Archive for January, 2010

Use state asset sale for long-term health and wealth

Today we’re going to talk about medical miracles, and the key role that Georgia can play in bringing them to life. The price of admission is a brief detour through the state budget.

Gov. Sonny Perdue released his revenue estimates for fiscal 2011, and of the dozens of line items only a handful of numbers are bigger than they were in 2009. Yet the bottom line is about $325 million larger. What gives?

Lottery revenues are rising, for one. A hospital provider fee is proposed. But the line that really sticks out is “All Other Departments,” which projects a $290 million jump.

That $290 million represents the estimated result of selling part of the state’s loan portfolio. Since the 1980s, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority has financed water and sewer projects for local governments. The original idea was to help cities and counties that couldn’t borrow in the private markets, but even investment-grade counties like Cobb and Gwinnett have come to rely on GEFA from time to …

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Half of Obama’s Cabinet resigns?

Just kidding — President Obama surely can’t be expected to hold the leaders of the executive branch to the same standard as government contractors. From a presidential memorandum issued yesterday:

I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, working with the Secretary of the Treasury and other agency heads, to evaluate practices of contracting officers and debarring officials in response to contractors’ certifications of serious tax delinquencies and to provide me, within 90 days, recommendations on process improvements to ensure these contractors are not awarded new contracts, including a plan to make contractor certifications available in a Government-wide database, as is already being done with other information on contractors. (emphasis added)

Timothy Geithner, Kathleen Sibelius, Hilda Solis, Ron Kirk — as long as they don’t try to do any work for the government, they should be OK. (And so would we, come to think of it.)

Look, it isn’t so much that …

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What (Scott) Brown can do for Georgia

As I wrote earlier, Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts means there are no more gimmes in politics for the foreseeable future. There’s just one thing: For the gimmes to end, a lot of people have to run races they otherwise might not have run.

The early signs are that this isn’t happening in Georgia. Our state might seem less prone to the national flavor of anti-incumbency, given that it is controlled by Republicans rather than the Democrats who dominate Washington. But the GOP has ruled Georgia for the better part of a decade now, and fed up is fed up — on all levels, and with all people in power.

Buzz Brockway, the former Gwinnett County GOP chairman, has compiled fund-raising data for candidates in contested state-level races. He’s posted them on the political blog Peach Pundit.

Here are the sad facts according to that data:

In the Georgia Senate, exactly one Republican (Judson Hill) and one Democrat (Vincent Fort) face primary opposition as of today. Just …

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Brown’s momentum not limited to Massachusetts

Yes, Scott Brown’s stunning victory in Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts ought to stop the Democrats’ health agenda in its tracks. Yes, his 5-percentage-point win in that bluest of states sends a clear message about voter dissatisfaction with Washington.

All of that is important. Very important.

But that’s not where the meaning of Tuesday’s election ends. There is also this message: Every elected office, everywhere, is up for grabs now.

A Republican state senator in Massachusetts of all places just made up almost 20 points in 20 days against a Democratic attorney general who, for all the talk about her inadequacy, won 73 percent of the statewide vote in 2006.

Two months ago in New Jersey, another state long hostile to GOP candidates, sitting Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine spent more than $25 million of his own money on his campaign, doubling his Republican opponent’s entire war chest. He lost. Virginia, which swung dramatically to Barack Obama and the Democrats …

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Haiti and the cruise ships

Royal Caribbean has decided that its cruise ships will continue to stop as scheduled at the Haitian port of Labadee. The decision has angered some people. But what is the alternative?

The alternative is for the ships not to stop at Labadee, and for their passengers not to disembark and spend money in a country that desperately needs it. It’s for those ships not to drop off food and supplies while they’re in port, as Royal Caribbean has pledged to do.

Not doing these things might satisfy some sense of propriety. But the people of Haiti would gain nothing from this abstention.

Yes, Haitians need emergency relief aid right now. But the donations will never be enough — they also need whatever additional income they can muster, and there may not be much of an economy beyond tourism in the near future. (Royal Caribbean has more than 200 employees in Labadee, and the company has reported that none of these employees were injured.)

