Archive for October, 2009

State keeps ‘triple-A’ bond rating, but danger lurks

Wall Street’s top bond-rating agencies confirmed Georgia’s top-shelf financial status Friday, but one warned that the state faces an additional $360 million in budget cuts this fiscal year.

Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s review every state’s financial health and awards a grade. Those grades are used by banks to set an interest rate for the state when it goes to sell revenue bonds for capital projects and other uses. The higher the bond-rating, the lower the interest. Tens of millions of dollars in interest and debt service are at stake.

All three rating agencies gave Georgia their highest – the coveted triple-A – rating, making it only one of seven states to maintain that status.

But, in its analysis of the state’s financial situation, Moody’s said Georgia state revenues are expected to drop by $1.26 billion in the current fiscal year. In August, Gov. Sonny Perdue lowered his revenue estimate by $900 million – or $360 million less than what Moody’s said is …

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U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter fund-raiser at the home of local insurance lobbyist

Statehouse insurance lobbyist Wayne Reece, recently booted off a nonprofit board after fellow board members found out he’d been paid $400,000 by the group for lobbying and consulting, is hosting a campaign fundraiser next month for U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) according to an invitation  sent out by a Washington consulting group.

Specter recently announced  that he planned to haul health insurance executives before Congress to grill them about rate hikes.

The invitation said the Nov. 15 fundraiser at Reece’s home – with suggested contributions of $1,000, $2,40o or $4,800 – is also being hosted by former U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander, who was recently appointed to the State Ethics Commission.

Reece, a longtime political contributor to two 2010 gubernatorial candidates – Republican Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and Democratic Attorney General Thurbert Baker – was recently in the news when he and Gwinnett County senior judge Jim Oxendine were removed from the Roosevelt …

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Perdue names new EPD nominee

F. Allen Barnes will be the new director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division if Gov. Sonny Perdue’s choice for the job is approved by the Department of Natural Resources board on Wednesday.

Barnes, a former regional U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief of staff, will replace Carol Couch at EPD. Couch resigned earlier this month to take a teaching position at the University of Georgia.

The DNR board is expected to approve Perdue’s choice.

“Allen brings a wealth of environmental and management experience to this position,” Perdue said in a statement. “His impressive government and academic background ensures he will successfully lead EPD as they continue to be responsible stewards of our most precious natural resources.”

Barnes was Region Four chief of staff for the federal EPA from 2002 to 2005, a posting that covered an eight-state southeastern region.He also taught natural resource policy and law at Mississippi State University from 1996 to 2002. A …

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Perdue to agency heads: ‘Finish strong’

Gov. Sonny Perdue charged state agency leaders this morning to make the most of the final months of his administration.

Perdue, who is constitutionally prevented from seeking a third term, will leave the governor’s office in Jan. 2011. That’s not a lot time, he told more than 200 agency directors and state employees at a morning event at The Depot, where he also honored the state’s “customer service heroes.”

“We have 444 days left to make a difference,” Perdue said. “And that’s why need to make everyday count.”

Yes, he said, there is uncertainty over the state’s finances that will impact their final months together. But, he said, they still have a job to do.

“Finish strong. Finish the drill,” he said, a phrase borrowed from Mark Richt, head football coach of Perdue’s beloved Georgia Bulldogs.

“I don’t want to leave in January 2011 and say, ‘Boy, I wish I had done that,’” he said.

It was one the first times that Perdue has publicly talked about the coming end of his …

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Updated: Ga. Dems target Republican ‘corruption’

The Georgia Democratic Party has launched a new Web site that it says details “cases of corruption, graft and backroom dealings from influential Georgia Republicans.”

The site, www.WhoTheyRepresent.com, targets U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, former state Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) and U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby  Chambliss (both R-Ga.) Deal, Oxendine and Johnson are running for the GOP’s 2010 nomination for governor. Isakson is up for re-election next year.

“We felt like there was so much corruption out there, the people of Georgia might need a guide to keep things straight,” Democratic Party director Matt Weyandt said in a statement. “It’s important Georgia voters know who their Republican politicians are taking their marching orders from.”

