Senate Democrats Have An Agenda

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The Georgia General Assembly is not officially in session this week. As is custom, there is a break after last week’s start to the session to begin budget hearings as part of the process to fulfill their constitutional mandate to pass a budget.  Anything else provided by the legislature is just a bonus.

Senate Democrats used the spare time to hold a press conference on Tuesday announcing their legislative priorities.  Generally, the members of a party with a distinct partisan disadvantage can be largely ignored or possibly even mocked.  After all, the majority party controls the committees which legislation must pass through before it can reach the floor, and also the power to call for votes from the floor.

But this is the Georgia Senate, which puts the fun in dysfunctional.  With a Lieutenant governor and various factions within the Senate Republican caucus constantly jockeying for power and control, Democrats – along with their votes and possibly even their legislation – are in play.  As such, their proposals deserve scrutiny.

Perhaps the measure being put forward that will have the greatest public traction is the push for an independent ethics commission with funding independent of the legislature.  The idea is similar to one pushed by now Congressman Austin Scott when he was a state Representative, so some level of bipartisanship can be claimed.  Perhaps more importantly, the TEA Party Patriots have joined forces with Common Cause and other ethics watchdogs to push for real ethics reform this year.  While it is highly unlikely that the legislature will go so far as to give up the power to police themselves (or more importantly, to not police themselves), the various disparate groups that will be pushing for ethics reform this year make this the most likely place that Senate Democrats can claim a victory.

During this week of budget hearings, Democrats are also calling for requirements for fees to actually be used for the purpose that they are stated to have been collected.  As of now, most fees (which when raised are not to be called tax increases) are deposited into Georgia’s general fund, and are only appropriated to the causes for which they are purportedly collected if the legislature chooses to do so.

In times of budget cuts, these funds which are often earmarked to local governments never make it to their intended recipients.  State legislators usually attempt to feign some concern for the needs of municipalities who were looking for matching funds when they state that times are tough, and the state needs the money to take care of the well connected before any leftovers can be remitted to local sources.

A proposal to allow for same day voter registration is dead on arrival, and if it were to somehow pass the Senate would likely not ever be addressed in a Republican controlled House.  This measure is a clear appeal to a Democratic base, and does not represent a proposal that Democrats believe will become law in Georgia any time soon.

Perhaps the biggest strategy blunder on behalf of Democrats was to call for a three year moratorium on the expansion of HOT Lanes, favoring three years of study before proceeding.  Republicans have received deserved criticism for doing virtually nothing to improve metro Atlanta’s transportation grid during the decade which they have had control of the Governor’s mansion.  Faced with the prospect of raising taxes to fund significant infrastructure improvements, Republicans have often punted the issue by passing minor appropriations for studies rather than actually make leadership decisions.

While the only existing HOT Lanes on I-85 have received much criticism during their implementation, the proposed HOT Lanes for other areas of the metro would actually add additional lanes rather than re-purpose existing lanes.  Suggesting that expansion wait for three more years of study gives Republicans an additional out for making tough decisions, and makes Democrats complicit if the Atlanta region continues to be mired in gridlock.

The suggestion that the studies wait for a 3 year period also adds a bit of additional insult to one major Republican, as that time period coincides with the remainder of Governor Deal’s first term.  Suggesting the Governor stand down on transportation improvement initiatives that have been a key component in his attempt to break through various transportation bureaucracies for affordable solutions may not sit well with an executive who seems to have a better working relationship with House Democrats than their Senate counterparts.

16 comments

  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “But this is the Georgia Senate, which puts the fun in dysfunctional.”

    You’ve got that right!

    If State Senate Republicans are not going to be effective then they might as well be WILDLY entertaining.

  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “Perhaps the biggest strategy blunder on behalf of Democrats was to call for a three year moratorium on the expansion of HOT Lanes, favoring three years of study before proceeding.”

    Looks like hard-luck Georgia Democrats are at a disadvantage (and are unfashionably late to the party) on this issue, too, with the GOP putting what seems to be an unofficial PERMANENT moratorium on the expansion of HOT Lanes after the cancellation of the I-75/575 HOT Lane public-private partnership project and what are obvious attempts by Governor Deal and the Republicans to back away from the toll lane strategy as much as possible after lowering the off-peak tolls on the I-85 HOT Lane to the absolute minimum that the Feds would allow, which is one-cent.

