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 October 4, 2012

The General Election date is November 6th, 2012. The deadline for voter registration for the General Election is October 9, 2012, less than one week from today. Today would be a good day to email five friends with the following information, so they can make sure they’re registered.

To check your voter registration or view a sample ballot, please visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and use their MVP voter registration tool.

For questions about election dates, always check with the Georgia Secretary of State’s website or your local County Elections Office.

Advanced voting in person starts October 15, 2012; here’s where and when to vote early in person in your county. More than 10,000 voters are marked as having already voted in the November 6th General Election, according to data from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

Adoptable Dogs

Tomorrow is “Black Friday” at the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter, where black or majority-black dogs and cats can be adopted for $30, which is a $60 discount over most days. 27763 above is an adult, female lab mix who surely qualifies. She is large and friendly and will make a great companion.

27778 is a young, male Border Collie mix, and I think he has enough black fur to qualify. The shelter volunteers rave about how good a dog he is.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections

Not shockingly, Cobb County Republicans who gathered for a debate watching party thought that Governor Romney won last night’s debate.

Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Johnny Isakson of east Cobb and Saxby Chambliss of Moultrie, declared Mitt Romney the winner in the first presidential debate between the former Massachusetts governor and President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

“I wanted to see the Romney that I hoped I would see, and I saw him tonight. He was very, very good,” said Isakson, who watched the debate from home.

Isakson said it was clear that Romney bested Obama in the Denver debate.

“Romney was clear in the definition of his vision, clear in what he planned for the future,” Isakson said. “President Obama was defensive on a lot of the issues.”

It was crucial that Romney perform as well as he did, Isakson said.

“I don’t think there was any question there were some questions out there in terms of where he was going to go,” Isakson said. “He was definitive. He was straightforward. He had a grasp of the issues, and I think he took on the president very well.”

Surprisingly, liberal NPR called Romney “dominant”. If you have nothing better to do with your time, here’s a complete transcript of the debate. And here are some experts deconstructing the body language and political communication skills on display by the candidates.

Georgia Democratic Party Chair Mike Berlon disagrees:

Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman Mike Berlon releases the following statement regarding the first Presidential debate:

“Tonight’s Presidential debate illustrated the incredible chasm and stark differences that exists between the policies of President Obama and those of Mitt Romney.

“Romney’s tax plan is not only unworkable but is nothing more than an absolute fantasy. His assertions that cutting taxes for the rich somehow equates to increasing revenue and benefits for everyone, including the middle class is simply impossible.

But whether he likes it or not, tax cuts do help create jobs or attract them to Georgia. Governor Deal has said that eliminating the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing helped the state land Baxter International and Caterpillar, two recent economic development triumphs.

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Campaign contribution disclosures are due today for the period ended September 30th. If you find yourself having filing difficulties, here are some tips for what I would do while I’m waiting for the disclosure system to reload.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens wrote to State School Superintendent John Barge about whether local school boards can publicly oppose the Charter School Amendment. The entire letter is available for viewing as a .pdf file here. Here are the important parts:

Local school boards do not have the legal authority to expend funds or other resources to advocate or oppose the ratification of a constitutional amendment by the voters. They may not do this directly or indirectly through associations to which they may belong.

Counties may not use their resources to persuade voter to support or oppose a ballot question. Such electoral advocacy to voters is not permitted as an exercise of the general power to administer county government or otherwise.

The Georgia School Boards Association fired back:

Angela Palm with the Georgia School Boards Association says she wants more clarification from the Attorney General and is concerned the opinion could be in violation of the first amendment.

“If the intent of the letter is to say, no, you can’t talk about this in any way, then I think that’s a definite problem. If the intent is of the letter is to reinforce existing statute that says you can’t use public resources, okay we knew that, but thank you for the reminder, and it doesn’t change anything.”

 Maybe Ms. Palm didn’t read the letter, which addresses the First Amendment issue:
The [Georgia Supreme]Court acknowledged that [local elected officials] have the right, in their individual capacities, to support the adoption of [a] Constitutional Amendment,’ however they had no constitutional right of free speech to speak at county expense.