The site details allegations or news stories about the five Republicans. The information is culled from articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications, as well …

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Updated: State employee sues Perdue over loss of pay raises

A Georgia state employee has filed a civil suit accusing Gov. Sonny Perdue of taking away employees’ pay raises.

William Estill sued Perdue and the head of every state agency in Fulton County Superior Court on Monday. He is asking for class-action status.

Estill claims that the General Assembly and Perdue approved a 2.5 percent pay raise for most state employees in 2008 that should have taken effect Jan. 1. Employees, however, never saw the increased pay because lawmakers and Perdue this spring agreed to defer the increase to help cover a deepening state budget crisis.

In his suit, Estill says the Legislature and the governor could have cut spending, raised taxes and fees or reduced the state’s workforce to honor the pay raises.

Estill is described as a state employee in the suit, although it does not say for which agency he works. A search of the state employee salary database shows a William Estill as being a probation officer with the Department of Corrections.

Update 2:40 …

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Mailing interest checks cost state $100,000

State Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham said today that it cost the state 36 cents to mail each of the 278,000 interest checks that were issued because the state was slow to process and send out  income tax refunds this year.

That works out to about $100,000 for a state hurting for cash.

The Department of Revenue has mailed out more than $2 million in interest to taxpayers whose refunds were not issued within 90 days of the April 15 filing deadline. Delays in processing individual income tax returns led to the backlog, which Revenue officials say was caused by $12 million in budget cuts at the agency in the past year. More than 300 Revenue employees were laid off, many of them in the tax return processing unit.

Georgia law requires the state to pay interest on any return not processed within 90 days of April 15, or 90 days from the date the return was filed if after April 15.

The taxpayers receiving interest payments are getting an average of $7.42, although 90,000 are …

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DOJ rejects Handel’s appeal of voter verification

The U.S. Justice Department has denied Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel’s appeal of its decision to reject Handel’s plan for verifying voters’ citizenship.

Handel, a 2010 Republican gubernatorial hopeful, asked the department in August to reconsider its decision to reject the system.

The Justice Department in May said the verification program is frequently inaccurate and has a “discriminatory effect” on minority voters.

The decision meant Georgia had to halt the citizenship checks, which Handel launched in 2007  in response to the Help America Vote Act. That federal law required states to verify voters’ identity, but not necessarily citizenship.

The checks verify five criteria for new voters against information in databases held by the Georgia Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration.

The Justice Department said the citizenship match had flagged 7,007 individuals as non-citizens but many were shown to be in error. Handel’s office said in June it …

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Congressman fined by Ethics Commission

U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga) was fined $7,500 by the state Ethics Commission Thursday for failing to file reports showing what he did with leftover campaign money he raised while he served in the General Assembly.

Scott served two decades in the General Assembly from Atlanta before being elected to Congress in 2002.

The commission opened an investigation on dozens of current and former lawmakers in 2007 and 2008 who had failed to file numerous reports saying how much campaign money they’d raised and how that money was spent.

Legislators who leave office cannot convert leftover campaign money to personal use. They are required to file reports detailing how the leftover money is spent until it is gone. In his last report before the investigation began, filed in 2004, Scott reported having about $83,000 in leftover funds. After the investigation began, Scott filed a series of  late reports correcting errors and showing the account had a negative balance.

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State sued for cutting pay of top teachers

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher group, has filed a lawsuit against the state for cutting the 10 percent salary supplements going to about 2,500 National Board Certified teachers.

PAGE is requesting that a Fulton County Superior Court judge reinstate the supplements, which were cut from 10 percent to 5.2 percent by lawmakers seeking to slash spending this year. The change cost many of the top teachers $2,500 to $4,000.

“We file this lawsuit reluctantly,” PAGE Executive Director Allene Magill said. “We worked very hard with legislators to prevent them from creating this problem during the last session. We told them that if they wanted to bring the program to an end that they would need to honor their commitment to those who had already earned the certification.”

Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said the state will defend its action to cut the supplements. “The law is what it is and we’re going to follow it,” he …

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