  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Aside from Governor Deal personally being none too thrilled about using HOT Lanes as a measure of “congestion relief” in the first place, one can tell that there has likely been a conscious effort by state Republicans to back away from at least openly discussing the HOT Lane strategy as Peach Pundit’s very own Buzz Brockway has seemingly stopped posting the latest stats and data from the I-85 HOT Lanes, which if I may add, is a VERY smart political move because if I were a state Republican politician from Gwinnett County I might be highly tempted to pretend as if those lanes never existed right now.

    Although one could say that a Republican could likely never go wrong by disowning one of Sonny Perdue’s transportation policies.

      • I Miss the 90s says:

        You do know the HOT lanes were never about congestion relief…right?

        You right-wingers keep refusing to responsibly raise revenue via taxation and user fees have been touted as your version of just governmental financing since Reagan.

        By the way, since you do not have the data I am assuming you have no clue how to correctly estimate empirical models and engage in any meaningful hypothesis testing. I say this because Georgia Tech, you so-called Alma Mater, has kept data on the HOV lanes for years.

        • 22bons says:

          Buzz is posting summary data and it’s a damn fine public service. If you want to analyze that data using an “empirical model” and post it here I’ll be glad to provide constructive criticism of your work.

          • I Miss the 90s says:

            If I can’t publish it in a peer reviewed journal, it is a waste of my time (unless a member of the State Legislature or the Governor’s office makes a request) .

            That being said, Buzz, sure you can be just as smart as me. We all have our special areas of expertise (well, some of us). The smart thing for you to do is to stop your amateur data collection project and as a member of the GA Legislature you can simply ask a faculty member in a research program at any of GA’s research universities to answer your policy questions. Like I said before, trained researchers at Tech have already collected data on HOV lane use pre-HOT lanes, have them answer your questions (though several months data on the HOT lanes are still needed for any meaningful analysis).

            All of this still does not mean much. The HOT lanes may have been publicly claimed as congestion relief measures, but you need to be a grown up now. You are no longer just a private citizen blogging about ideological non-sense. You are a public official and have a responsibility to do the correct thing for your constituents…whom I assume are impacted by the HOT Lane in many ways, but I seriously doubt it they are significantly effected. You know the HOT lanes are simply a revenue generation measure designed to avoid raising taxes and if the pace of use keeps up the lanes may actually generate the revenue originally projected.

            Just curious, what is the question you want to answer with this data you are collecting?

            • Collecting data? I never said I was collecting data. One of these days I’ll get around to pulling the pre-HOT lane data from the DOT website and compare it to the HOT lane data SRTA has been sending out so folks can see for themselves. I’m not going to waste the time of GDOT employees and taxpayer money to pull data I can get from their website – especially for a post on Peach Pundit.

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                “One of these days I’ll get around to pulling the pre-HOT lane data from the DOT website and compare it to the HOT lane data SRTA has been sending out so folks can see for themselves.”

                Retrieving pre-HOT lane data from the GDOT website…A totally ‘radical’ concept that seems to have been completely lost on GDOT employees when planning the I-85 HOT Lanes.

            • 22bons says:

              A wasteof your time to write anything here? Really? So what exactly are you doing? Sounds like you are afraid to back up the $^%! you talk and have nothing useful to contribute.

  4. I Miss the 90s says:

    There is no need for GOPers to worry. At best, democrats will be afforded minor concessions for coalescing with one side of a divided GOP. The GOP will not allow a single Democratic Party Platform issue to pass and the GOP is not so divided in GA to afford many opportunities for such coalition forming.

    Chalk it up to Charlie’s paranoia…but Democratic priorities are still legislative non-starters in Georgia.

  5. Dave Bearse says:

    A HOT lane moratorium was unnecessary. There’s a fair chance HOT lanes will be discredited a year from now if the tolls don’t come close to covering operating costs. HOT lanes are a bust if operating cost exceeds toll revnue. Building a new HOT lane makes no sense when it cost more to build, more to operate, and relieves congestion less, than a new general purpose lane.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      In that case, HOT lanes have already been pretty much discredited as it’s no secret that the tolls don’t come anywhere close to covering operating costs or effectively relieving congestion.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Congestion on I-85 is now about the same as it was before HOT lanes, so it’s a matter of how much it’s costing the rest for tollpayers choice.

        There will be little more said about HOT lanes this year, especially in the NE suburbs, given pols have new 2012 districts and that HOT lanes having sharfted the 5% of commuters that were in two person car pools. Upset 5% of the vote in a very “safe” 55-45% district and it’s not so safe anymore.

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