Georgia TEA Parties: Come Home

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Members of Georgia’s TEA Parties were focused on Wisconsin last week, holding rallies in solidarity of the efforts to end collective bargaining for various mid-western states’ employees unions at the Georgia Capitol.  With all respect to Georgia’s organizers, I’d suggest it is time to focus their efforts back home, here in Georgia.  I would suggest they start with SB 160 and its primary sponsor, Senator Don Balfour (R-Snellville).

It’s difficult for me to type (R-Snellville) when I type Senator Balfour’s name, because when I see his name, I think (R-Georgia Power).  Two years ago, Balfour was the primary sponsor of SB 31, a bill that bypassed the Georgia Public Service Commission with mandated rate increases allowing for Georgia Power to build two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Votgle.   Please let me state for the record that I am pro-nuclear power, and support new reactors at Votgle.  The way these are being paid for, however, is an abomination to Georgia citizens, especially Georgia Power consumers.

SB 31, custom written for Georgia Power, allows the utility to bill consumers for “financing costs” of the two plants beginning this year (coincidentally, after the most recent election – no need to let voters see an ugly legislature mandated rate hike just before they vote).  Though the new reactors will not be productive before 2016 at the earliest, Georgia Power customers will begin paying for the reactors now.  Except, Balfour exempted large commercial users from the rate increase.  Thus the burden will fall on small businesses and residential customers to pay this portion of construction costs.

To make matters worse, “financing costs” includes a legally mandated “return on investment” or as most of us would call it, “profit”, to the tune of about one billion dollars.  Don Balfour and the rest of Georgia’s legislature made sure that you and I, but not large businesses, give Georgia Power – a large private company – a $1 billion advance profit on a plant that will not generate power for at least five more years.

For Georgia Power to generate this kind of legislation, they invested heavily in the legislature, and deployed an armada of over 70 lobbyists – roughly one for every three legislators – to ensure the bill passed.

This year, Balfour is back sponsoring SB 160, a bill that would allow regulated utilities to make direct campaign contributions to Georgia political candidates, with the exception of the Public Service Commission.  Apparently, having to deploy over 70 lobbyists is inefficient, and Balfour would like to make it easier to for the utilities to come straight to them bearing cash.

His rationale is rooted in a recent US Supreme Court decision which recognizes a corporation as a person, and as such, has the right to make campaign contributions.  The Citizens United case struck down a significant portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law just over a year ago, and Balfour told the AJC that Georgia’s current law is “blatantly unconstitutional”, given that the Supreme Court has ruled corporate political donations are protected speech.

As always, when I see most politicians referencing the Constitution, I assume it is a matter of convenience to support their position de jour.  And thus, I will offer that the problem with Balfour’s argument is within the bill itself.

SB 160, as currently written, maintains the existing exemption from regulated utilities making donations to the Public Service Commission campaigns for those who will ultimately regulate them.  In doing so, Balfour implicitly acknowledges that there are limits to the political free speech as granted in the Citizens United decision.

Assuming there are valid reasons to restrict government regulated monopolies from donating to those who regulate them, there is reason to believe these limitations can extend to legislators as well, given that Balfour proved with the previous SB 31 bill that the legislature can bypass the PSC whenever they are so inclined, especially 70 lobbyists or a pile of direct campaign contributions encourage them to do so.

And thus, the TEA Party members who focused like a laser on Washington and their bad habits in the 2010 election need to get busy looking at our state legislature for 2012.  Whether it’s a “tax”, a “fee”, or a mandated rate increase that hits small businesses and residents but exempts large corporations who can afford lobbyists, the folks at the gold dome have proven time and time again they have a way of getting into our wallets.   Yet if the focus remains on Washington, the rules back home will continue to be changed in favor of the big guys, with us little people footing the bill.


  1. Three Jack says:

    good column charlie.

    if i remember correctly, debbie dooley and the gtpp put forth a major ethics reform proposal during the first week of session. i’m not sure if it included provisions to address this particular situation, but they have at least been trying to persuade legislators to introduce tougher ethics standards.

    regarding this piece of sh…oops, i mean legislation, i still think it is best to remove all restrictions on contributions as long as everything is reported. the instant a legislator is caught not having reported a contribution from one of the fatcat lobbyists, he or she should be brought up on charges and forced to resign. tougher penalties will do far more than tougher restrictions.

    • Bill30097 says:

      “i still think it is best to remove all restrictions on contributions as long as everything is reported. the instant a legislator is caught not having reported a contribution from one of the fatcat lobbyists, he or she should be brought up on charges and forced to resign. tougher penalties will do far more than tougher restrictions.”

      I agree except that being convicted should mean the perp is never allowed to hold any public office or job ever again.

  2. bowersville says:

    debbie dooley and the gtppp put forth a major ethics reform proposal….while Georgia Power and their major investors have their hand in the back pocket of every citizen and small businessman with a legislated guaranteed profit.

    But hey look over yonder. It’s free speech and send me a campaign contribution.

