Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 9, 2014

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for December 9, 2014

Patriots captured liberated Virginia on December 9, 1775 as militias from Virginia and North Carolina defeated the redcoats at Great Bridge.

On December 9, 1865, Georgia’s provisional Governor James Johnson signed legislation ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude except in the case of criminal punishment.

On December 9, 1867, a Constitutional Convention to draft a new state document convened in Atlanta. Among the 166 to 169 delegates elected to the Constitutional Convention were 33 or 37 – accounts vary.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Athens City Hall Above

Today is the third and final day of the legislative Biennial Institute at the University of Georgia, combining introductions of new members of the General Assembly with informational and training sessions. Today, along with other sessions, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Governor Nathan Deal will speak to legislators at lunch.

After lunch, the Georgia Transportation Alliance, in partnership with the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia, will host the 2014 Transportation Summit on Tuesday, December 9, at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia.

Governor Nathan Deal will deliver the keynote address at 1:15 p.m. Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and the Chairs of the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding, Senator Steve Gooch and Representative Jay Roberts will speak later in the afternoon.

Additional speakers will include Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden as well as representatives from the Georgia Ports Authority, Atlanta Beltline and the state’s rail, airline and logistics industries.

Walter Jones of Morris News wrote about the first day of the Biennial including these facts,

• The state is spending more on Medicare (15 percent) and prisons (10 percent) now than in 2008, when 12 percent of the budget went for Medicaid and 9 percent for prisons. Higher Education accounts for 15 percent of the budget, compared to 14 percent in 2008.

• Georgia has one of the largest prison systems in the United States, with 60,000 prisoners, 160,000 probationers and 12,000 employees. Corrections officers have the highest turnover rate of any other type of state employee, and also hold the most dangerous job in state government.

• Georgia state revenues come mainly from two sources — sales tax (25.2 percent) and individual income tax (45.8 percent). Corporate income tax accounts for about 4.1 percent. One kind of tax, gasoline tax, can only spent in for roads and bridges — and not for purposes such as mass transit.

• Georgia’s official $20 billion budget size is really much larger, thanks to federal money for education, road building and other purposes. Federal dollars will add about $7 to $8 billion this year.

University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby discussed education issues with legislators, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

More than one in five Georgians started college and never finished, but many are now returning to state colleges and technical colleges, University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby told state legislators Monday.

About 10 percent of the University System of Georgia’s 314,000 students are people who dropped out of college but have returned, said Huckaby, keynote speaker Monday at the 2014 Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators.

Returning students are now a “critical component of what I call the new normal for the university system,” Huckaby told legislators. “We are reshaping public higher education to be more student-centered, more student-focused.”

The goal is to increase the 42 percent of Georgians with postsecondary education in 2011 to 60 percent in 2020. Numerically, that will mean about 250,000 more graduates than the existing graduation rate would produce.

The university system has adopted strategies to boost graduation rates to help meet that goal, according to Huckaby.

And, state education officials have now launched a publicity campaign designed to entice college dropouts to return to school to finish degrees, he said.

Expect to see a transportation tax emerge at the General Assembly, most likely a higher gas tax, and expect a spirited debate strong opposition from Republican and conservative activists. From the AJC:

A legislative study committee, informally known as the Plan B Committee, has been at work much of the year polishing off a set of transportation proposals for lawmakers to consider ahead of the legislative session that begins Jan. 12. Some lawmakers hope to go after the low-hanging fruit first before attending to new ways to raise revenue.

Georgia already imposes a 4 percent sales tax on motor fuel, but the fourth penny is funneled to the general fund. Shifting that back to transportation would mean an additional $180 million each year. Another change could free up about $240 million a year for roads that the Department of Transportation currently spends on debt service.

State Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, quipped in a tweet “there goes my shot at 100% Chamber score next session” when he learned of the business group’s support for new infrastructure revenue.

“The need is there. And we have to be innovative. But my citizens are telling me to take care of the first thing first,” he said in an interview. “You don’t need a voter referendum to put that fourth cent back to transportation. And once you guys get that done, we can talk about the need going forward.”

The high-powered Plan B Committee may have much more sweeping ambitions. Other options include more tolls, an increased gas tax or new fees for car owners. A possible second try at a statewide or regional sales tax for transportation may be on the table; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Wednesday that he expects another run at a referendum next year.

Former state Rep. Ed Lindsey, who sits on the committee as a civilian appointee, said he’s worried some boosters may be getting ahead of themselves. The panel, he said, must first define the need for the new funding, with some projections showing as much as $2 billion in new revenue is needed annually to expand Georgia’s infrastructure.

In the Macon Telegraph, Maggie Lee writes of how transportation funding is affecting local projects and statewide business.

Pressures are increasing on state lawmakers to add to the shrinking state fund to pay for big road, bridge and rail projects and their maintenance.

At the same time, a key federal fund is “broke,” which is further holding up the big works planned for the interchange of interstates 16 and 75 in Macon.

