Georgia Senate: We’re Lying To You, And You Like It

Today’s Courier Herald Column

Shell games, in their purest form, are known to be a hustle.  Anyone playing is a rube or an easy mark.  Those operating the shell game know that they will win via trickery, sleight of hand, or diversion.  The process can be interesting to watch as a bystander, if only to wonder what makes the participant think that he will be the one that somehow defeats a time honored game where the operator, some other participants, and even spectators are “in” on the fix.

When one is forced to participate, however, the entertainment value is lost.  It becomes no longer a game but an exercise in abuse of power.  The game is merely a charade to make you feel better about money that is about to be taken under false pretenses.  You are at least expected to appreciate the effort contributed into providing you a good show in the process.

The State Senate on Monday told Georgians that they will continue to lie to them, and that taxpayers will continue to like it.  The time honored shell game of Georgia’s budgeting process will continue, as it serves incumbents well.  Most, after all, have signed pledges not to raise taxes.  Fees, on the other hand, are fair game.

Republicans learned early on in their majority in the legislature that it would be impossible to pass any tax increases.  Yet the wants and needs of a growing population and more importantly, the projects of the well connected require revenue, usually quantified as “more”.  While standing resolute against tax increases, legislators have been quite open to the idea of increasing “user fees”, arguing that they represent the cost of a government service being provided.  Fees – and fee increases – are quite popular under the Gold Dome these days.

The legislature finds it equally popular to divert the fees collected from their intended uses to spend on pet projects.  In Georgia, money not specifically allocated in the constitution is put into the General Fund.  Regardless of any stated reason why monies are collected, it is the General Assembly and the Governor who decide how the money is spent.

Problems caused  by fee diversion are not new. In 2009, the AJC documented that $15 Million of fees collected to support local 911 centers were retained by the state and spent elsewhere.  Local governments lost out on at least $1 Million of federal matching funds because of the missing money, and were stuck with antiquated 911 facilities.

 It was but one of many fees being diverted to plug holes in the state budget.  Ben Harbin, then chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said of local governments concerns “I know people are upset about it, but it’s not worth raising taxes over” and “We have to balance our budget”.  Local governments who were due funds, also having the responsibility to balance budgets, were unimpressed yet remained a loser in the budgetary shell game.

Representative Jay Powell of Camilla introduced HB 811 in an attempt to restore some level of integrity to the fee process.  The bill would automatically reduce fees if audits find that the funds generated exceed monies appropriated for their stated purposes.  While the measure was able to pass the House, the Senate effectively gutted the bill on Monday, adding language that effectively makes the bill meaningless.

Unapologetic, Rules Committee Chairman Don Balfour boasted to the AJC that “We’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I still keep getting re-elected.”  That’s political speak for “we will continue to lie to you, the voters and the taxpayers, and you will continue to like it.” 

Balfour’s unique position has been detailed here before.  As Rules Chair, it is virtually impossible to get any legislation through the Senate without his specific approval.  Thus, he can command sizable donations from lobbyists toward his re-election efforts.  He can pay for a luxury mid-town Atlanta condo out of campaign funds while claiming mileage and per diem from taxpayers for traveling another 30 miles home to Gwinnett County every day the legislature is in session – plus an additional 100 more – without being challenged or questioned by his peers.  And he sits on a campaign warchest that makes any challenger ready to take him on face the prospect of needed a half million dollars or more to try and win a $17,000 per year job.

Don Balfour’s “screw you” attitude to his own constituents and the rest of Georgia is a new high water mark in Georgia political arrogance.  Then again, he would probably argue that it ain’t arrogance if he can back it up.  His continued support from the Senate Republican Caucus and his constituents is evidence of that.

Further disappointing is that leadership of Georgia’s Tea Party Patriots live in Balfour’s Gwinnett County.  He is a walking poster child for what the TEA Party claims to want to reform, yet he is also an elected Republican.  As the TEA Party has morphed into a wing of the Republican Party, the desire to challenge powerful incumbents seems to have diminished.

Barring fellow Senators growing a spine or the TEA Party organizing and focusing their sizable resources, Balfour’s statement is likely to remain true.  He will keep being re-elected, and Georgia’s leaders will continue to charge us fees and then spend the money as they like.

And we will be told we like it. Because we will continue to re-elect them.

