Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for January 22, 2013

Gerald Jones Volkswagen-Audi in Augusta, Georgia has partnered with L.E.A.S.H. Rescue and will become a drop-off point for donations of dog food, toys and other materials, as well as holding adoption events. In honor of the partnership, today’s dogs are both from L.E.A.S.H. rescue.

LEASH_Caine

 

Caine, above, is one of five dogs who came in together and he will be available for adoption soon after he is neutered. His brother, Abel, (below),will also need a home soon, and they are available separately or together. For more information, visit L.E.A.S.H. on Facebook or email them. If you’re not in the Augusta area, you can donate online.

LEASH_Abel

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Georgia Right to Life will hold “Together for Life 2013” at the steps of the State Capitol today, beginning at 11:30 AM. Former State Rep. Doug McKillip will deliver the keynote address, and the group will walk silently as a memorial.

The Georgia General Assembly will hold Joint Budget Hearings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in Room 341 of the State Capitol and convenes again on Monday, January 28th, 2013.

The agenda for the Joint Budget Hearings is available by clicking here.

Governor Deal is expected to address today’s joint budget hearing at 10:30 AM. Also addressing today’s hearing will be state fiscal economist Kenneth Heaghney, the Department of Education, the University System of Georgia, the Technical College System of Georgia, the Department of Early Care and Learning, the Student Finance Commission and the Secretary of State’s Office.

Wednesday’s budget hearing will include the Departments of Correction, Juvenile Justice, Transportation, Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Natural Resources, Agriculture, Labor and Economic Development.

On Thursday, the joint committees will hear the Departments of Human Services, Community Health, Public Health, Revenue and the Office of Planning and Budget.

Former State Senator Chip Rogers will be paid $150,000 per year at his new job at Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Former state Sen. Chip Rogers will start his new job Tuesday earning a lofty $150,000 – making him the seventh executive at Georgia Public Broadcasting earning six-figures annually, despite a rather pedestrian title: Executive producer, community jobs program.

The position, like others at GPB, is paid solely through state taxpayers’ money. But it is more than Gov. Nathan Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle each make in their public jobs.

And it is more than what some of Rogers’ new colleagues made in the last fiscal year, including GBP’s vice president for radio and its chief information officer.

What are the odds of Rogers providing color commentary if horse racing is passed in the legislature?

The State Auditor reports that most Georgia tax breaks go to individual citizens rather than large companies.

Tax collections so far this fiscal year are coming in below the projected rate, prompting Deal to order all state agencies – except K-12 education – to trim 3 percent from their spending. At the same time, costs for Medicaid are more than $300 million over budget already this year, not counting a nearly $700 million hole that would be left in the budget if the hospital tax isn’t extended.

Legislative budget writers started requiring governors in recent years to submit a document called the Tax Expenditure Report that estimates how much each tax break leaves in the private economy and out of the government’s use.

“Although not direct government expenditures, tax expenditures represent an allocation of government resources in the form of taxes that could have been collected (and appropriated) if not for their preferential tax treatment,” State Auditor Greg Griffin wrote in his letter delivering the report.

The largest tax breaks is the so-called personal exemption from individual income taxes representing $1 billion. Exemptions for retirement income, $697 million, Social Security, $140 million, and credit for taxes paid to other states, $185 million, are also among the largest ways private Georgians keep from forking more over to the government.

Exemptions from the sales tax also benefit individuals, including $509 million on food, $423 million for prescriptions, $171 million on lottery tickets and $8 million on school lunches. The sales-tax holidays that temporarily exempt school supplies save another $41 million.

Some business tax breaks are due to expire this year. A break on seed, fertilizer and farm chemicals that ended Jan. 1 totaled $150 in the last fiscal year. The exemption of certain machinery used in the manufacturing of consumer items expired the same time and amounted to $175 million last year.

One due to expire in June is the sales tax exemption for airplane engine-repair parts worth $7 million last year. It’s being pushed by companies like Gulfstream Aerospace which argues jobs would be lost if airplane customers took their business to states that don’t charge the tax.

The City of Atlanta will ask the legislature for a number of changes to existing law in order to help it with budget issues.

The city of Atlanta’s legislative wish-list for the 2013 General Assembly includes changes in state law that would allow the city to increase taxes on alcohol, sell condemned and blighted property to private parties, designate sales tax revenue disbursements by tenths of a cent rather than a full penny, and charge the public school system for the cost of running school board elections.

One proposal — such as slicing penny sales taxes into smaller increments of one-tenth of a percent, which could go to different purposes — is similar to those pushed this year by Cobb County.