“We all agree it needs to be done. There’s just not a funding source identified,” Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden said at a pre-session forum for Georgia lawmakers on Monday.

The Macon work would cost about $300 million, Golden said. Interstate work is funded mostly by federal money and also requires a state match.

But with both of GDOT’s funding sources going dry, there’s no way to start construction on the interchange, nor the other dozen or so highest-priority projects.

The interchange is a “bottleneck” for port customers, said James McCurry, senior director of administration and governmental affairs at the Georgia Ports Authority.

The authority will soon start work to deepen the Garden City Terminal in Savannah to 47 feet. That means more truck traffic through the interchange, according to the state’s official logistics plan.

“Nothing’s off the table,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla. He’s also co-chairman of the Joint Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding study committee, which has held hearings statewide over the past few months. It has the unenviable job of pitching legislation to the state House and Senate.

The study committee’s report is due by the end of the month, and draft legislation is due a few weeks later.

Dredging at the Port of Savannah to allow greater access to larger container ships will not begin until 2015, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Col. Thomas Tickner, the corps’ Savannah District commander, said information was already out to potential bidders for both the dredging contract and the contract to build and install the dissolved oxygen injection system, an important aspect of the corps’ mitigation plan.

Since then, bids have been submitted for both and the corps is going through the process of evaluating each one, said corps spokesman Billy E. Birdwell.

“We have not awarded a dredging contract for the SHEP as of today,” Birdwell said Thursday. “Therefore we will not start outer harbor dredging this calendar year. We are evaluating the bids now, but it will be in January, most likely, before we award the contract.”

2016 and beyond

The Washington Post has ranked the potential contenders for the Republican nomination for President in 2016, before any of them have actually announced their candidacies.

10. Paul Ryan (WI)
9. Mike Huckabee (AR)
8. Ted Cruz (TX)
7. Bobby Jindal (LA)
6. John Kasich (OH)
5. Scott Walker (WI)
4. Marco Rubio (FL)
3. Jeb Bush (FL)
2. Chris Christie (NJ)
1. Rand Paul (KY)

Meanwhile, the Times reports that major donors within the GOP are discussing how to operate in 2016.

Failed U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn may already be trolling for her next race, according to Roll Call.

Michelle Nunn strolled through the Capitol basement last week alongside outgoing Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet — just a month after her loss in the Georgia Senate race.

Nunn, the former CEO of the Points of Light Foundation and daughter of a revered former senator, was the party’s top recruit in 2014. Despite an 8-point loss to Sen.-elect David Perdue, the first-time candidate had brought in more than $14 million by the end of the campaign and her retail skills were polished enough to impress operatives in both parties.

Her overall performance was strong enough keep her at the top of the list of potential candidates for any statewide race in Georgia in the next few years, according to multiple Democrats in the state. Her level of interest in a future bid remains unknown, but Bennet told CQ Roll Call not to read too much into Nunn’s visit to Capitol Hill last week, including speculation she’s considering a next-cycle challenge to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

“We had talked after the campaign was over about her just coming for a visit, and that’s what it was, just a friendly visit,” Bennet said. “I can tell you what we didn’t talk about: The subject of 2016 did not come up in the conversation at all.”

“I think she will remain among the upper tier of statewide candidates until she either declares herself for another race or says she doesn’t want to do it,” Georgia Democratic consultant Howard Franklin said. “The difficulty — if there is any — is finding a race that is suited to the strengths she brings to the table.”

Her next campaign, at this point, isn’t likely to come in 2016, with the well-liked [Senator Johnny] Isakson having already announced he intends to seek re-election. A second straight loss could damage her ability to clear the primary field in a more promising opportunity in the future, though Isakson lost twice statewide before his election to the Senate in 2004.

For my entire career in Georgia politics – over 20 years – Flowers Foods has been a major industry, and a source of support for Republican candidate, but a series of recent donations marked the first time since 1994 the Thomasville, Georgia-based company donated to a Democrat since 1994.

You may recall Flowers, which produces Wonder Bread, Tastykakes and Nature’s Own baked goods, as the company whose PAC is the most Republican in the country. The PAC’s streak of not giving to Democrats since 1994 ended on June 10, when it made a $2,500 contribution to Collin Peterson, a Minnesotan who serves in the House, and to the leadership committee of Joe Manchin, a West Virginia senator. It also gave a $5,000 contribution to Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire senator. In August, the Flowers PAC gave $2,500 to Henry Cuellar, a Texas congressman.

Before this summer, the last time that the Flowers PAC gave to a Democratic congressional candidate was on April 29, 1994, when it donated $5,000 to James Bush, who lost a Democratic primary for a House seat in Georgia. (The company is based in Thomasville, Ga.)

The $12,500 the PAC gave to Democrats during the 2014 election was the most it had ever given the party in a two-year period and equaled the total amount it had given to Democratic candidates and committees since 1980. Even so, Flowers remains a big supporter of Republican candidates and causes. Its PAC has given $228,000 to Republicans since the beginning of 2013, or about 95 percent of its contributions.

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