Forward! After last night’s Wild Hog Supper, (At which, contrary to many media reports, NO alcohol is served, and more’s the pity) Georgia’s Legislature assembles today; 40 (business) days of arm-twisting and schmoozing now commence. Issues you will see the legislature take up include:
-Ethics Reform: This will be a lot of sizzle and maybe a bit of steak. A $100 gift cap proposed in the Senate will likely be trumped by a total gift ban in the House. Bonus points to any broadcast reporter at any station who can create compelling TV out of the conference committee debates about what a “gift” is. Also, Common Cause will probably try to limit donations to campaigns and PACs. Because they are communists.
-Side note, slightly related: A legislative pay increase in the $50,000 range. No, really. You may say WTH? but many folks are trying hard to push the idea that we need to change the way we compensate our legislators, to pay them at a level where they are not vulnerable to being corrupted by steak dinners, dancing girls and whatnot. This idea is NOT coming from legislators, but from well-intentioned reformers who do not understand electoral politics. Keep your ears open for this one, because it may just keep coming back like a bad penny.
“Bed Tax” for Hospitals. Truly a yawner, because it is not a real tax, but an administrative fee levied by hospitals to get half a billion federal dollars for a State-run program to take care of the poor. (Make sick people pay to take care of the poor? Brilliant!) The hospitals upon whom this fee/tax is levied are actually FOR it, so what’s the problem, unless you’re a dunce?
MOAR GEORGIA CITIES! Or not? State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, a Democrat with a soft spot in the heart of Republican House Speaker David Ralston, opposes the creation of any new cities, lest they interfere with the traditional system of corruption and graft called “DeKalb County.” Voters in Georgia want more control over their local governments, and have proven willing to do the heavy lifting to create city government that give them that control. See: Sandy Springs, Milton, John’s Creek, Chattahoochee Hills, Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Macon-Bibb if you don’t believe that. How far will Rep. Oliver’s blocking maneuver get? Anyone’s guess.
New Stadium: Unless the Falcons lose to San Francisco, this deal is done, put a fork in it and serve it up. Why? Because Atlanta can’t afford to not let the Georgia World Congress Center borrow another measly $100 million than they can already borrow, and unless the legislators from areas outside of Atlanta want to offer Arthur Blank and the NFL a better deal, then shut up. Who will be the first to offer to “raise taxes” back home instead of letting Atlanta do it, hmm? Anyone, anyone? I thought so.
Transportation: There is some whining that since the three regions that passed the ill-conceived T-SPLOST idea only have to come up with 10% local matching funds for transportation projects instead of the 30% that other regions (where T-SPLOST failed) have to pony up, that this “unfairness” should be corrected by the legislature. Gee, maybe somebody should have told the voters about the consequences of their decision before they made it. Too bad they tried to turn the project list into a candidate. Put this one in the “tough noogies” category.
Education: This will dominate a good bit of the legislative process for two big reasons: 1) the school funding formula is due for an overhaul for the first time in 28 years, and 2) DeKalb County. (see below) Also, a proposed “parent trigger” bill is coming. Dunwoody wants its own school system, and idea which is not going anywhere, but will not go away. And after today, the Chairman of the Education and Youth Committee may be a different guy. Which is too bad. And the Governor would like to restore some of the HOPE funding, end furlough days for teachers, a restore a full 180 days of pre-K, and oh yeah, education takes up half the state budget, and is a mess.
DeKalb County: Why should one of Georgia’s 159 counties get its own legislative category? Because it’s the only County in Georgia with a system of governance designed by a “Lebanese barkeep,” as a friend of mine says. And because that system ain’t workin’ out so hot right now, what with the CEO being under investigation for contract-tampering. And with the County School System in utter disarray. Add in the cities thing, mentioned above, and you should be hearing a lot about DeKalb County during this legislative session.
Budget: Oh yeah. That’s the only thing they really have to do. Everything else is just window dressing. Expect cuts.