A sales tax levied in Atlanta at a tenth of a percentage point could generate about $11 million or $12 million in revenue per year.

Yolanda Adrean, who represents northwest Atlanta on the City Council, said the proposal would provide municipalities with much-needed flexibility.

“If a penny of tax could be split between more than one priority, it could allow the city to move on some very crucial needs,” Adrean said. “I’m not suggesting that we add a penny of sales tax. In a time where there’s a great deal of sensitivity to how much you’re taxed and where that money goes, this gets everyone focused. There are lots of pressing needs that are not getting funded.”

As for the similar fractional-tax measure for Cobb County,

State Rep. John Carson (R-Northeast Cobb) told Around Town on Thursday that he would introduce a bill, possibly as soon as this week, that would pave the way for such special local option sales taxes, also known as “fractional SPLOSTs.” The tax would be charged increments of a twentieth of 1 percent, if passed. At present the sales tax can only levied in increments of 1 percent, although receipts from that 1 percent are often divided among several jurisdictions.

In theory, they also would prevent situations in which a governing body, knowing that a full penny SPLOST would raise X amount of dollars, proceeds to inflate its SPLOST-project list in order to match the expected revenues.

The concept has the backing of Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee.

Carson’s bill would apply statewide and allow counties and cities to charge less than a full 1 percent sales tax. A similar bill is soon to be introduced in the state Senate, said Sen. Judson Hill (R-East Cobb).

Senator Lindsey Tippins (R-West Cobb) told Around Town the Cobb School District has approached him in the past about introducing legislation for partial-penny SPLOSTs.

If approved by the Legislature, voters would then have to approve a constitutional amendment before the tax could be levied on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.

“I have told them I feel like you can accomplish the same thing by doing a SPLOST for a specified number of months based on what your true need is and make a promise to the voters that you won’t go back to them for five years for another tax,” Tippins said. “So if you need to collect 60 cents on the dollar, you could collect it for three years and promise not to go back for five.”

“Now obviously the action of that board would not be legally binding on a subsequent board, but whoever wanted to go back and change that would be facing political suicide, so in actuality you could bind the board so if anybody on the school board says ‘We want to do a partial penny,’ we can accomplish the same thing without a constitutional amendment.”

Separately, Senator Tippins told the MDJ that he voted for the Hospital Bed Tax because it was the “lesser of two evils.”

Tippins said the alternative to levying the tax is forgoing federal matching funds and paying for Medicaid services through the state budget.

“So you’d be taking another $700 million out of existing state funding, and that would come from other agencies,” Tippins said. “You’re going to be hitting education very, very strongly, and all the other good services that the state provides. The reality is that money would have to come from somewhere because the state in their agreement to access the federal stimulus money cannot change the delivery pattern for Medicaid until 2014, so we’re locked in under the same eligibility and also under the same payment program.”

Fulton County’s next budget may include furloughs for lawyers and less funding for libraries.

Fulton’s countywide property tax rate has declined over the last decade, and most residents won’t see an increase this year. Under the proposed budget, residents of unincorporated South Fulton would see a 19 percent property tax increase to pay for police, fire and other municipal services. That would cost the owner of a $200,000 an extra $100 a year.

Fulton County would trim spending in its general fund – which pays for countywide services like courts, libraries and elections – 2 percent this year under the proposed $569.4 million budget.

Among other things, proposed cuts would lead to reduced library hours and spending for various social service programs. At a public hearing earlier this month, more than 60 people – many of them senior citizens – urged commissioners to restore funding for various programs.

DeKalb County will likely raise property taxes, its favorite method of balancing its budget.

As a result of declining property tax revenue and the incorporation of the city of Brookhaven, commissioners will have to consider spending cuts or a potential property tax rate increase proposed by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis. The 1.9 percent millage rate increase would cost almost $49 dollars more a year for owners of a $200,000 home.

In December, Ellis proposed a more than $562 million dollar budget. In addition to a potential millage rate increase, the budget calls for a three percent cost of living adjustment for DeKalb County’s lowest paid workers, 25 additional police officers and maintaining $30 million dollars in reserve funding. Commissioners will have until the end of February to adopt the budget.

After serving two four-year terms on the Judicial Qualifications Commission, Jack Winter, who also is a former Chairman of the Fulton County GOP, will rotate off the Board. Governor Nathan Deal named Richard Hyde, whose investigations have led to a number of JQC actions and judicial resignations, as Winter’s replacement.

