Archive for January, 2010

Focus on smarter spending, not tax cuts, in 2010

Let’s acknowledge something that everyone knows to be true: You can’t cut taxes every single year. And then let’s face up to the fact that, in Georgia, this is one of those years when holding the line will be a win for taxpayers.

The state budget that has already been cut by $3 billion, or about 14 percent, over the past two years. Now it stands to be slashed by another $1.5 billion. Trying to reach that point while also cutting taxes is too much for lawmakers to bite off.

Look, with unemployment still creeping higher, I’d love to see a growth- and jobs-spurring tax cut just as much as the next supply-sider. Incentives matter, and capital is still on strike. The theory is still right.

That said, money is sitting idly today because of the regulation, spending and (future) taxes coming from Washington. People aren’t investing in future growth because the uncertainty is too great.

State policy is playing a much smaller role in these decisions right now. We can’t …

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Those crazy secessionists in…Vermont

What is said in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas, apparently. From the AP:

SHELBURNE, Vt. — Peter Garritano thinks it’s time for Vermont to call it quits with America.

The way the 54-year-old automobile salesman sees it, the “empire” is about to implode and tiny Vermont can lead the way by becoming its own independent republic. So he’s running for lieutenant governor, topping a slate of secession-minded candidates seeking statewide offices this year.

Their name: Vermont Independence Day.

“The only hope is to just say, ‘Look, this isn’t working for us. We want to start fresh again, with a real democracy,’” Garritano said. “I think that’s the answer. Hopefully, it won’t take another horrible economic breakdown to realize that the people running things don’t look out for the little guy, or us, or the soldiers. It’s all about profit and getting the last drops of oil on Earth and trampling people’s rights.”

Obviously, this slate’s motivation differs from that of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, …

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On transportation funding

The AJC’s Jim Galloway brings word this morning that there won’t be a statewide referendum this fall on a penny sales tax to fund transportation. This isn’t all that surprising, considering no one whom I’ve met thought such a referendum would be successful.

Not dead, as Jim notes, is the possibility of such a sales tax on a regional basis, which ought to please metro Atlanta residents because the money raised here would stay here. I would also say, based on my conversations with some key lawmakers, that raising the motor-fuel tax isn’t out of the question.

All that to say, let’s stay tuned before deciding this move at the beginning of a new session means the state’s Republican leadership isn’t serious about the transportation issue. If nothing has been done by the end of the session — well, then that would be an indictment on Republicans in the Legislature.

Speaking of staying tuned, let’s see what Gov. Sonny Perdue has to say about this issue in his State of the State speech, …

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The good that could come from ’stupid’ Harry Reid

I don’t like the “R” word, so I’ll agree with my colleague Cynthia Tucker: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was mostly being stupid in saying last year that Barack Obama could win the presidency because he was “light skinned” and lacks “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

But like cases of infidelity by Republican politicians who claim to be God-fearing men, we can easily find other similarly “stupid” comments by those racial harmony-seeking Democrats. And we can wonder why black voters continue to vote en masse for Democrats, and conservative Christians for the GOP.

For our other Reid-esque comments, we can start with the remark about Obama by then-Sen. Joe Biden in 2007: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

Then, from the same new book that brought us Reid’s comments — “Game Change,” by John Heilemann and Mark Helperin, about the 2008 election — we …

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About those neighborhood patrols

My initial reaction to reading Bill Torpy’s story this weekend — about neighborhoods whose residents pay a few hundred dollars a year to hire security patrols to complement regular police coverage — was frustration. Why is this necessary when we already pay taxes to maintain a police department?

But there’s another way to look at it. Paying an extra $300 a year is roughly equivalent to a 3-mill property-tax increase on a $250,000 house. Would I rather pay $300 a year and know that it’s all going to extra policing, and see my taxes go up 3 mills and know that the money could end up going to all manner of other uses?

The neighborhood association probably won’t charge for arranging the service, so there’s no overhead or bureaucratic cost. We get to decide which off-duty officer we hire, versus being assigned our regular beat cop by the police department — who might be just fine, but also might not be.