  3. B Balz says:

    “…The way these are being paid for, however, is an abomination to Georgia citizens, especially Georgia Power consumers. …”

    I did not like SB31, did not seem like it was going to actually save anyone anything at all. Having said that, two points:

    1.) If it works, how would ratepayers know? In other words, my power bill went up ($3.51 for me) this year, with additions calculated through years to come. The idea is that the ratepayer pre-pays interest on a high cost capital project. Thus, if the pre-paid interest charge is actually less than if we paid over the full term, we all save. How would we know?

    2.) Litigate. As I understand it, SB31 would fail litigation. Class action suit.

  4. saltynuts says:

    It’s hard to blame someone for trying to upgrade his status from slampiece to whore. Anyone who bends over that far for Georgia Power should get paid.

    The most galling part of SB31 is that Georgia Power actually gets to “earn” it’s 11+% rate of return on the ratepayer money it’s using to prepay constructions costs.

  5. Hardly says:

    A unionized public employee, a teabagger, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, then looks at the teabagger and says “Watch out for that union guy—he wants a piece of your cookie!”

    • macho says:

      It’s always funny to me how the union types keep up the delusional mindset that the US does not participate in the world economy.

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      And who would happen to be the ‘CEO’ of a public department? I think they took more than a dozen cookies. They’re spending cookies they don’t have.

      You might want to recount ’em.

    • Bill30097 says:

      A unionized public employee, a tea party person (called teabagger by ignoranuses), and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO’s company produced the cookies and he takes 11 to cover the costs of production and capital and leaves to distribute the 11 cookies to the suppliers so they can pay their employees.

      The Union guy has a menial job where he loads boxes of cookies on a pallet – good job for omeone who dropped out of the 9th grade when he tured 18 and didn’t need hi single mother’s permission. The Tea Party person with the MBA which she is still paying off did the research that opened up a major market for the company and enabled the CEO to only need 11 of 12 cookies to cover costs. They both grab for the cookie. The union guy grabs the woman’s hand and pulls her across the table and sexually assaults her and takes the cookie and steals her cell phone which he uses to call Demorat poli-tic-ian who comes with the police, arrests the woman for attempted theft and goes after the CEO to steal 2 more cookies from him. Next month when the market changes there is no MBA to tell the CEO what distribution canges are needed . But that is not so bad because when the CEO could not fully pay his suppliers because the union guy got the government guy to steal extra cookes te company went out of business. As they start to tear down the cookie plant for a new housing development, the union guy sits in the bar across the street telling the bartender to give him another drink on the “tab” nd he will pay him back when the cookie plant reopens.

      • Charlie says:

        Yeah, see, it’s like this.

        Hardly is what we commonly call a troll.

        You are now doing what is commonly called feeding a troll.

        Please do not feed the trolls.

        And Hardly, please do not threadjack.

        This line of this thread ends here. Any follow up comments to this off-topic non-sense can be directed back to the multiple threads we had on unions last week, or on the recently posted open thread.

        Anyone that continues here will spend some time in time-out.

  6. SOGTP says:

    The Public Service Commission (PSC) and the State government are one in the same. The State government created the PSC to “regulate” monopolies. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. The State government steals a percentage of energy companies profits and lards it into the government to be spread around among bureaucrats. Then $.40 cents on the dollar is sent back out on projects that the PSC deems fruitful. The PSC bureaucrat allows rates to rise on consumers and works hand-in-hand with the energy companies hoping for that post public service job paying $200K per year at one of the energy companies.

    Allowing these companies to donate to campaigns is dangerous. The State government will steal more money from the energy companies expanding government, the PSC will allow energy rates to rise maintaining energy company profits, and the energy companies will donate to campaigns of those politicians and bureaucrats that do their bidding. In the end the consumers pay the price.

    It’s exactly what the Democrats do now with the National Educat0rs Association (NEA).

    • Scott65 says:

      The PSC is in the pocket of the ones they are supposed to regulate already. Saying the PSC would not be included is nothing but a red herring to deflect from that. Its too bad Angela Spiers didn’t run for re-election on the PSC. She was wouldn’t take any of their money…not even to buy her lunch, and she looked out for consumers. I dont think anyone does that anymore

      • macho says:

        Yes, that’s what we need more Angela Spier types. Who now, under the veil of “good intentions”, is a high-paid lobbyist at the legislature and PSC, arguing for more environmental measures, which are the primary source of all these rate increases.

        Do we even need to ask where GA Watch gets their money?

  7. troutbum70 says:

    Well this is Don Balfour we’re talking about. Thank goodness he didn’t make it to Congress with his short lived campaign of running to replace Linder. Balfour is a lackey for Georgia Power and always has been. If he’s not an example of the reason for term limits than I don’t know what is. Don’t forget that he needed $7,000 in monthly rent for a place downtown even though he lives in Gwinnett County. 1,000 of people commute each day to and from Atlanta coming out of Gwinnett. Not sure why he couldn’t. Definitely need the TPP to kick in on this one.

  8. debbie0040 says:

    I personally strongly oppose this bill. I sent out an email to our activists this morning to see how they feel about this and if they want to unite to fight this.

    • Harry says:

      Thank you. These protected, semi-public utilities don’t need be even more ensconced in the legislature. But I fear with Don Balfour’s blessing SB160 is a done deal.

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