State Republicans with big money lead heading into the fall campaigns

Democrats may have the biggest single money-raiser in the governor’s race this year, but the Georgia Republican Party will head  into the fall general election campaign with a huge fundraising advantage.

The state GOP, heavily funded by its elected officials, reported raising $870,740 during the most recent three months, according to disclosures filed with the State Ethics Commission.

The party had $2.58 million banked as of June 30.

The Democratic Party of Georgia raised $335,566 during that period and had $443,287 on hand as of June 30.

The Democrats’ biggest contributors were also elected officials.

The money difference could play a major role in this fall’s governor’s race.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, the leading Democratic candidate, has raised more money than any other gubernatorial hopeful.

However, in 2006, the state GOP raised millions of dollars – mostly from state lawmakers – to run TV ads for Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue’s re-election campaign.

The party …

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Perdue taps top GOP lawyer to sue Justice Department

Gov. Sonny Perdue has tapped a private attorney to sue the Justice Department on the state’s behalf to seek approval for a controversial system of checking voters citizenship, a system that the federal government says unfairly targets minority voters.

Perdue named Anne Lewis, the state GOP’s general counsel, to be a special attorney general.

The system of voter verification was implemented by former Secretary of State Karen Handel prior to the November 2008 elections. The Justice Department, then under the control of Republican President George W. Bush said the program should have been submitted to the department under the auspices of the federal Voting Rights Act. Once submitted by the state, the Justice Department rejected it on the grounds it could prevent legal residents from voting.

Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, defended the system against a federal court challenge and sought preclearance from t he Justice Department. But the agency, now under the purview …

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Perdue signs tax cut for middle-income and wealthy seniors, hospital tax hike

In his final year in office, Gov. Sonny Perdue finally was able to fulfill one of his major campaign promises Wednesday when he signed legislation eliminating retirement state income taxes on middle-income and wealthy retirees.

Perdue has called for the end of taxes on non-work income for retirees for years. He said it will help allow Georgia to compete with states like Florida – which has no state income tax – for retirees looking to relocate.

During his first year in office, lawmakers approved a bill eliminating income taxes on retirement income up to $35,000 per year per person, or $70,000 per couple. With social security, couples can earn up to about $100,000 without paying state income taxes.

The new law Perdue signed Wednesday does away with retirement income taxes on all income above that level. Seniors would still be taxed on most income they receive from working.

The latest change will save middle- and upper-income retirees, and cost the state, about $150 million …

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Groups urge Perdue to veto bill eliminating state tax rebate for the poor

A group of advocates for the poor and elderly, including the American Association of Retired Persons, this morning called on Gov. Sonny Perdue to veto legislation that would eliminate income tax rebates of $26 to $52 that go to low-income Georgians.

“Let’s correct this inequity,” said AARP lobbyist Kathy Floyd at a press conference at the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

About 1 million Georgians with income below $20,000 a year receive state income tax credits. The credits were designed about 20 years ago to reimburse the poor for the state sales taxes they pay over the course of a year.

About two-thirds of those have no taxable income after deductions and get a check. Seniors can get $52 a year; non-seniors can get $26.

“In its current form, it offsets a small portion of the sales tax liability for low-income Georgians,” Floyd said.

However, during legislative debate, Rep. David Knight (R-Griffin), the bill’s sponsored, called it, “In its basic form, redistribution of …

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Congressman Price backs Handel for governor

U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga), announced this morning that he’s throwing his support in the governor’s race to former Secretary of  State Karen Handel.

One of  her GOP rivals in the governor’s race,  U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, had previously touted Price’s endorsement.

But in a release out this morning, Price said, “Karen Handel has demonstrated the strength, courage and leadership in business and public office that we desperately need in the next Governor of our great state of Georgia. Karen is not only the best candidate to win the nomination and take on Roy Barnes and the Democrats in November, but she will also be a wonderful Governor for our state.”

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Updated: If there’s an election but no candidates, who wins?

