Archive for January, 2010

Breaking: Oxendine given ‘verbal guidance’ to complete hunter education course

State Department of Natural Resources investigators gave Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine “verbal guidance” that he needs to complete a hunter education course, according to a DNR report.

The department was investigating the Jan. 17 accidental shooting of a Walker County man who was observing as Oxendine and several others were hunting on a private quail preserve owned by a friend and major donor to Oxendine’s bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The man, Russell “Monty” Robertson, was hit in both legs and one hand by nearly 30 shotgun pellets as Oxendine and three others fired on a quail.  As first reported by The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Jan. 19, Oxendine said it was his 13-year-old son who accidentally shot Robertson. DNR’s final report, issued Monday, confirms that.

Oxendine was hunting with that son as well as his 18-year-old son, J.W. None have a Georgia hunting license, although none was needed as they were covered by the private preserve’s …

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Update: Live from the Atlanta Hilton, it’s a loooong gubernatorial forum

Update 4:54 p.m.: This thing is almost done. It’s hard to distill a 3-hour-plus forum featuring 10 candidates (five Dems, five GOP) into this space. But if there is a takeaway, it very well could be that there was near agreement across both parties that the state Department of Revenue needs work.

Some of the candidates on both sides of the aisle were blistering in their criticism of the department and what they deem its inability to accurately and efficiently collect state sales taxes. Republican John Oxendine said Revenue is one of two agencies he would completely overhaul right off the bat if he’s elected. That’s as strong as anything that came from the Democrats.

That’s interesting because Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham was appointed by the current Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Update: 3:45 p.m.: OK, add Republican gubernatorial candidate Austin Scott, the state rep from Tifton, to the list of candidates eyeing the sales tax.

Unlike the Democrats, however, Scott said he …

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Tax system reforms on the way, Cagle says

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told the state’s mayors Monday that the Senate will be rolling out legislation this week aimed at correcting inequities in the state’s property tax system.

Cagle, in a breakfast address kicking off the Georgia Municipal Association’s annual Mayors’ Day, said changes will be recommended to ensure “fairness and equity” not only for the cities and counties, but also for taxpayers.

He did not provide details of the plan, but said it would involve “structural changes” in the calculation of fair market value.

Changes in the state’s property tax system are ranking high on legislators’ priority list. Among them are expected to be an easier process for homeowners to challenge the value that county tax appraisers put on their property.

The effort comes after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in a major investigation that county tax appraisers are setting values on residential properties higher than they sold for.

The AJC found during an eight-month review of …

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Citizens must be counted, Reed says

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called on Georgia’s mayors Monday morning to work in a bi-partisan spirit to see that all residents are counted in the next U.S. Census.

An accurate count could mean that Georgia has more representatives in Washington, Reed told the annual Georgia Municipal Association’s Mayor’s Day Conference. It alos could mean “billions” in dollars to Atlanta and the state, he said.

The conference is held in conjunction with the General Assembly session. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston are about to speak at a breakfast, which opened with remarks from Reed.

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DOT board defies state auditor, asks AG opinion

The state Transportation Board has just voted overwhelmingly to reverse a change in accounting practices that DOT implemented over the last two years after searing reports from the state auditor.  At the same time, they’re requesting an official opinion from the attorney general.

The auditor’s office said that DOT had been unconstitutionally signing multi-year contracts – when it had, for example, only the first year’s money in the bank and the expectation of future revenues – rather than waiting as it should until it had set aside all the money in the bank for all years of the contract.

If the move succeeds it might free up hundreds of millions of dollars for projects, and the supporters said, create jobs that are desperately needed now.  If it doesn’t, uneasy DOT staff cautioned, DOT could wind up back in a deficit, having to choke off spending again to fill the hole.  Board members who supported the measure said that they would move slowly to bid out multi-year contracts, …

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Unterman introduces bill to save young prostitutes

Young girls forced into a life on the streets will not be charged with prostitution under a bill dropped by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford). Instead girls, under the age of 16, would be steered toward programs designed to rehabilitate them and keep them off the streets.