The Fulton County Republican Party named Mary Norwood as its appointee to the Fulton Board of Elections.

The President of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, supports the resolution by Senator Barry Loudermilk expressing regret at the state’s history of slavery.

Georgia Carry is challenging local regulations on the carrying of guns via handwritten letters.

Handwritten letters, dated Jan. 18, from James Camp of Temple, a GeorgiaCarry.org founder and recent state Senate candidate, were hand-delivered to Carrollton Mayor Wayne Garner and Carroll County Commission Chairman Marty Smith.

In the letter to Garner, Camp challenges a city ordinance prohibiting firearms on the GreenBelt trail and another which says firearms cannot be carried by parade participants.

The letter to Smith challenges a county ordinance which says the commission chairman, in times of local disasters or emergencies, can suspend the sale, distribution, dispensing or transportation of firearms, alcoholic beverages, explosives and combustible products and can close businesses which sell them.

Sure enough, after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote about inconsistencies in the list of banned vanity tags, two lawyers are suing on First Amendment grounds after their client’s choices, which included GAYPWR, were rejected. Surely a Miata would convey  that message clearly enough.

Georgia Republican Convention Cycle 2013

Rachel Little has released a list of endorsements in her bid for Chair of the Gwinnett County Republican Party that includes Congressman Rep. Austin Scott, State Rep. Tom Kirby, the GOP chairs of Muscogee, Rockdale, Newton, Bibb and Barrow counties, and former Gwinnett GOP chair Chuck Efstration.

Joseph Brannan, who was recently elected Chairman of the Second District Georgia Republican Party, will run for election to a full term.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for September 13, 2013

Alvin is a 47-pound, 2-year old Golden Retriever mix boy who is available for adoption today from the Cobb County Animal Shelter.

Alvin will be neutered, tested for heart worms and micro-chipped when adopted. He is in run 107 and his ID# is 548132.

When calling the shelter about a cat or dog, please use THE ID NUMBER, the names are oftentimes made up by volunteers. This beautiful pet and many others need a forever, loving home and are available for adoption from the Cobb County Animal Shelter, 1060 Al Bishop Drive Marietta, Georgia 30008, call (770) 499-4136 for more information.

Corky is a black lab mix and the volunteers at Cobb Animal Shelter say he’s the sweetest boy, and about 1-year old and 55 pounds. He is in run 25 and his ID# is 548038. Just look at that cute face and big pink tongue.

Nat and his brother Geo are 2-month old, 15# Shepherd mix puppies who are available for adoption today from Walton County Animal Shelter.

Also available from Walton Animal Shelter are Duncan, Davie and Darla, who are three months old and weigh about 7 pounds each.


These three puppies were turned in by their owner, which typically means no mandatory hold time, and they are immediately at risk of euthanasia, especially during this time of the year when shelters are overflowing.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Please take a moment to vote in our online survey on the Charter School Amendment. We ask how you will vote, and give you an opportunity to state why you are voting for or against the Amendment. We’ll be running some of the responses when we release the results. If you have any problems with the online vote, email me.

Former Speaker of the Georgia House Glenn Richardson qualified yesterday for the Special Election in Senate District 30, which was vacated when Bill Hamrick was appointed to the Superior Court.

“So why would I want to go into this?” said Richardson, 52, asking the question many are wondering. “I’m at peace. I think I can sympathize with people more than ever. I’ve struggled.”

Richardson, the one-time back bencher who became the first Republican state speaker since Reconstruction, admitted he was a bit nervous as he walked passed his old office for the first time in three years. He will have a tough primary election ahead of him. He faces a field that includes state Rep. Bill Hembree (R-Winston), a popular legislator who has been at the state house for 18 years.

“It’s a perfect fit,” said Hembree of the west metro Atlanta senate post he is seeking. “I’ve represented Douglas County and Paulding County, and I’m a native of Carroll County.”

Hembree, a self-proclaimed “social conservative,” served under Richardson in the House and represented a neighboring district. Hembree, 46, said he hasn’t spoken with Richardson since 2009, adding the former speaker’s decision to run was “somewhat surprising because it’s just three years since all the events that occurred in his life.”

Hembree said he would not get into dissecting those events. “I’m going to have a grassroots campaign and contact as many people as we can,” he said. “I’m not going to get distracted.”

Jim Naughton, a Carroll County businessman, also qualified.

Bill Hembree also qualified yesterday, although you wouldn’t know it from the AJC’s non-coverage.

