Tagged Chip Rogers

Two sides on Municipal Broadband bill SB 313

Senate Bill 313, by Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), which he calls the Broadband Investment Equity Act is running into opposition from the Georgia Municipal Association, Google and Columbia County.

According to Rogers’s press release:

The primary goal of SB 313 is to protect taxpayers and encourage private investment by requiring local governments to engage and educate its citizens through public hearings and special election prior to starting a new communications network.  Additionally, the local government must solicit RFP’s from private providers and show fiscal responsibility through a cost-benefit analysis of its plan.  The Broadband Investment Equity Act bill asserts that when a government entity provides a broadband in competition with a private business, it must play by the same rules that apply to private business.

“Broadband is a vital tool for education reform and economic development.  This bill will allow for robust competition in the communication marketplace and encourage continued economic growth throughout our state,” said Rogers.  “By extending our long-standing commitment to policies that encourage private investment and market-driven competition, we are putting the needs of our citizens above those of government.”

The Broadband Investment Equity Act prevents local governments from discriminating against access of rights-of-way or poles and ensuring they provide reasonable rates, terms and conditions to private providers.  Like private business, public providers are prohibited from paying for communication networks with tax revenue or revenue from any other service provided by local government.  Additionally, the bill requires local government to pay income, sales and property taxes, as well as franchise and right-of- way fees from a separate fund established for the service.

A group that includes Google, and the Technology Industry Association wrote to Georgia leaders to oppose the bill, claiming that

SB 313 will hurt the private sector in several ways: by curtailing public-private partnerships; by stifling the ability of private companies to sell equipment and services to public broadband providers; and by impairing economic and educational opportunities that would contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state would benefit….

SB 313 would impose burdensome financial and regulatory requirements that will prevent public broadband providers from building the sorely needed advanced broadband infrastructure that will stimulate local businesses development, foster work force retraining, and boost employment in these economically depressed areas.

The Columbia County News-Times also opposes the measure, in part because of a project already underway using federal funds:

That federal program is designed to expand broadband Internet service to rural areas that, because of the up-front infrastructure costs, aren’t deemed profitable by private companies. Our county has plenty of those areas, served at best only by spotty, expensive cellular-based services.

Columbia County’s program wouldn’t compete with private companies. Instead, it uses the federal grant and local sale-tax funding to build that high-speed infrastructure, which private companies can then lease to provide Internet service to underserved areas.

Opposing government broadband, Rogers cites the failure of Marietta’s city-owned broadband initiative

“We’re not outlawing a local government entity (from) doing this…  but if they’re going to compete, then they need to play by the same rules and they need to go to the voters and ask the voters if it’s OK that they spend all these dollars before they go out and spend them,” he says.
Rogers cites the city of Marietta’s money-losing venture with the creation of FiberNet in the late 1990’s. The city finally sold the company in 2004 to American Fiber Systems at a loss of $24 million.
Lobbyists who support Senate Bill 313 minimize the burden on local government of the bill:

First, the taxpayer cost is enormous and often underestimated. From California to Vermont, local taxpayers have been left with millions in deficits because municipalities are not equipped to keep up with the rapidly changing technology necessary to keep these networks up-to-date. Right here in Georgia, Marietta had a to sell its system for a more than $20 million loss.

Second, because GONs often get special tax and regulatory advantages, they keep private competitors from ever investing in an area. Why would private companies choose to compete unfairly with the government when they can take their scarce investment dollars elsewhere. Not only does this mean fewer jobs in these local communities, but because public networks often fail, it means these residents may forever be left without broadband. It at least means a further, or interrupted, delay in access.

Contrary to some rumors, SB 313 would not prevent local lawmakers from building GONs. All the bill would do is ask that they hold public hearings on the plan and put it to a vote. And, if the GON would compete against a private network, it would require both public and private networks compete on a level playing field.

For the sake of the economy, and for the sake of greater broadband access, Georgians should demand as much. And Sens. Bulloch and Hill should require it.

Local governments note that broadband is necessary for economic development.

“There’s nobody that will even look at you, will come to an industrial park or a county that doesn’t have that (broadband) infrastructure in place.”

“The biggest challenge for rural populations is the business case, the return on investment for telecom providers,” said Calhoun. [Rich Calhoun, who directs the broadband program at the Georgia Technology Authority.]

I have two concerns with the measure. The first is the applicability of lessons learned in Metro Atlanta across the state. There appears to be an increasing sentiment among some in the General Assembly to fix all local problems with statewide “solutions.”

My second concern is that without maximum flexibility, rural areas may be left behind, without modern broadband access. Last year, AT&T appeared before the Georgia Public Service Commission. Commissioner Doug Everett asked AT&T’s lawyer whether the company was interested in serving small communities that are currently served by local telephone companies. The company’s lawyer simply said, “No.”

