Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for March 12, 2013


Georgia Politics, Campaigns & Elections for March 12, 2013

If you didn’t see it yesterday, take a moment to watch this moving testimony from Phil Foil, a 45-year old longtime Republican activist. It will put all your problems in perspective.

Yesterday, state Senator Bill Cowsert sent out an email announcing that he will announce whether he’s running for Congress in the 10th District after the legislative session. The more interesting part of the message was that the media contact was listed as Ryan Mahoney, who managed Martha Zoller’s Congressional run last year and worked on Lee Anderson’s general election. Make of it what you will, but you don’t hire a pro like that to announce you aren’t running for Congress.

Senate Rules Calendar

HB 154 by Rep. Mark Hamilton, sponsored in Senate by Senator Tim Golden – Worker’s compensation; awards and benefits; change certain provisions

HB 254 by Rep. Bruce Williamson, sponsored in Senate by Senator Burt Jones -Motor vehicles; electronic proof of insurance may be accepted under certain circumstances

HB 414 by Rep. Calvin Smyre, sponsored in Senate by Senator Ed Harbison – Columbus, City of; “Redevelopment Powers Law”; provide referendum

HR 281 by Rep. Jay Roberts, sponsored in Senate by Senator Tyler Harper – Tift County; named in honor of the late Henry Harding Tift; provide

Senate Meeting Calendar

8:00 AM ED. & YOUTH Sub com-Academic Support 310 CLOB


House Rules Calendar

HB 106 by Speaker David Ralston and others – General appropriations; State Fiscal Year July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014

House Meeting Calendar

1:00 PM Floor Session (LD32) HOUSE CHAMBER
8:00 AM – 9:00 AM Resource Management Subcommittee of Natural Resources 506 CLOB
9:30 AM – 10:30 AM GAME, FISH & PARKS 403 CAP
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Admin/Licensing Subcommittee of Insurance 606 CLOB
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM JUDICIARY CIVIL 132 CAP
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDUCATION 506 CLOB (or Upon Adjournment)
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM DEFENSE & VETERANS AFFAIRS 415 CLOB (or Upon Adjournment)
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM WAYS & MEANS 606 CLOB (or Upon Adjournment)

Drama in the State House

Yesterday saw some hardball on the floor of the State House of Representatives over the handling of the Local Calendar. Usually, bills that affect only an identifiable local jurisdiction that have the support of local State Reps. are placed on a Local Consent Calendar that receives a single yes-or-no vote from the entire House.

It’s that “support of local State Reps” part where this gets all stuffed up. In the last round of redistricting, Republicans ended up with a majority of the votes in the Fulton County delegation after some members from other counties wound up with a handful of precincts in Fulton. Now Republicans in Fulton, led by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) and Edward Lindsey (R-Buckhead) have the numbers to pass local legislation.

The problem came when one of Lindsey’s bills, HB 541 to raise the Homestead Exemption for Fulton Homeowners came up for a vote by the entire house, where it received 119 votes, of a required two-thirds majority of 120 votes. From the AJC,

HB 541 is sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton. It would require voters to approve the exemption’s increase in a 2014 referendum. It would cost the county an estimated $40 million to $50 million in annual property tax revenue.

Other Republican-backed bills include one to redraw Fulton’s County Commission lines to add representation on the Northside. The Fulton commission has seven seats, two of which are countywide. Of the five districts, 1 1/2 take in north Fulton.

In largely Republican north Fulton, lawmakers and taxpayers have long said their money has gone to benefit the less afluent and more Democratic south Fulton, all while their power to influence policy has been limited. Most of Fulton is now incorporated into cities, which they see as a justification for scaling back the county budget.

Lindsey and other Republicans say House tradition is that legislation affecting a local jurisdiction is approved by the full House if a majority of the county’s delegation approves. But House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, said each member has an obligation to vote for or against a bill on its merits, and she claimed that Republicans in the past have defeated local bills with which they disagreed.

Local bills are normally voted on en masse. If, for example, there are eight such measures ready for a vote of the House, all of them typically are voted on at once. Thursday, only the Fulton County bill required a supermajority of 120 votes, two-thirds of the House’s membership, to pass. Instead, it received 119, which means it failed while the other bills passed.

Rep. Lindsey then called for reconsideration of the votes on a series of Democratic-sponsored bills passed earlier, then having received enough votes for reconsideration, he tabled the bills, effectively taking them hostage.

Lindsey’s goal is not to kill any of the bills. He simply wants to send a message to Democrats: Vote for HB 541 or watch your local bills languish.

“The vote was to make sure all those local bills are still in play while we talk to our friends on the Democratic side to restore the respect that has been shown to representatives of local delegations,” he said.

Speaking of drama, the meeting between Governor Nathan Deal and leaders from the NAACP and its allies didn’t exactly go too well. Of course when someone says you’re behaving like a dictator before the meeting, it’s hard to expect overflowing good will.

The specter of race, long an undercurrent in debate over the majority-black board’s future, burst into the forefront as the head of the state NAACP chapter and other groups complained that Deal told them to “find some good black people to run” during the closed-door meeting. They said Deal was implying that finding qualified black candidates would be difficult.

Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, didn’t dispute the remarks, but said they were part of a broader discussion over replacing the six suspended members, five of whom are black. Two of the three remaining members, who were allowed to stay because they were recently elected, are white.