“This bill decreases the age of prostitution,” said Unterman. “Sixteen-years-old is the age of consent in Georgia and anyone who is less than 16 will not be charged with prostitution. We consider then a victim, not a prostitute. They need care and counseling.”

Unterman said her bill would help create a “system of care,” for the girls, “while educating the public and those who come in contact” with the young girls. It would impact girls getting pimped out on the streets, as well as girls working in massage parlors.

“We want to recognize what is wrong and get them into care,” Unterman said. “If you do it before hand, it is less costly.”

Unterman, a registered nurse and social worker and vice chair of the Senate’s …

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State schools leader rips plan to slash education funding

Georgia School Superintendent Kathy Cox told state budget-writers that spending cuts proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue endanger the progress public schools have made in recent years.

In an address to joint House and Senate budget committees, Cox said Perdue’s proposals would mean $710 million less in basic school funding for Georgia schools over the next year and a half.  She said her agency’s office budget has been slashed dramatically in recent years, and she noted that Perdue’s budget plan would wipe out regional education offices that work to improve teaching.

“The 2011 budget takes away our ability as a state to do anything to help our schools,” she told lawmakers.

Rep. Alan Powell (D-Hartwell) said there are about 35 school systems that are at risk of  running out of money.

Cox told lawmakers the cuts “will affect the payrolls of every school system in this state.”

The state funds most of the salary for more than 150,000 public school teachers and education …

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Updated write-thru: Oxendine’s son accidentally shot man on hunting trip

By Cameron McWhirter and Aaron Gould Sheinin

The 13-year-old son of Republican gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine shot and wounded a 59-year-old man Sunday while hunting on a North Georgia preserve owned by a prominent insurance executive with close political ties to Oxendine.

The victim was hit with 30 pellets in his right leg. Oxendine, the state’s insurance commissioner since 1995, was hunting with his teenage sons at the Northwest Georgia Quail Preserve, co-owned by Delos “Dee” Yancey III, who is CEO of State Mutual Insurance Co., based in Rome.

“I still believe in hunting and I still believe in guns,” Oxendine said Wednesday. “I still will hunt and my family will still hunt.”

On Tuesday, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution  first learned of the shooting, Oxendine’s staff said only that Oxendine himself was not the shooter or the victim. Oxendine said Wednesday that he did not identify his son as the shooter because he wasn’t sure until the DNR report came out. The …

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Prison system has cut 1,550 jobs as it closes facilities, but lawmakers worried

Georgia Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said today that the Department of Corrections has shed 1,550 jobs in two years  through attrition as it closes facilities.

Owens, appearing before a joint meeting of the House and Senate budget committees, ran through a list of ways his agency is saving money in the 57 ,000-inmate system.

Over the course of a year, Owens said the reduction in jobs will save the system $65 million.

However, some of the cutbacks are raising questions from lawmakers, who worry that closing facilities – three prisons are expected to be shuttered in the next year or so – will hurt small-town Georgia.

“Prisons are economic development in rural areas, ” said Senate President Pro-Tem Tommie Williams (R-Lyons). Williams was one of several lawmakers who pleaded with Owens to take the economic impact of rural Georgia into account when he considers closing prisons and other, smaller facilties.

Afterward, Owens told reporters, “This is the 21st century.  It is …

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Perdue sells his budget to lawmakers

Gov. Sonny Perdue on Tuesday asked House and Senate budget writers to support his plan for boosting funding for transportation and warned them that more cuts loom.

Perdue was the first official to speak to the annual coming-together of the House and Senate appropriations committees’ week of hearings on changes necessary to the current fiscal 2010 budget as well as the “big budget” for 2011.

“When I was here in this meeting a year ago, we had gotten our December (revenue) numbers and they were surprisingly down, ” Perdue said. “We didn’t realize that was only a harbinger of the future.”

Over the next five months, he said, Georgia’s tax collections averaged a 20 percent decline.

“Only when we get back out of this crisis will we be able to understand the magnitude of managing through that level,” Perdue said. “You have to back 70 years in Georgia history to the Great Depression to find a legislature and a governor dealing with an economic situation similar to what we have …

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