Peach Pundit opens the dialogue with the Georgia Senate

Yesterday, Charlie, Mike, and I sat down for a candid discussion with Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) about some of the issues that he and his caucus are pushing this session.

While this was an opportunity for Sen. Rogers to relay his agenda, the discussion was very direct, yet friendly. Given that this was our first meeting, it was more of an introduction; a chance for us to have a better understanding of the Senate’s perspective on major issues facing the state in 2012 and on.

Some of the issues brought up during our discussion are familiar. Sen. Rogers told us that his Taxpayer Protection Act and zero-based budgeting are again working through the legislature and seem likely to pass.

Given the news about education and scandals in school systems in recent months, Sen. Rogers expressed support for a constitutional amendment protecting charter schools. He indicated that support existed inside his caucus to move the amendment, which is needed to fix a incredibly misguided decision by the state Supreme Court, but noted that it faced an uncertain future in the House.

Sen. Rogers also noted his support for bringing education into the 21st Century by paving the way for money online classrooms and using e-readers to save money on textbooks. These may not be things the legislature takes up this year, but Sen. Rogers indicated that Georgia has to think outside-the-box in order to use taxpayer dollars more wisely.

He also noted that some technical corrections may be needed on last year’s anti-immigration bill (HB 87), but that it wouldn’t be a broad overhaul, despite worker shortages in South Georgia. Sen. Rogers also acknowledged that the T-SPLOST faces hurdles due as voters in Metro Atlanta counties feel that they won’t receive much benefit from it as it spends too much on transit and not enough on roads. Sen. Rogers noted that a mistake was made in putting 10 years of funding into a permanent cost structure.

For our part, we expressed a desire to see real ethics reform passed by the legislature. We also noted that we felt that mixed messages were being sent by the Governor’s office and the legislature, assuming they go along, with the $400 million earmark for a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons (an issue you’ll be hearing more about in the coming days) and priorities on other issues, such as transportation. Sen. Rogers had open mind on these and other issues that we brought up, but noted that the politics surrounding them — particularly on ethics reform — are difficult to cut through.

It seems as though we will have an on-going, open dialogue with Sen. Rogers, and ostensibly the Senate Republican caucus. We will continue to meet with him during the course of the session so we can provide our readers with up-to-date, exclusive information.

Bank Failure Friday Has Major Georgia Political Implications This Week

It’s been a few weeks since the financial grim reaper arm of the FDIC came calling in Georgia, but it returned this week for both the Bartow County Bank in Cartersville and the New Horizons Bank of East Ellijay.  Georgia has now had 8 banks to fail in 2011, the most of any state in the country, again.

Bartow County Bank reported $330.2 million in assets and $304.1 million in deposits as of December, the FDIC said. Hamilton State bought most of the bank’s assets and all its deposits in a loss-share deal with the regulator.

The FDIC said its failure will cost its Deposit Insurance Fund, the backstop that protects customer deposits, an estimated $69.5 million.

Citizens South acquired the bulk of New Horizons’ $110.7 million in assets and all its $106.1 million in deposits, also under a loss-share arrangement. The FDIC estimated its loss to be $30.9 million from New Horizons’ failure.

Political observers were looking for news from the Bartow County bank this week, but not necessarily this action.  The Bartow County Bank was the creditor for Tich Hospitiality, a company formerly owned by Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and 9th District Congressman Tom Graves.  Graves and Rogers transferred ownership of Tich to the property manager of Tich’s primary asset, a hotel the manager dubbed the “Methamphetamine 6”.

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Suing A Legislator is Hard, Go Figure.

If you are the attorney for the County Bank of Bartow, then you have just ran into an obscure state law that protects members of the legislature. Said Bank is out to get Senator Chip Rogers and Congressman Tom Graves on an outstanding loan connected to a North Georgia motel. The pleadings thus far have alleged that Rogers and Graves took out a business loan with the bank for the motel and are presently in default on that loan. The Bank is seeking 2.2 million dollars that is alleged to be owed on the loan. Whether or not there is any merit to this case is a matter to be decided by the Courts.

However, such a determination might take awhile. As the AJC reported earlier, the case has been “put on hold” until session is over:

An attorney for the Bartow County Bank said Rogers has invoked a provision of state law that allows for lawsuits to be put on hold during a state legislative session.

“The case will not proceed while the General Assembly is in session, but my motion for summary judgment is ready to be filed as soon as the stay expires,” Edward Hine, an attorney for the bank, wrote in an e-mail Monday.

That horrible Senator Rogers. Just wait a minute before you prepare the rail to ride him out of town, because there may be more to this than meets the eye. Read more

Senate leadership not done with Cagle

Senate President Pro-Tem Tommie Williams tried to sneak one in yesterday:

Late Monday morning, as the Senate was about to convene, a housekeeping measure was introduced for unanimous consent. Included in the legislation was a slight modification of the Senate rules.

