The report is based on the housing price index, which takes into account new and refinanced mortgages.

Two Florida cities — Gainesville and Tallahassee — and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y., are the only metro areas that have worse showings, the 77-page report states.

Ends & Pieces

Dahlonega will display what is thought to be the only diving bell that survives from Georgia’s gold rush era. The diving bell was used to prospect on the bottoms of rivers near the town.

The Trust for Public Land is working to link the southern end of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain to the Chattahoochee River to provide for expanded recreation opportunities.

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.