32 comments

  1. debbie0040 says:

    “Further disappointing is that leadership of Georgia’s Tea Party Patriots live in Balfour’s Gwinnett County. He is a walking poster child for what the TEA Party claims to want to reform, yet he is also an elected Republican. As the TEA Party has morphed into a wing of the Republican Party, the desire to challenge powerful incumbents seems to have diminished.”

    You are way off base with this statement and many will have primary opposition. I don’t live in Balfour’s district and neither does Julianne. We cannot just produce primary opposition out of thin air. If you have suggestions, please send them our way..

    We supported the bill that would require fees to be used for their purpose.

    • Calypso says:

      Debbie, I have a suggestion for someone to primary Balfour. I prefer not to mention this person’s name here, but is there an email address I can contact you?

      • debbie0040 says:

        [email protected]

        It is ironic Charlie posted this. He has no clue what we are doing. There will be a few incumbents that have primary opposition from talking to tea party activists state-wide. When you are dealing wih powerful elected officias, it is always best policy that they don’t know you are coming until it is too late…

        • Three Jack says:

          “When you are dealing wih powerful elected officias, it is always best policy that they don’t know you are coming until it is too late…”

          Serious question, how do you surprise a ‘powerful elected official’ who has over $500,000 banked for his next campaign with qualifying three months prior to primary day?

    • Big Tuna says:

      If TEA Party folks are in support of fees being required to be used for their stated purpose, why can’t TEA parties get behind the T-SLOST?

      • rrrrr says:

        T-SPLOST – You have got to be kidding us right? Or should we get the nets ready for you Big Tuna?

  2. Three Jack says:

    Great column Charlie, that’s how one calls out somebody (or some organization)!

    Be careful next time you go to Waffle House, may find something extra in your scattered, covered and smothered.

  3. CobbGOPer says:

    As I’ve said in other threads regarding the Paulistas, though it applies here too:

    The TEA Party needs to go whole hog and become an ACTUAL POLITICAL PARTY. Everyone, including the Republican establishment, is always spouting this “change the party from the inside” line. But it never works. What happened with the TEA Party? The GOP coopted them, made promises of change to shut many of them up, and now could give a rats small rear-end about their issues. But the TP’ers keep going “we’ll just keep working on them, we’ll get change eventually.”

    Tell that to the libertarians and RLC (Republican Liberty Caucus, the “libertarian wing” of the GOP) members – which includes me – who’ve been trying this for many, many moons.

    The only thing that will get the GOP or the Dems to change their tune is a separate, independent party that will actually compete with them for resources and votes. No more of this “change them from the inside” bull.

    • elfiii says:

      “The only thing that will get the GOP or the Dems to change their tune is a separate, independent party that will actually compete with them for resources and votes. No more of this “change them from the inside” bull.”

      I don’t disagree except to say the history of third party movements in this country is worse than abysmal.

      A better thing would be for the people to clean their houses. The problem with that is “My guy is great. Your guy is the one that needs to go.”

      • greencracker says:

        Somebody pointed out to me — it is comparatively easy to create a political party once and get it a regular spot on statewide (or all?) ballots from then on. You just have to get a bunch of signatures, maybe 1% of registered voters, in favor of creating your party. Then I think you can get party primaries just like the the other parties.

  4. Slugworth says:

    Oh the irony that we have heard nothing from the Tea Party on supporting this bill, at least that I am aware of. Indeed, with the exception of Joshua’s Law, local governments are mandated to carry out the services these fees are statutorily dedicated to. So, when the General Assembly redirects these fees (thus making them backdoor taxes), locals have to raise taxes to fund the services (double taxation?). Jay’s bill is a responsible way to address this bait and switch. Shame on the Senate Appropriations Committee for ensuring this shell came continues unabated. Note also that HB 871 passed the House and is in the Senate to extend the sunset on the Joshua’s Law fee (raises about $10 million annually). I’d say the odds are pretty good the Senate will pass this to keep these “taxes” coming into their coffers. Drivers education has received none of this money in the past three years.

  5. saltycracker says:

    Jason’s Thursday post explained how the user fees would get where intended – as soon as the state has a billion dollars in reserves. Tell your grandchildren to get ready for the windfall….maybe….

    Meanwhile we get to chuckle as some worthwhile cause comes up with a campaign for a special car tag….

  6. CobbGOPer says:

    Of course, knowing Don Balfour, he’s probably got a super PAC funded by Waffle House ready to pounce on anyone who steps up to the plate to challenge him.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      The Pancake PAC or Maple Syrup PAC (not to be confused with Log Cabin Republicans, of course).