From the Neighbor Newspapers coverage:

Richardson said he wanted to seek the seat because “this just came up and under such rare circumstances.”

“It seemed like an opportunity to seek a leadership position. I feel like this was the time to do it,” he said.

Richardson said it is “not my job to say if people have forgiven or forgot” the events which led to his 2010 resignation.

“I had to step up when I saw an opportunity,” he said. “I may achieve it and I may not.”

Hembree, a Winston resident, served a total of nine terms in the House. He resigned his House District 67 seat last week to seek the vacant Senate seat.

In a prepared statement, Hembree said, “We need a leader we can trust to be on our side. Like you, I am tired of the politicians who put the special interests above the interests of the taxpayers they represent. Too many politicians let us down and embarrass us.

“I’m running for Senate with a simple promise: you have my word that I’ll be on your side. I’ve got your back, and I’ll represent you. While I won’t make promises I can’t keep, I’ll do everything in my power to slash wasteful government spending, stop tax increases and attract new jobs to get our families back to work,” he stated.

Hembree lost a 2010 bid for Speaker of the House to current Speaker David Ralston.

I predict Bill Hembree will be elected. We ran a poll in that district a couple weeks ago with the names of the three candidates who had announced at the time and Hembree had a substantial lead.

Bill Hembree  36.6%
Glenn Richardson  13.1%
James Camp 12.1%

Because the Special Republican Primary Election will take place November 6, at the same day as the General Election, it’s likely to have higher turnout, which likely benefits Hembree more than Richardson.

The Times-Georgian writes:

Hamrick ran unopposed for re-election to the District 30 state Senate seat in the July 31 Republican primary. No Democratic candidates ran for the seat in the July 31 primary.

“Since no Democrats qualified during the original primary, the law requires that only a special Republican primary be held on Nov. 6,” said Jared Thomas, spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

Thomas said the law also requires that a special election for the District 30 seat be held on Jan. 8, with a runoff election on Feb. 5, if needed.

On November 6th, voters within the 30th Senate District who show up at the polls will be offered an opportunity to vote in the General Election and the Republican Primary. According to a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office:

Poll workers will be instructed to ask eligible voters if they would like to participate in the Special GOP Primary in addition to the General Election, or just the General Election.  The Special and General can be included on the same card.  In addition, sample ballots will be posted.

Qualifying for that election continues today from 8 AM to 5 PM and tomorrow from 8 AM to Noon. To qualify as a Republican, you will go to Qualifying for the Republican Special Primary Election shall be held in Room 341 of the Georgia State Capitol, 214 State Capitol, Atlanta, 30334, and your qualifying fee of $400 must be paid by certified funds. To qualify as an Independent for the Special Election on January 8th, you will go to the Elections Division of The Office of Secretary of State, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 802 Floyd West Tower, Atlanta, 30334 during the same time period.

Here’s how that works: the winner of the November 6th Special Republican Primary Election (runoff will be December 4th if necessary) will be on the ballot again on January 8th in the Special Election, even if no independent candidates qualify. If enough candidates qualify as independents to force a runoff in the January election, that runoff will be held February 5th, 2013.

So the best chance at winning that election if your name is not Bill Hembree might be to try and ambush him in January 8th by qualifying as an Independent. Turnout will be much lower on that date, and a candidate with a small but loyal following might have a snowball’s chance, but probably not.

Micah Gravley [note spelling], the Republican candidate for House District 67 to succeed Bill Hembree is off to a strong start.

Micah Gravely said he was unsure about seeking a chance to run for a Douglas County legislative seat until he got a call from two people in high places: House Speaker David Ralston and District 68 state Rep. Dusty Hightower.

“I thought, “This could be an opportunity to serve our community,” he said. “[Wife Heather] was very quick to say, ‘I’ll support you 100 percent.’”

Gravely, 38, was named by the State Republican Party Executive Committee last week to replace District 67 State Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Winston, as the Republican nominee for Hembree’s House seat. Gravely will face Democratic nominee Leigh McMutry of Winston in the Nov. 6 general election.

[Gravley] served as a staff member for former Georgia U.S. Rep. Bob Barr and former Gov. Sonny Perdue. He also served as the Paulding County coordinator for both the Mike Huckabee and John McCain presidential campaigns in 2008.

He said he was approached by “several folks in the community” to consider the post and counts among his supporters Douglas County District Attorney David McDade and Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan.

Gravely recently has worked with the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association as the statewide grassroots director.

