Archive for December, 2010

Perdue appoints DNR board replacement for Oaky Woods purchase critic

Outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue announced late this afternoon that he was replacing a Department of Natural Resources board member who voted against the controversial Oaky Woods purchase with a veteran  lobbyist.

Robert Leebern Jr., whose family was a major contributor to Perdue’s 2006 re-election campaign, will replace Thomas Wheeler as the representative of the 5th congressional district. Wheeler’s term expires Jan. 1.

Leebern of Atlanta is a principal with Troutman Sanders Strategies, where he leads the federal affairs practice and serves on the firm’s board of directors.

Perdue also announced he was replacing coastal representative Jenny Lynn Bradley, chair of the DNR board, with Mark V. Smith of  Savannah, a hotel management executive at Prince-Bush-Smith Hotels and chief executive officer at South Atlantic Utilities.

Bradley’s term also expires Jan. 1.

Earlier this month, the DNR board voted to pay $28.7 million for 10,015 acres of the Oaky Woods property near Perdue’s …

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State agencies give back about $75 million

State bean counters report that state agencies gave back about $75 million that they didn’t spend in the most recently completed fiscal year.  That’s up from last year, but it’s about a third of what they gave back two years ago.

Each year the governor and lawmakers count on state agencies having money left over at the end of the fiscal year.  When agencies don’t spend the money, it goes back to the treasury and can be appropriated for things like schools, health care, parks and prisons the next year. When times are good, lawmakers can also try to set it aside to cut taxes.

Sometimes the “lapses,” amount to a lot of money.  Two years ago, Gov. Sonny Perdue saw tough times coming and started cutting back before the  recession hit.  So at the end of fiscal 2008, the agencies returned $203 million in unspent money.

Last year, Perdue withheld payments to agencies to make sure the state didn’t run out of money. Agencies gave back only $57 million.

By the end of fiscal 2010 on June …

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Deal names third deputy chief of staff, legal counsel

Erin Hames, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s former policy director, has found a new post in state government after a brief  outing with the Department of Education.

Hames, a former teacher, was named a deputy chief of staff for policy by Deal. Earlier Deal named Brian Robinson and Michael Shaffer to top deputy positions.

Hames was Perdue’s policy director before landing a top position with the Department of Education four months ago. But the new state school superintendent asked her to resign when he started filling jobs after the election.

Deal also tapped Atlanta attorney Todd Markle as his executive counsel. Markle served on the Fulton County steering committee for Deal’s campaign for governor.

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Another Democrat becomes a Republican in the state House

Yet another Democratic legislator switched to the Republican Party this week, moving the GOP a little closer to having the two-thirds majority in the House needed to pass constitutional amendments without any help from Democrats.

Rep. Mike Cheokas of Americus joined a crowd of white, non-metro Atlanta Democrats who have switched since the November elections.

“As a member of the House since 2004, I have been driven to best represent the needs and interests of my constituents at the State Capitol in Atlanta. My fiscally conservative voting record reflects that effort and the views of my constituents, which ultimately led me to join the House Republican Caucus,” he said.

There are now 114 Republicans in the House, with 63 Democrats and one independent. Two seats are currently vacant.

One of the reasons some Democrats are switching is that 2011 will be the year the General Assembly re-draws  political boundaries based on the changes in Georgia’s population over the past decade. …

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Graham out as Revenue Commissioner

Controversial Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham is out of his post, but Gov.-elect Nathan Deal said he has offered him another job.

Graham said he doesn’t know anything about it.

Deal announced late Friday that Graham would be staying in state government, working under State Treasurer Tommy Hills.

Reached by phone, Graham said, “I don’t know anything about a job offer.”

Brian Robinson, the governor-elect’s spokesman, said Graham was offered a job. Graham was out of town Friday and Robinson said there “must be some miscommunication” that will be cleared up.

As revenue commissioner, Deal is replacing Graham with Doug MacGinnitie, who lost a bid for the Republican nomination for Secretary of State this year.

Deal also named Melvin Everson, a Gwinnett County state legislator who lost a race for the Republican nomination for labor commissioner this year, director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development. And he named a campaign staffer, Gainesville journalist Harris …

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State lawmakers clash over immigration as study panel meets for third time

Democratic and Republican state lawmakers staked out different positions in the debate over illegal immigration Thursday, as a special committee studying ways to crackdown on the problem met for the third and perhaps final time before the Legislature convenes.