Republican state legislators will find themselves in a familiar place when they convene in January: caught between Grover Norquist’s no tax hike pledge that many signed, and local hospitals, who say that renewing the bed tax they pay is actually a good thing because the proceeds plus a federal match are used to pay for Medicaid patients.

Anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Reform, recently told the Republican-dominated General Assembly in a letter that renewing the Hospital Provider Payment Program would violate the anti-tax pledges of about four dozen lawmakers.

Lawmakers adopted the tax in 2010 as state tax collections tanked because of the Great Recession. It uses tax money paid by the hospitals to generate an even larger pot of state and federal health care money that then flows back to the hospitals.

Hospitals with a large share of poor patients get more back in increased Medicaid payments – a government insurance program that covers the poor – than they pay in hospital taxes. Hospitals with a larger share of patients covered by Medicare or private insurance get fewer benefits than they pay out in taxes. Still, those hospitals get an indirect benefit. They don’t have to directly bear the costs of caring for the poor because the tax helps stabilize the budgets of hospitals serving poorer populations.

This may also present a leadership challenge for the new Senate leadership, as the 2010 bed tax vote is cited as a reason for the long-running feud between Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and the incumbent Senate leadership management.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs, who chairs the MARTA Oversight Committee, says that the MARTA Board failed to comply with open meetings laws, and is trying to derail an investigation by the Attorney General’s office.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Atlanta, said he has evidence from other MARTA board members that director Barbara Babbit Kaufman falsified an affidavit he requested to show compliance with the Open Meetings Act during the search for a new General Manager.

“The problem is I’m being furnished documents that are false — they are being made up as they go along,” said Jacobs, who chairs the legislative committee that oversees MARTA. “I’m pretty red-faced angry about it. I’m dealing with a board that wants to create false documents to satisfy an oversight committee.”

Kaufman said she did not intentionally violate any law.

Jacobs wrote state Attorney General Sam Olens Wednesday to amend his initial complaint about possible MARTA board violations of open meetings, which focused on an email in which Kaufman asked board members to send her their “vote” on a new GM. Jacobs had also said the board’s search committee, chaired by Kaufman, failed to meet required procedures for meeting in private.

The Open Meetings Act requires a vote for a board to go into non-public session. It also requires a notarized affidavit by the committee chairperson stating the legitimate reason for the closure, such as to discuss candidates for a high-profile public job.

Jacobs’ latest letter to Olens essentially says Kaufman created that paperwork only after he complained.

Washington County State Court Judge Robert Wommack Jr. was privately reprimanded by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission after a March 2012 guilty plea to charges of DUI and excessive speed.

In March, Wommack entered a guilty plea in Laurens County Probate Court. Wommack was sentenced at that time to 12 months probation and ordered to pay a $945 fine, according to the JQC report. His driver’s license was suspended for 120 days, and he was ordered to attend a DUI/risk reduction course, participate for 40 hours in an Alcohol Anonymous program and serve 22 hours of community service, the JQC report said.

It also said Wommack had promptly reported his arrest to the JQC and voluntarily disqualified himself from all cases involving DUIs that were then pending in state court. According to the JQC report, Wommack also discussed with the JQC the facts of his arrest and the resolution of the charges.

The Macon-Bibb County consolidation transition team is recommending that joint operations begin two weeks earlier than originally planned.

Macon and Bibb County governments were scheduled to cease to exist on Jan. 13, 2014, before the new merged government takes effect the next day, Jan. 14. But the committee unanimously decided Wednesday to recommend to the task force that the new government instead go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, said Laura Mathis, deputy director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. If the task force agrees, the state legislative delegation would be asked to legally change the official start date, she said.

Bibb County Commissioner Elmo Richardson, who made the motion for the earlier start, said waiting nearly two weeks into a calendar year to put the new government into effect could cause unnecessary inconveniences with everything from payroll, to accounting and insurance.