He also serves as president of Paulding Public Safety Appreciation Inc., which organizes the annual Paulding Public Safety Appreciation Day in October. He awarded the county’s three law enforcement agencies and fire/rescue department $1,000 each to begin their own benevolent funds for survivors of those killed in the line of duty last week, Gravely said.

He said he planned to be an advocate for public safety workers and wanted to work closely with the school boards in Douglas and Paulding counties.

Pro-tip for writers: spellcheck will often suggest a that you change a surname to something else when the surname spelling is close to that of a regular word. Double check last names like “Gravley”. In fact, go back and triple-check that one right now.

Former Executive Secretary of the State Ethics Commission Stacey Kalbermann continues to live in a fantasy world in which her firing was the result of a vast right-wing conspiracy against her, rather than because of budget cuts that hit the Commission with the same severity as most of the rest of state government, including the Governor’s Office.

In my opinion, Kalbermann is likely responsible for the outages and lack of capacity that plague the Campaign Finance Filing System for failing to recognize that job one of the Commission is receiving and making public campaign disclosure.

In an amended complaint in her whistle-blower suit against the state, former commission director Stacey Kalberman claims that former commission chairman Patrick Millsaps contacted Randy Evans about campaign work while the commission was investigating Evans’ client, Gov. Nathan Deal. Evans also served as an attorney for Gingrich.

Kalberman’s new complaint was filed Friday in Fulton County Superior Court.

Evans said Kalberman’s charges amount to a “fantasy,” while Millsaps said it is “absolutely a false allegation, and the more that she amends her complaint, the more frivolous the lawsuit of a disgruntled employee becomes.”

The AJC’s PolitiFact confirms the obvious that a poll tax and a voter ID requirement are not actually the same thing.

The ACLU newsletter labeled the new voter ID requirements as a “modern day poll tax.”

The historical poll tax emerged in parts of the U.S. in the late 1800s as a blatant effort to restrict voting. Primarily aimed at minorities, these laws — along with literacy tests — disenfranchised many black, Native American and poor white citizens. The poll tax was outlawed in federal elections in 1964.

The poll tax portion of the ACLU claim, as a historical comparison, does not hold up.

The claim that the voter ID laws are the functional equivalent of a poll tax is difficult to prove.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has not definitely settled this debate, although its 2008 decision in the Indiana voter ID case suggests that the poll tax claim faces an uphill battle,” said Edward Foley, executive director of an election law center at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.

In that case, the high court found that Indiana’s requirement that voters present government-issued photo IDs did not violate the Constitution. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the main opinion in the 6-3 ruling, which said, “The application of the statute to the vast majority of Indiana voters is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.”

We rule the ACLU’s statement Mostly False.

In Stephens County, Debbie Whitlock emerges as the winner of a County Commission seat after two recounts, including hand recounts of mail-in absentee votes2. The final total shows Whitlock with a two-vote win out of more than 3000 votes cast, though the first recount showed a single-vote margin.

The hand recount of the mail-in absentee ballots took place as the result of a consent order reached this week by the candidates and Stephens County to deal with Willis’ challenge in Superior Court of the election results.

In that challenge, Willis requested a manual count of the mail-in absentee ballots.

Willis said he wants to be clear as to why he requested the hand count.

“The electronic scanning machine that is used to count the ballots gave four different sets of numbers when the ballots were scanned,” said Willis. “There was never any consistency in the results. Therefore, we had no reliable vote results. As the electronic scan device was not reliable, the only way to obtain an accurate tally of the paper ballot votes was by a hand count. Be sure that this hand recount of the votes had absolutely nothing to do with my opponent, Debbie Whitlock. It had everything to do with making sure that the voting results are as accurate as possible.”

He said he thinks the state should look further at the process for counting mail-in paper absentee ballots.

“I think this incident should send a clear message to the Secretary of State’s Office that their electronic paper ballot scanners are not reliable,” said Willis. “Something should and must be done or else no one who votes using a paper ballot can ever be guaranteed that their vote is counted properly. For the secretary of state to ignore this type of problem in our election system would be a great disservice to myself, Debbie, and every single voter in the state of Georgia.”

The Cobb County Board of Education voted 4-3 against moving forward to censure one of its members, David Banks.

Erratum: yesterday, I incorrectly cited the case in which the Supreme Court of Georgia declined to review part of the 2005 Tort Reform that allows attorney’s fees to be recovered from a plaintiff. The correct citation is to Great West Casualty Company et al. v. Bloomfield et al., in which the Georgia Supremes denied cert. That’s what I get for trying to think too early in the morning. Sorry.m