Archive for March, 2013

Progress, but not much, toward ethics reform

The need was clear. Pass a law that would rein in limitless spending by lobbyists on members of the Georgia General Assembly.
That’s what the people wanted. In the end that’s not what Georgians got. Our lawmakers let us down.
When the behind-closed-doors, last-moment angling, maneuvering and arm-twisting ended late Thursday, the Legislature had managed to pass a bill on ethics reform. There’s little therein to praise, except that perhaps, in the broadest sense, passing something is preferable to doing nothing this year.
At least there is now on the record a most skeletal of limits on some lobbyist spending on lawmakers. That is better than no limit at all. And passage of House Bill 142 does change the tenor of future debate on this issue. Ethics reform advocates can and should build on that opening.
By passing such a weak, flawed law, the Capitol’s elected class have most likely managed to ensure that the push for ethics reform won’t end anytime soon. What lawmakers approved …

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Some good, mostly bad in gift cap smackdown

By William Perry

Like a slap to the face, the 2013 legislative session ended with ethics bills that leave Georgians rubbing our cheeks. Don’t get me wrong, there is some good in this year’s bills, but the bad still leaves a sting.
As to the good, House Speaker David Ralston deserves praise for restoring rule-making authority to the state ethics commission. Restored will be the important function that allows the commission to create rules where gray areas exist that are not addressed by state law. Rulemaking was stripped from the agency and has handcuffed the commission in certain situations since 2010, prior to Ralston becoming speaker. Common Cause Georgia, along with the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform, has pushed for three years to bring it back, and the speaker answered that call in his first draft of HB 142, and kept it there in every draft that followed. He deserves a round of applause for that.
Other good things that happened – the appearance of a $75 cap, no free …

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Guns on campus

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The General Assembly was still debating a bill late Thursday that would allow guns on college campuses and in churches. But no matter what happens this session, it seems the debate will continue among residents. Today, two Georgia Tech students argue the issue.

Commenting is open below.

Give students chance to defend themselves

By Andrew Mullins

No matter which college campus you visit, the question of firearms carry is a hot-button issue. At urban schools like Georgia Tech and Georgia State, the debate revolving around campus carry is especially relevant, as students are vulnerable to crime in dangerous parts of downtown and Midtown Atlanta. Most of the objections to campus carry come from student government associations, which cite a higher likelihood of suicide, accident and crime.

Georgia Tech has a crime issue. The realization that opponents to campus carry fail to confront is that criminals will attain and use firearms whether or not they are …

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Curbing poverty

Moderated by Rick Badie

Metro Atlanta’s poverty rate is growing worse, notably in the suburbs. There, poverty increased 5.9 percent between 2000 and 2010, outpacing the city’s 1.7 percent gain, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission. Today, we present three views on how Georgia and the nation can curb poverty.

Compassion begins with individuals

By Kevin Conboy

In the March 16 Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Rev. Joanna Adams reminded us in her guest column of a wonderful parable from the New Testament in which Jesus Christ answers the question, “Who is my neighbor ?”

The question arose from Jesus’ explanation of the greatest commandments — to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. And thus came the answer in the story of the Good Samaritan: Everyone is your neighbor.

The Rev. Adams speculates that the Good Samaritan may have left the inn where he left the injured traveler and “headed back to Jerusalem, the place where public policies and priorities were set.” …

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General Assembly: House Bill 399

Moderated by Rick Badie

Georgia House Bill 399 would keep Clayton County from collecting taxes from vendors at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. State Rep. David Knight, the bill’s sponsor, says Georgia law doesn’t allow such a thing. Meanwhile, State Rep. Michael Glanton says Clayton could lose millions in revenue if the bill becomes law.

House bill protects integrity of tax

By David Knight

Georgians should be confident that their taxes are being assessed equally, uniformly and with clarity. House Bill 399 seeks to give Georgians that confidence.

Some local governments have started issuing a “possessory interest tax.” These local governments have used this undefined tax as a way to levy taxes on entities for property they do not own, cannot transfer, and use at the will of another. In other words, they have invented a tax to tax things that state law does not allow them to tax.