Minutes before the all-Republican committee met, a pair of Democratic state lawmakers held a news conference, warning against any legislation that would scare immigrants away from Georgia and hurt the state’s economy. Georgia’s $65 billion agricultural industry, they noted, relies heavily on immigrant workers.

“We need policies that grow our economy, that create jobs and that move us back on the road to a prosperous Georgia,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, who appeared alongside Rep. Virgil Fludd, D-Tyrone. “Ill-conceived anti-immigrant legislation won’t do that.”

Last week, the Georgia Farm Bureau — which represents nearly 400,000 families — weighed in on illegal immigration, saying “it is a federal issue, not a state …

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Senate leaders object to Oaky Woods deal

Turns out not everybody at the Capitol was happy with the state’s decision this week to spend almost $29 million buying part of the  Oaky Woods wilderness from Middle Georgia developers.

Republican leaders of the State Senate sent the State Properties Commission a letter asking them to delay their decision to spend $28.7 million in taxpayer money on 10,015 acres of Oaky Woods.

Oaky Woods is near land Gov. Sonny Perdue bought in 2003. The value of the governor’s land doubled after he bought it. Perdue, who leaves office next month,  is chairman of the properties commission.

Bert Brantley, his spokesman, said the state Senate leadership’s letter didn’t arrive until Monday’s meeting was underway and that it had no impact. The panel unanimously approved the deal.

The Senate letter, listing among others Senate President Pro-Tem Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) as authors, said, “As appropriators, we are concerned with a land purchase by …

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Graham says he’s out as state revenue chief

Controversial state Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham has told employees he’s being ousted by incoming Gov.-elect Nathan Deal.

In a letter to employees last week, Graham said he was told by officials with the new administration that he will not be retained when Deal becomes governor. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution received a copy of his letter to employees through the Georgia Open Records Act.

“I intend to be here at least through the end of Governor Perdue’s term and will update you as soon as I have additional information,” Graham told employees.

Deal has announced some reappointments of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s department heads, but he hasn’t mentioned Graham.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said, “We have not yet made any announcements on the Revenue Department. We’re announcing hires and those who will continue in their current positions as those decisions are made. We’ll announce the governor-elect’s decision on that position at the appropriate time.”

Graham was expected to be …

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Panel likely to recommend charging sales tax on more goods and services

The head of the commission studying the state tax system said this morning the panel will likely recommend expanding the sales tax base and lowering tax rates.

While A.D. Frazier didn’t provide specifics, the commission is expected to  recommend charging the state’s 4 percent sales tax on more goods and services – maybe even groceries – while lowering income tax rates.

Frazier’s comments mesh with the thinking of Republican leaders, who have long sought to lower income taxes and make up for the lost revenue by charging the sales tax on more services like oil changes and hair cuts. In addition, some lawmakers have pushed the state to put the sales tax back on all groceries. The state’s sales tax was taken off on most groceries in the late 1990s.

Frazier said the panel will also probably call for an elimination of sales taxes on energy used in manufacturing, such as carpet and paper-product production.

Frazier’s panel will make its recommendations to legislative leaders in …

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Senate’s budget writer says state’s hole is deeper than predicted

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, warned Monday that the state’s budget hole for next fiscal year is closer to $2 billion than to the $1 billion that’s been discussed.

Hill was in Athens with other lawmakers for a pre-legislative session conference and spoke to WABE’s Denis O’Hayer, the local host of “All Things Considered.” You can hear the entire interview on WABE’s website.

In the the interview, Hill acknowledged that the state’s budget hole for fiscal 2012, which begins July 1, is at about $2 billion and drops to $1.3 billion once you consider the loss of one-time funding or federal cash as well an expected round of cuts to state agencies.

Despite the positive news that state revenues are growing, Hill said it’s not enough.

“The growth rate that the economists tell us we can expect is not high enough to make up for the tremendous hole we have,” Hill told O’Hayer.

O’Hayer asked the next logical question: Where does the money come from? Could it be that …

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