Two-term state House member Rep. Kevin Levitas (D-Atlanta) announced Friday he will not seek re-election, leaving exactly zero candidates running for House District 82.

Levitas qualified to run again last week, but in a statement Friday said he has changed his mind.

“Given the immense talent and dedication of those in our community, I know that our area and our state will be well-served by my successor,” Levitas said in a statement.

But, no other candidate has qualified to run. So who will represent the DeKalb County district?

That, apparently, is a good question. Nobody seems to know for sure just yet, although several possibilities exist. Primary among them is that someone can petition to run as an independent, which would require collecting signatures from 5 percent of eligible registered voters in the district. With just more than 25,000 registered voters in District 82, it would only require about 1,250 signatures.

That seems the most likely way the seat could be …

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Senate candidate smeared in anonymous flier

By Cameron McWhirter/cmcwhirter@ajc.com

The race to fill the 42nd district state senate seat, set in a heavily Democratic area of metro Atlanta, has been a downright polite affair over the past several months. Jason Carter, grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, Decatur lawyer Tom Stubbs, independent Steve Patrick and Libertarian David Montane have avoided any nastiness. Carter and Stubbs, both Democrats and both lawyers, have publicly said they think the other candidate is a nice guy.

But on the Friday before next Tuesday’s special election, things got ugly in the district, which encompasses eastern sections of the city and a large part of DeKalb County including Decatur. Someone – no one has taken responsibility – distributed fliers in the Toco Hills neighborhood that purported to show one of Carter’s donors in a photograph with the late Yasser Arafat, onetime leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and first president of the Palestinian National …

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State revenue collections fall again after one-month reprieve

Georgia’s streak of positive revenue collections ended at one.

Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office said Friday that tax collections in April were down 4.2 percent over April 2009, a return to negative numbers after March’s reprieve. March ended a 15-month skid of revenue declines.

Perdue’s office said the drop in April was largely the result of an increase in income tax refunds, which itself was a sign that individuals were earning less than a year ago. The state saw refunds increase in April by $57.6 million over the same period a year ago, and the overall monthly revenue collections were down by $58.5 million. Individual income tax collections, too, were down, by more than $128 million in April.

Other tax collections, meanwhile, were up. Sales tax collections rose by more than 7 percent in April and corporate income taxes spiked by nearly 14 percent.

The monthly revenue figures are important as they guide state leaders in writing and adjusting the annual state budget. …

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U.S. attorney general calls Ga. gun bill ‘worrisome’

Legislation now before Gov. Sonny Perdue that would allow people to carry loaded guns into parts of the state’s airports “is very worrisome,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a congressional hearing on Thursday.

Holder told a U.S. Senate panel that Georgia’s proposed law is problematic.

“The notion that people could bring guns to airports especially given the al-Qaida focus of the use of airplanes as terrorist tools, is one, to me, that is very worrisome,” Holder said. “I would hope we try to keep weapons, guns away from the very instruments that al-Qaida and other organizations successfully used on September 11th and have continued to try to use in the present and I suspect in the future as well.”

Holder was responding to a question from U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee. See the exchange here.

“It was reported that the Times Square bomber left a loaded handgun in his car at JFK as he tried to make his …

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Barnes releases 25 years of tax returns; former gov worth $16.6 million

Former Gov. Roy Barnes on Wednesday released 25 years worth of his personal tax returns as part of his campaign to reclaim his old job at the Capitol.

Barnes, speaking at a news conference just steps from his old office, said he posted online more than 1,500 pages of documents. He also released his current financial disclosure statement filed with the State Ethics Commission. It shows he and his wife, Marie, have a net worth of more than $16.6 million, or nearly double the $8.5 million they were worth in 2001.

“Georgia deserves a governor with nothing to hide,” Barnes said, adding that all candidates for governor should release at least 10 years worth of tax returns. Barnes wants his opponents to go further than merely picking a time and place for the media to inspect records, as Republican gubernatorial hopeful Eric Johnson did recently.

He said the release of such personal information is “part of public life. Everyone who is a voter is entitled to it.”

By releasing the …

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