A Response From Sen. Zell Miller – InsiderAdvantage
(7/13/05) A generation ago, in 1969, Georgiaâ€™s attorney general was Arthur K. Bolton of Griffin. A World War II hero, he was known for his integrity, bluntness and political independence.
That year he issued a ruling about the â€œannual appropriation for the Executive Mansion,â€? which had been established four years earlier in 1965 and needed to be clarified. As usual, his words were clear and unambiguous. He opined that expenses â€œare part of such officialâ€™s gross income.â€? He went on to point that to the extent they were not used for official business, they were â€œtaxable.â€?
We strictly lived by that ruling. We lived by it because it was the law. None of the four governors before me (Maddox, Carter, Busbee, Harris) left a single penny for the governor after them. Only Barnes did that in 2002.
The WSB-TV stories have strongly insinuated that I had kept part of the Mansion allowance in an improper way. The numerous promotions of the stories and the stories themselves were brutal; worse than any negative attack ads I ever received in campaigns.
They also claimed that I had â€œrented outâ€? the mansion. It was not explained to whom, for what or how much the â€œrentâ€? was.
At the outset, letâ€™s get this straight. I was the governor and should be the one held responsible for whatever happened while I was in office. But I was not involved with the day-to-day operations of the Mansion or the administration of its account. That was done by an excellent staff of career employees.
My time was spent being the Chief Executive Officer of an $8 billion-a-year business. I worked long, hard hours. A 16-hour day was commonplace. I was working to balance a budget during the early lean years; creating programs like the HOPE Scholarship Pre-kindergarten, Family Connection; taking the state sales tax off groceries; preparing for the Olympics; dealing with tornadoes, blizzards, floods (nine national disasters in all); traveling the world to bring jobs to Georgia; overseeing new technical schools; and expanding construction in the University of Georgia system at a record amount. And, yes, raising the salaries of teachers from seventh to first in the Southeast. I was not down in the basement of the Mansion trying to figure out how to rip off Georgia taxpayers.
Here are the facts. The Mansion allowance was approximately $111.00 a day, or $40,000 a year. It could be used for (1) food and drink for official-type dinners, parties and receptions; (2) food and drink for the Miller family, or (3) go unspent. I was to pay taxes on the latter two as gross income, and I did.
Fifty-five percent of it was spent on official functions such as the annual dinners for the members of the General Assembly and their spouses and many department head and board member events. I started receptions each year for the valedictorians in all of Georgiaâ€™s high schools, both public and private. We held many recognition dinners for many Georgians honored for their achievements. There were Mansion visitor tours two days each week and every day for two weeks for eight Christmases. We had refreshments for thousands.
We were very careful to keep the â€œofficialâ€? from the â€œpersonal,â€? even having a separate refrigerator for each. Over the eight years, we saved $112,956 and spent $32,552 on our own food. We paid taxes on both.
Of course, we ate at the many different official functions and attended and ate at hundreds of events away from the Mansion. We often ate out alone and did not use allowance money. Our favorite places were the Piccadilly at Howell Mill Road, and the Colonnade on Cheshire Bridge. None of my lunches came from allowance funds for I was away at work. Our meals were simple and usually we prepared breakfast ourselves. There were only the two of us. The three other governors before us had children.
We personally could have eaten more extravagantly and completely used up the allowance funds. We could have had lavish dinners with fine wines and filet mignon for our contributors and supporters. We could have even asked them to spend the night and had eggs benedict for breakfast. We could have eaten high on the hog, but we didnâ€™t; we were frugal.
There were many functions that could not be defined as â€œofficialâ€? and could not be paid for by taxpayersâ€™ money. We did not initiate any of these but responded to some of the many requests. They paid the actual cost of the event and the Mansion account made no money from them. I assume these were the â€œrentersâ€? WSB-TV referred to. A few I can remember were the Atlanta Area Georgetown University Alumni; a Bill Shipp book signing; CNN; the International Olympics Committee; WQXI Imus Breakfast; Friends of Zoo Atlanta; Nature Conservancy contributors; Board of Global Ministries; Peachtree Road Methodist Church group; Rick Allen farewell; Gov. Maddox and Gov. Sanders birthday parties; Young Harris College Alumni; Ducks Unlimited; and several for the Woodruff Arts Center donors, just to name a few. I was present for each event and proud to be the host.
I strictly obeyed the law. In my heart of hearts, I know I did nothing wrong. But I cannot live with some folks thinking I have taxpayersâ€™ money I should not have. So therefore, I will sent a personal check to the state of Georgia for $112,956, plus interest of that â€œgross incomeâ€? I was entitled to by law and paid taxes on.
I know some folks may ask, â€œIf you donâ€™t believe you did anything wrong, why pay this money back?â€? Itâ€™s for the simple reason that, aside from my family, my service to the people of Georgia has been the most important thing in my life and exceeds any personal preference I may have to â€œhang toughâ€? even though I do not believe I have done anything to violate their trust.
I also know that I have made some political enemies over the past couple of years because I have spoken my conscience, and that the WSB-TV stories are in large part of those individualsâ€™ attempts to extract their pound of flesh. I will always endeavor to honor the people of Georgia who I have tried to serve to the best of my ability, and I will always â€œtell it like it is.â€?
July 13, 2005