  7. xdog says:

    “As the TEA Party has morphed into a wing of the Republican Party . . . ‘

    The Tea Party has never been anything but a disaffected GOPer wing. They’re many of the same people who pretended to know nothing about Glenn Richardson and the intensive in-bed lobbying until his wife had enough and spoke publically. If they and the rest of the GOP can wink at that, and they most enthusiastically did, then why pretend they will get all exercised about the antics of a run of the mill hands-out fat cat like Balfour?

    • debbie0040 says:

      xdog, you are wrong. The tea party is about good government, not incumbent protection. There will be incumbents primaried this year-both Democrat and Republican.. I have heard that some of our good strong, good government Republicans like Sen. Josh McKeown may be targets because they are outspoken about ethics reform . We will protest those good government Republicans .

      It is amusing that I have been told by some Gold Dome staffers that they supported the tea party as long as they just attacked and targeted Democrats. They went on to say that we should not criticize or target Republicans. My response is they should not give us anything to attack them or criticize them for. If you advocate principles of good government, then we support, if you don’t, then watch out.. We understand that to unseat powerful incumbents, we may not be successful the first time and that we will need to keep trying and trying u ntil we are successful. We are patient..

      An amusing rumor going around the gold dome is that I am not longer associated with Tea Party Patriots. I found this rumor particullary amusing given the fact I serve on the Tea Party Patriots Board of Directors and was just elected one of the corporate officers.

  8. Cassandra says:

    There is a direct correlation of new handles to harsh comment ratio. I will call the phenomena the Harpy Effect.

  9. Nugget says:

    Hey…is Balfour still cross-dressing and having chicks spank his naughty butt? This guy is a total womanizing, for sale scumbag.

    While Balfour is among the most corrupt of all legislators, he has lots of company is a corrupt and dysfunctional Senate…Chip Rogers, Tommie Williams, Jack Hill, Greg Goggans, Bill Heath. The state would be better if all these guys would retire. But no, a few thousand dumbass voters will send them back for forty days of women, sex, lies and lobbyists.

  10. Dave Bearse says:

    From Wednesday’s AJC “Senators gut anti-diversion bill” column…

    Lawmakers have a history of getting around the law and diverting the money, and some senators didn’t think the new bill would stop the end runs. “We have been doing this for 20 years, and I still keep getting re-elected,” said Rules Committee Chariman Don Balfour.

    …………………………………..
    It’s not like Balfour unilaterally declared himself Rules Committee Chairman, and can do whatever he wants with impunity. No, he’s a go-to guy for the state’s power players and senior GOP leadership. They WANT him doing what he does.

    Need to give big industry a pass while charging Georgia Power residential customers $500 each upfront for Plant Vogtle in order to add a few hundred million to Southern Company’s bottom line? Go to Don Balfour.

    Casey Cagle wanted gift limitation legislation buried. Who’d he send it to? Don Balfour.

    And Balfour works cheap too. Where else can senior leadership get that kind of service value by simply turning a blind eye to a few dozen per diems and a couple thousand dollars in mileage?

    Yeah, there’s no doubt the state is going to be governed so much better with a General Assembly GOP supermajority.

  11. oldman45 says:

    One visit to a Senate Rules Committee meeting would make you sick…this guy is the epitome of unbridled arrogance drunk on power…everything that is wrong with politics. “It’s all about me!”

  12. johnl says:

    “We’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I still keep getting re-elected.”

    He’s saying that the electorate is either stupid or they don’t care, and he’s right.

    The question is how do you attack this problem? Who is going to mount a campaign against this guy or any of the other power players when there’s no chance of winning?

  13. Three Jack says:

    The Tea Party Patriots really need a spokesperson with far more political awareness than the one representing them on this website. If TPP leadership wants to continue the impressvie expansion of its organization, they should appoint a qualified representative to speak on their behalf in public forums like PP.

    Picking nits, debbie in one paragraph says the TPP is “about good government”, then writes, “We will protest those good government Republicans.” Kind of hard to follow this train of thought.

    It is great that so many like debbie have taken their private time to help start TPP. But for TPP to maintain its relevance, it needs to clarify its message then have an articulate spokesperson promulgate said message in a concerted effort to promote ‘good (ethical) government’ at the lowest cost possible.

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