If taxes don’t also go up — and that’s a big “if,” of course — maybe we’re …

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Telecom policy: Another way Georgia risks falling behind

When I moved to Montgomery in mid-2002, I visited an Alabama state agency’s Web site in search of some tax information — information that was readily accessible on the comparable Georgia agency’s site. Not finding it, I phoned the department to ask whether it was in fact available online.

The woman who’d answered my call paused a couple of beats, and then replied, “We do have the Internet.”

Ha ha, another Alabama joke. Well, now the joke’s on us: Alabama and our other neighbors may be out-positioning Georgia to reap a windfall of telecommunications investment.

That windfall will come in a few ways, according to tech guru George Gilder, whose 2000 book “Telecosm” foresaw the past decade’s communications technology revolution, and who was in Atlanta Thursday to talk about tech’s future.

First, a brief history refresher. Think back to 2000, and the technology in your home at the time. You may have had a cellphone, but it wasn’t able to transmit e-mails, …

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Questions about the GOP aren’t going away

For my money, the No. 1 political question in 2010 is what, if anything, will come of the tea-party movement and the general popular angst that swelled over the past year. Can it be channeled — and if so, how will it be channeled, by whom, and will this be effective?

But question 1a would have to be whether the Republican Party can prove that it deserves to be the recipient of the tea-party momentum — for this momentum is still very much outside the GOP at the moment. Voters are still trying to figure out whether Republicans have learned anything from the elections of 2006 and 2008, or whether their stay in the wilderness is still too brief. The evidence to date is that independent voters have bailed on the Democrats. But do they trust Republicans to be a credible alternative?

These questions are getting louder now that we’re in the mid-term election year, and their sources ought to get the GOP’s attention.

In The Wall Street Journal today, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy …

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Attack on Afghan CIA post just as worrying as Northwest 253

A lot of ink has been spilled describing what went wrong with the attempted terror attack on Northwest flight 253 on Christmas Day. And a lot of distressing information has certainly come out about the intelligence and security failures evident in the near-success of the Eunuch-bomber.

There seems to be comparatively less attention paid to the suicide bomber who attacked a CIA base in Afghanistan last week, killing seven Americans and one Jordanian along with himself. Yet the prospect that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was a double agent working against the CIA — when we thought he was infiltrating al Qaeda for us — may reflect even worse on our capabilities and be an even more worrying sign about the terrorist outfit’s sophistication.

About what the al-Balawi attack says about the CIA and al Qaeda, former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht writes today in The Wall Street Journal:

This operation could well have been months—if not longer—in the making, and neither the …

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Time to move on transportation plan

Lawmakers return to the Gold Dome next week with public expectations for producing, among other hat-dwelling rabbits, a plan to ease traffic jams without Georgians noticing we’re paying for it.

The money’s the thing. We already have more plans than peaches.

Yet another plan landed last week. It came from the transportation planning director, a post created in last year’s contentious reorganization of the Transportation Department.

Plan, plan, plan.

We must have a plan, of course — not least because part of the money solution will probably be a referendum for voters to decide whether to tax ourselves for transportation, and we need to know which projects would be funded. (More on this in a minute.)

As plans go, this newest one is workable. It uses real, mobility-focused metrics to judge the potential effectiveness — and cost efficiency — of various options. An example: Would commuter rail bring more people within a 45-minute trip of major job centers than new …

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And now for something completely different

No, really. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog more often about things other than politics. Seeing as this is Jan. 6 and I really haven’t done that before today, the resolution isn’t going so well. (Neither is the whole “exercise” thing.)

But today’s Baseball Hall of Fame voting results got me in a nonpolitical state of mind, nostalgic for the Braves’ old No. 3.

Dale Murphy2Dale Murphy will probably never make the Hall, and a good case against his inclusion can be made. A .265 career batting average is probably fatal to his chances, and his vote totals have been heading in the wrong direction.

But I think a strong case can be made for the Murph as a pre-steroid era selection, as a statement against the blind eye the league turned to performance-enhancing drugs for so long.

In fact, I once made such a case here. The gist:

His power numbers — 398 home runs, 1,266 runs batted in — would place him near the top of the list of enshrined center fielders. He won five Gold Gloves for …

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