Clayton County and the city of College Park have begun using this possessory interest tax. …

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Getting around traffic congestion

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Two views on fighting congestion today: The first comes from MARTA and its plans to promote real estate developments around existing stations. These will provide residential and business opportunities for citizens who really want to beat the vehicular madness by living or locating near MARTA. The second comes from a transportation think tank which reports that, while our traffic is awful, at least it’s predictable. If you’re flexible and plan adequately, you can find a way around the gridlock.

Commenting is open below.

Non-transit projects underway

By Keith Parker

In case you haven’t heard yet, MARTA is now open for business.

Of course, MARTA remains dedicated to its core mission of providing quality bus, rail and paratransit service to the metro Atlanta region as we’ve done for the past 34 years.

We also realize MARTA has an obligation – and an opportunity – to collaborate more closely with the private sector and other stakeholders to reposition …

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Time for statesmanship, not showmanship

Ditch Southern politeness for just a moment.

That done, we offer this advice to the Georgia General Assembly: Don’t screw this up. Meaning that the legislature must pass substantial ethics reform legislation — this year.

There are many in the state legislature who seem legitimately to want to heed the people’s wish and tighten restrictions on lobbyist spending. That admirable intent should not be waylaid, hijacked or sidetracked this year.

This is not a cause that should be fumbled in 2013 and taken up again next January.

That shouldn’t be an option. When the session’s gaveled to a close Thursday, ethics reform needs to be among the substantive pieces of legislation passed in a year with relatively few hot-button issues that should have distracted lawmakers.

Lawmakers must heed the will of voters who’re dismayed if not disgusted by the anything-goes-as-long-as-you-‘fess-up atmosphere that is the current way of the Gold Dome.

Simply adopting a more-ethical way of …

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Research funding vital

Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Commenting is open below.

Don’t cut back on cancer fight

By Walter J. Curran Jr.

We’re at a point in the fight against cancer where decades of discoveries are translating into new diagnostic and treatment tools at an accelerated rate. Unfortunately, this comes as agencies that fund cancer research face dire cutbacks.

There’s an urgent need to account for the tax dollars that feed our federal budget. Because Congress faces difficult decisions on how to cut that budget, I went to Washington recently to speak to lawmakers about the relationship of the National Institutes of Health to our nation’s cancer centers.

It is important to offer tangible proof of the great strides that have been made in treating and curing cancer due to NIH-funded cancer research. I’ve already seen how budget cuts are slowing the progress toward finding new cancer treatments.

I spoke on behalf of not only the Winship Cancer Institute but the American Association of Cancer …

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Fighting for control of Fulton County

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

A political war is being waged for control of Fulton County. Republicans in the General Assembly have filed bills aimed, they say, at getting the county to rein in spending and improve services. The county argues the proposed legislation will force traumatic cuts to libraries and Grady Memorial Hospital. Today, a House leader writes that the county is trying to scare citizens in order to avoid sound fiscal management. The county commission chairman counters that the bills are more divisive than helpful.

Commenting is open below.

Dear Fulton, cut your waste

By Jan Jones

As a 30-year Fulton County resident, I’ve shared my neighbors’ frustration with an unwieldy county government lacking competence on critical services only it can perform — and that nearby counties perform well.

No wonder residents voted overwhelmingly to create the cities of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Milton and Chattahoochee Hills. The result: better service levels at lesser …

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Public vote on Falcons stadium?

Moderated by Rick Badie

An advocacy group has said people should be allowed to vote on the plan to build a new home for the Atlanta Falcons using some public funding. But with a referendum looking increasingly unlikely, an official with that group questions the way city officials and leaders have handled the issue. Meanwhile, a hotel executive gives the history and structure of the hotel-motel tax in question.

Editor’s Note: The print edition of Perry’s story had an incorrect figure for Arthur Blank’s contribution to infrastructure costs for the new stadium. It is $70 million, not $50 million. 

Let voters have say on stadium

By William Perry

As the head of a nonprofit government watchdog group, I hear comments about people’s cynicism toward elected officials all the time. No doubt trust in government is at an all-time low. I try to convince people to find reason to keep believing, but it is truly like pushing a boulder up a hill.

Look no further than Monday approval by the …

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