If I were a passenger on one of these ships, I would …

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This week’s sign of the non-apocalypse

Remember that claim by the United Nations’ climate authority that the Himalayan glaciers were likely to disappear by 2035? If not, don’t worry — you weren’t really missing anything.

It turns out, the Times of London reports, that this “scientific” conclusion was based a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) campaign report, which in turn took its “scientific” information from an interview in a magazine in which one — yes, just one — Indian scientist made the claim. Now, that scientist says the whole thing was just speculation on his part.

All of which would be bad enough if that’s where the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) left it. But, the Times reports:

When finally published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study but went further, suggesting the likelihood of the glaciers melting was “very high”. The IPCC defines this as having a probability of greater than 90%.

(snip)

However, glaciologists find such figures inherently ludicrous, pointing out that …

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Letter grades for schools will improve accountability

Schools gives grades to students: A, B, C, D, F. Everyone knows what those letters mean.

The state gives grades to schools. Pop quiz: What are they?

Hint: They aren’t A, B, C, D, F. That system would be too transparent and intelligible for some education professionals’ taste. But it may be coming.

A draft education bill aims to create a letter-grade system for Georgia’s schools. Lawmakers are still working out the details, but they are basing the bill in large part on the highly successful model that Florida built over the past decade.

Florida’s achievements are impressive. In 1998, a year before the state launched a letter-grading system, its fourth- and eighth-graders ranked at the bottom nationally in reading and math; within nine years they were beating the national average. High-school graduation rates stopped falling and, in nine years, rose 15 percent.

“There is no reason Georgia can’t do the same thing” in improving, says Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams. He is …

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The Mass. Senate race gets curiouser and curiouser

The special election in Massachusetts next Tuesday to replace Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate has become more narrow than anyone could have imagined just a few weeks ago. Martha Coakley, the state’s attorney general and Democratic candidate, was leading opinion polls by 31 percentage points as recently as mid-November. She won office as AG in 2006 with 73 percent of the vote statewide.

Now, Republican Scott Brown leads in three of the five polls taken in the past week. If he wins, he could be the 41st Senate vote against ObamaCare, effectively killing the current iteration of that deeply unpopular bill.

The rise of Brown, a state senator and National Guardsman, has been incredible. (Consider that he’s the No. 1 “Scott” on the Web according to Google’s suggested search terms.) According to this report, Brown raised $1 million a day each day from Monday to Thursday.

Coakley, meanwhile, has made one gaffe after another, and her main late-campaign fund raiser was hosted by …

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Perdue’s transportation tax plan

The number that’s getting the attention from the transportation tax plan which Gov. Sonny Perdue announced yesterday is 2012 — as in, a referendum for voters to tax themselves to pay for new projects won’t be held this year, but two years from now.

In reality, though, there might not be a two-year difference after all.

Stay with me, because I’m going into the weeds for a moment:

The vote that people had in mind before yesterday was a referendum to allow regional T-SPLOSTs (Transportation Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Taxes). But that referendum would only have amended the state constitution to allow counties to group themselves together for a T-SPLOST. There still would have to have been a second vote later on for citizens to approve (or decline) the tax. And that second vote couldn’t have taken place until 2012, or at the earliest 2011.

All of which means we’d still have waited until 2011 or 2012 to put a new sales tax in motion.

Of course, voters can still ask why it …

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Good thing taxpayers have stakes in GM and Chrysler!

Chrysler’s near-term prospects are bad enough, according to this AP article. But you have to read several paragraphs of the article before you see exactly why spending tens of billions of dollars last year to bail out the United Auto Workers — I mean, Chrysler and GM — was such a bad idea:

Speaking to the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, [Fiat and Chrysler Group CEO Sergio] Marchionne said the global auto industry must reduce factory capacity in order to survive, especially in Europe.

World automakers can build 94 million cars and trucks a year, but that’s 30 million more than it can sell, he said. (emphasis added)

So, one-third of the vehicles being made right now cannot be sold. One-third! Yes, Marchionne said much of the over-capacity was in Europe. But this is no solace to GM and Chrysler shareholders American taxpayers, unless European governments suddenly get tired of subsidizing over-production. Fat chance.

The problem, then, is not just that GM and Chrysler …

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