“From an accounting standpoint, it would be a nightmare,” Richardson said. “It’s just not a clean cut when you’re going to start the government on Jan. 14.”

Media inquiries prompted Augusta City Commissioner Grady Smith to pull a bid on providing plumbing services to the Sheriff’s department.

Smith, Super District 10 commissioner, said his company was building on a long-standing relationship with Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength when Smith Bros. Mechanical made a $24,000 bid last month to do plumbing work at the substation in south Augusta.

The move violated the city’s ethics code, which prohibits commissioners from substantially benefitting from city procurement contracts, unless they apply for an exception.

Smith said his company’s bid was the lowest by $12,000 and that he had an application for the exception on Monday’s finance committee agenda but withdrew the request Wednesday.

Savannah City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney is resigning, according to Mayor Edna Jackson.

Jackson asked for the resignation Sept. 25 after a flurry of management issues that included a $6 million backlog and complete staff turnover of buyers in Purchasing, a botched bid that could have led to a lawsuit and the termination of the emergency management director, a business associate of the city manager. Wednesday about noon, her supporters, dwindling but vocal, gathered for an impromptu press conference outside City Hall.

Chester Dunham, one of her more ardent supporters, said a “reliable source” had told him Small-Toney’s resignation would happen “before 5 o’clock.”

Dunham described Small-Toney as being “railroaded,” and supporter Marilyn Jackson said, “They just beat her down.”

Chatham County Democratic District Attorney Larry Chisolm and Republican challenger Meg Heap took questions from the audience at a joint appearance yesterday.

Heap cited an exodus of as many as 50 employees and the elimination of the elder-abuse prosecutor position as evidence that Chisolm does not deserve a second term. Instead, said the former prosecutor who worked under longtime DA Spencer Lawton, voters should choose her because of her passion for “bringing justice to people who have been victimized by crime.”

Chisolm — who said turnover in his office has been comparable to that of his predecessor’s and that there were not enough elder abuse cases to deserve a single prosecutor — said voters should reelect him because he’s drastically cut down a backlog of cases and has achieved very high rates of felony convictions at trial.

Ends & Pieces

The Augusta Chronicle’s Editorial Board brings us the shocking news that liberal mainstream media edit what they say to present their views as backed-up by facts, and to make Republicans look bad.

Democratic pollster Pat Caddell recently said the media have made themselves “a fundamental threat to the democracy, and, in my opinion … the enemy of the American people.

“And it is a threat to the very future of this country if we allow this stuff to go on. We have crossed a whole new and frightening slide on the slippery slope this last two weeks, and it needs to be talked about.”

Democrat commentator Kirsten Powers, speaking on the Obama administration’s oddly changing stories on who was behind the U.S. embassy attacks – and the media’s relative disinterest in the scandal – says: “In this case, lack of curiosity on the part of the American media very well may kill more Americans.” How? By letting the Obama administration off the hook vis-a-vis questions on security.

Retired newspaper publisher Sam Griffin of Bainbridge, Ga., writes of today’s mainstream media: “Through acts and omissions both subtle and overt, they continually tell us what is fact and what is not, what is important and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not, who won and who lost in every instance of the political day – the aggregate effect of which is an attempt to create self-fulfilling prophecies.”

As we near the one-year anniversary of the spectacular failure that was Occupy Atlanta, some hippies in Savannah held an Occupy Savannah rally that attracted one dude in a dour black dress.

Florida wants more water from Lake Lanier to protect its Gulf Coast oyster industry. Maybe they’ll go in with us on the invasion of Tennessee to get more of our water back.

Local NPR affiliate WABE has the firsthand story of an Atlanta attorney who who put her now-19 year old son up for adoption through an open process and the relationship they now have. It’s an excellent was to spend six minutes.

An historical marker was recently unveiled commemorating the the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival at Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron. A documentary called “Alex Cooley Presents Time Has Come Today” includes footage of that event and two others produced by Atlanta’s Cooley. Another film called Hotlanta, The Great Lost Rock Festival made a debut screening recently and we look forward to seeing it in wider release.

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