It would have made Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, automatic chairman of the chamber’s Committee on Administrative Affairs, which holds the Senate’s purse strings. Right now, the chamber’s fiscal affairs are controlled by Cagle.

The language would also have allowed Williams to deal directly with House Speaker David Ralston on certain matters. The formation of some committees – we’re not sure whether conference committees were included.

In essence, it was an attempt to complete the coup against Cagle that was launched in November.

Cagle’s people caught the language. Word quickly spread, and the matter was withdrawn – though discussion continued. Apparently many people were taken by surprise, including some members of the ruling Committee of Assignments – all of whom met with the lieutenant governor at 2 p.m.

Expletives were uttered by people who usually don’t.

Part of what I’m hearing about all this is that conservatives in the Senate want to make marginalize Cagle because they don’t view him as a someone that shares their principles. It’s a point well taken, but there is a lot of inconsistency there. Voters don’t care about the inside baseball that we write about here on a nearly day-to-day basis. Georgia Republicans have benefited from national discontent and a completely dysfunctional state Democratic Party and now have significant advantages in both chambers of the General Assembly. But what they are going to hear about this on the news is going to make Cagle look like the victim, while Senate leadership continues to defend a state senator, who happens chair the Senate Banking Committee, that is currently being sued for gross negligence for his role in a failed bank.

I’m not a fan of Cagle, but you guys have managed to make him look like a brilliant politician.

Looking Beyond The Public Smiles At The Biennial Meeting

Republicans have had a lot to smile about lately, and look for Cheshire grins to be on display in Athens as the epicenter of Georgia government to be in Athens today and tomorrow.  The biennial meeting, hosted by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute, is a meeting held for all legislators and other interested members of GA Government, represents the first time for the newly expanded Republican majorities to meet en masse.

Moving beyond the obvious successes of a statewide constitutional sweep and the resulting parade of party switchers, however, there is still a bit of friction that must be addressed in-house.   The Senate leadership and the Lt. Governor are still at war with each other, and bits of this fissure continue to show themselves publicly.

A story was floated again last week, this time landing in the AJC, regarding government affairs work Majority Leader Chip Rogers has done for a “plant based diet” advocacy group.   While the work was not done to influence the Georgia legislature, nor when the legislature was in session, someone has been working hard to make sure you know that Chip Rogers has worked for a group that breaks neither state law nor (almost nonexistent) ethics rules, or worse, that he may be a vegetarian.

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Tom Graves Had A Bad Day Yesterday

Two items of note, neither favorable to the Graves for Congress campaign:

1) News broke of the Bartow County Bank suing Tom Graves and his business partner, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, in an attempt to settle a debt for a loan on investment property. The bank is looking for $2.25 million, and is claiming that Graves was “insolvent” at the time of the loan, as well as that he conducted a “fraudulent transfer” of the property.

Graves, it should be noted, already had a legal action against that bank, and the suit from the bank and the serious sounding charges are routine in situations where there are past due loan balances. There is nothing routine, however, when a person shares the titles of both “candidate” and “defendant”. There’s no way to spin this as good news.

2) John Linder has apparently recorded a robo-call calling Graves a liar regarding his activities campaigning with Linder for the FairTax. This one is quite a bit more curious, as it appears to be from Left Field, and there is photographic evidence and agendas/programs demonstrating that Graves has traveled to and appeared at events beyond Georgia with Linder and folks like Herman Cain in support of the Fairtax.

My gut here is that this one is quite forgetable, and some investigation as to who pushed Linder’s buttons is in order. But there’s one quote from the robo-call that will linger: Linder claims to not know who Tom Graves is. Tom Graves is supported on these pages because he helped found the 216 Group, a bastion for conservatism in the Georgia State House. He also was involved in a very public stand against former House Speaker Glenn Richardson.

For Linder to claim he doesn’t know who Graves is demonstrates that Linder has been isolated in D.C., and doing nothing to help build or reinforce the conservative movement here in Georgia. There will be no blowback to the retiring Linder over this, but Rob Woodall, Linder’s chief of staff, is running on the record of the continuation of the Linder dynasty.

Linder has demonstrated with this weird call that he is out of touch with Georgia conservatives. He’s also provided a death blow to any chance of Rob Woodall getting elected to Congress. Woodall, by assoiciation, is now officially out of touch with Georgia conservative politics.

I’ll have more to say about this later today. I appreciate the other front pagers holding back until I could get back to my computer and post this. I make no apologies for backing Tom Graves on these pages. But I also understand the importance of us posting all the relevent news on a campaign. So, for those looking to take their shots, have at it.