Robinson said the governor was encouraging the groups to find qualifying candidates for the 2014 elections, and that the governor noted that DeKalb students he spoke with last week brought up academic, not racial, concerns in questioning Deal about his decision.

A nominating panel worked through the weekend to vet more than 400 candidates who are seeking the spots. So far, they have interviewed about 60 top contenders, and members hope to have a list of 12 finalists to Deal later this week. In the meantime, the three remaining board members can’t make legal quorum to vote on key decisions.

2014 Big Budget

Today the State House will take up the “Big Budget” for Fiscal Year 2014. An AP story made it past the editor’s desk with a $40.9 billion figure for the 2014 budget – that’s about twice the actual amount of $19.8 billion.

Included in the 2014 budget will be more money for education.

The budget calls for $800 million for new construction projects — most of it for schools and colleges — and more money for k-12 education. But it contains no cost-of-living raises for 200,000 state employees and teachers.

House leaders decided to save the $2.6 million “sparsity grant” program, which provides extra money to 20 tiny, isolated school districts in the state. Gov. Nathan Deal had proposed eliminating the program.

The grants account for up to 12 percent of some systems’ state funding, however.

House members also approved Deal’s proposal to add $12.9 million in funding so the state can increase the number of days of pre-kindergarten classes from 170 to 180 days per year.

House budget writers reduced the Tuition Equalization Grant — money paid to all private college students — from $700 to $500. The subsidy program has been around for about 40 years and is meant to help private college students pay tuition.

The $6 million saved by reducing the grant would be plowed into the Technical College System of Georgia. Deal proposed a $24 million cut in technical college funding because of an enrollment drop at the schools.

Walter Jones brings us the procedures for passing a final budget.

Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, predicts there will be little debate on the budget before the vote because tax collections have remained lean.

“There are no new, major initiatives, nothing new, sexy or pretty. Just trying to make sure Georgians are served and we’re spending their tax dollars as efficiently as we can,” he said.

That will leave eight days for the Senate to review the budget and pass its version before a House-Senate conference committee works out the differences by the last day of the 2013 session.

Senators will also begin looking at the bills passed by the House, and members of the House start scrutinizing what the Senate passed. Committees will have little time to ponder them.

Senate Leadership

If we’re writing about Senate Leadership much less this year, it’s because there’s much less drama, as the senior chamber appears to be working smoothly.

After last fall’s elections, Cagle’s allies succeeded in their counter revolution and put the lieutenant governor back into the decision-making council and placed themselves in the leadership posts.

They are also taking a less confrontational approach to the House and governor.

“We’ve decided to work cooperatively with the House,” said Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer, who notes that the Committee on Assignments still meets daily only now Cagle is a member. “We decided to work more cooperatively with each other.”

Shafer meets regularly with his opposite number in the House, Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones. Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance is often seen conferring with House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal.

Cagle has made efforts to reach out to both individual senators — even those like Carter who have disagreed with him in the past — and to the other state leaders, observers say.

The real test is ahead. Now that the House and Senate have each passed their own bills, they begin this week considering the other chamber’s legislation and making changes. When it comes to reaching agreement on those, including the budget and ethics, the chore is finding compromise in a civil fashion.

Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer is plotting a course leading toward greater reliance on the sales tax and less on the income tax as a means of limiting budgetary and tax increases and improving our economic development profile.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer, R-Duluth, is sponsoring two constitutional amendments for changing the state’s basic tax policy.

“This is to start the shift from an income tax to a consumption tax,” he said.

If voters approve, Senate Resolution 415 would prevent the Legislature from raising the state income tax, and SR 412 would require that any increase in the sales tax go toward lowering the income tax.

Because the measures can’t go on the general election ballot until next year anyway, Shafer figures there’s no rush to pass them in the nine days remaining in this year’s session.

Though his proposals won’t automatically cut the income tax rates, he feels they’re a start.

“They are the framework,” he said.

Nine governors are calling for the elimination of income taxes in their states. Georgia leaders have wanted to do it since Republicans took control of the state 10 years ago.

The reasons are that high-tech entrepreneurs say it’s easier to hire highly paid workers in states without income taxes and that selling out to a larger company is a tax-free event.

“The real issue is economics; you shouldn’t tax things you want more of,” said Kelly McCutchen, the president of the market-oriented think tank Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Cutting or eliminating the income tax is tricky because it brings in half of what the state uses for operations. McCutchen said raising the sales tax from 4 percent to 6 percent, eliminating some deductions and raising the personal exemption to benefit the poor would allow for cutting the income tax by half.

So, by McCutchen’s logic, which I accept, if you want to put state government on a diet, you should tax consumption.

Voting Rights Act

Congressman Lynn Westmoreland writes that dramatic changes in the nearly fifty years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act have removed the rationale for treating Southern jurisdictions differently from the rest of the country.

I’m not the only one who has noticed our changing times. In 2009, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder expressing their concerns. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by the nearly-unanimous Court, stated that the VRA “now raises serious constitutional concerns” and that it “differentiates between States in ways that may no longer be justified.” They did not go so far as to find Section 5 unconstitutional, but urged Congress to modernize it.

Yet three years later, Congress has done nothing, still feeling the need to punish certain areas of the country for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers. To put in perspective just how outdated this law is, people who became eligible to vote the year this law was passed became eligible for Medicare last year.

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