Archive for September, 2011

A head-scratching debate between rail options for T-SPLOST

It seems like a no-brainer. But those cases often make brains hurt the most.

Commuters along I-75 northwest of Atlanta want relief from traffic congestion. The state owns a railroad line that runs from Atlanta through the downtowns of Vinings, Smyrna, Marietta, Kennesaw and Acworth. It’s double-tracked most of the way, meaning there’s room for freight and passenger rail alike.

Make a few modifications, buy some train cars, and a commuter rail service for Cobb could be up and running within a few years — for a tiny fraction of the money that a 1 percent sales tax for transportation, or T-SPLOST, is forecast to provide if voters approve it next year.

Instead, transit planners want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to build a lower-capacity light rail line. Which wouldn’t be completed for more than a decade. And which, even when finished, wouldn’t go beyond Cumberland Mall. To reach Acworth would take another decade and nearly $2 billion more, from a source TBD.

What …

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Rick Perry fizzles, Bernie Marcus sizzles at Atlanta event

Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke in Atlanta today, and my AJC colleague Aaron Gould-Sheinin has the details. I noted some of Perry’s lines on my Twitter feed. I’d call them his applause lines, except that he got little more than polite applause. (There were standing ovations as he took and left the stage, but they seemed to be pro forma.)

In general, I got the impression Perry wasn’t very well briefed about his audience — the event was sponsored by the free-market-oriented, but nonpartisan, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and the crowd not only was fairly wonky but included more than a few fans of Mitt Romney. Hence, Perry’s thinly veiled attacks on Romney didn’t go over terribly well. Perry’s talk was also billed as a policy discussion about what he had done in Texas, but it sounded a lot more like a stump speech. He took no questions from the audience or the press.

In all, I’m not sure it was a very successful outing for the Texan.

On the other hand, Home Depot co-founder …

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Poll Position: Was this the Braves’ worst collapse?

On Wednesday night in Atlanta, “Thank God for Mississippi” became “Thank God for Boston.” It was only the slightly more egregious collapse by the Red Sox, with their loftier expectations this season and higher national profile, that pushed the Braves’ own cliff dive a little lower in the sports headlines.

As my AJC sports colleagues chronicled in painful detail, September 2011 might have been the most excruciating month for Braves fans since before the 1991 turnaround. The Braves let an 8.5-game lead evaporate in the space of 23 calendar days, which is almost impossible to do. Almost. They completed the unpleasant trick in Wednesday’s season finale.

But if you’re a longtime Braves fan, this was hardly your first pow-wow with disappointment.

I’ll skip the pre-1991 years, which in most cases never offered much promise to begin with. And I won’t even get into the mostly lackluster histories of Atlanta’s other pro sports teams. (Although I will give a special citation to the …

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Washington: A doomed, but undeterred, venture capitalist

Writing at Bloomberg, Yale law professor Stephen Carter gets this exactly right about why the U.S. Energy Department makes for a lousy venture capitalist:

[T]he venture capitalist is disciplined in his lending by two forces that government does not face. First, if the venture capitalist makes too many bad bets, he will lose his investors. Government loan guarantee programs, on the other hand, can be refunded by Congress as often as politically convenient, and have been known to grow larger after making bad bets.

Second, venture capitalists face potential liability for breach of fiduciary duty if they fail in the duty of care and loyalty imposed by law on those private individuals who handle other people’s money. Government officials and departments, with minor exceptions, are shielded from lawsuits by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

There is no way to subject a federal loan guarantee program to the discipline of the markets, and that might be reason enough for the …

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Cain’s rise dispells theory the media made it a two-man race

It appears that the two-man race for the Republican nomination has become at least a three-man race. A Fox News opinion poll shows Atlanta’s Herman Cain (at 17 percent) has caught up with a plummeting Rick Perry (19 percent) and is within single digits of the leader, Mitt Romney (23 percent). Not terribly far back is Newt Gingrich (11 percent).

These results, from a poll taken Sept. 25-27, differ significantly from a CNN poll taken a few days earlier. That poll shows Perry still strong at 28 percent, Romney 21, Gingrich 10, and Cain 7.

But I don’t really want to write about the horse race today. Rather, I want to discuss the media’s role in this election.

Like a lot of other pundits, I have described the race as a two-man contest between Perry and Romney. More than once. When I did so, I caught some grief from readers who claimed I and the rest of the media were trying to dictate the results of the election, pumping up two candidates and pushing all the rest to the side. We …

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Some tax breaks and pledges make government bigger, not smaller

(Note: Earlier this week I promised to publish some thoughts about anti-tax pledges. You can see them at the end of this column from Thursday’s print edition of the AJC, which also draws on an earlier blog post.)

We’ve become accustomed to hearing tea partyers say they want their country back. One step on that road is to take back tax cuts.

I’m not talking about particular tax cuts that expired, but rather the concept. Conservatives have allowed the mantra of lower taxes to be hijacked — and used to undermine our real goal of limiting government. And we’ve done it by watching tax loopholes — tax breaks, credits and exemptions — become another way for government to favor certain people, companies and activities over others.

It has happened in Georgia. And it has happened at the federal level since the 1986 reform that eliminated many loopholes in exchange for lower rates. In too many cases, tax breaks have become another way for government to make citizens dependent.

Such talk …

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Obama’s jobs plan: $447 billion for one decent month of employment growth

The headline is “Obama Jobs Plan May Prevent 2012 Recession.” But the story Bloomberg published, based on its survey of economists about the president’s $447 billion proposal, is best summarized by the second paragraph:

The legislation, submitted to Congress this month, would increase gross domestic product by 0.6 percent next year and add or keep 275,000 workers on payrolls, the median estimates in the survey of 34 economists showed. The program would also lower the jobless rate by 0.2 percentage point in 2012, economists said.

For those keeping score at home, that’s a “jobs plan” that costs more than $1.6 million per job. If the president wants to spend taxpayer dollars to provoke demand-side job creation, he would be better off holding a lottery and giving $10,000 apiece to 45 million people.

Worse, the Economic Policy Institute earlier this year estimated it would take job growth of 285,000 per month, every month for the next five years, for the economy to return to the …

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2012 Tuesday: A Supreme (Court) moment for the election

A key moment in the 2012 presidential campaign happened yesterday. If you blinked, you may have missed it.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, struck down Obamacare’s individual mandate as unconstitutional. Yesterday was the deadline for the Obama administration to ask the entire appeals court to rehear the case, which comes from a lawsuit filed by Florida and joined by Georgia and 24 other states. The administration did not do so.

Instead, the administration will almost certainly appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court — which most likely would take the case, hear it and issue a ruling by the end of the court’s term, around late June or early July.

As in, roughly four months before the general election.

Whoa, Nellie.

Whatever the outcome — and the Supreme Court could uphold the law entirely (as some other federal courts have done), strike it down entirely (as the District Court did in the Florida case) or strike …

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T-SPLOST: Is traffic just not as bad for Republicans?

The AJC ran a couple of stories recently reporting the results of an opinion poll regarding the T-SPLOST referendum. My colleague Jim Galloway posted the cross tabs for the poll Monday, and a lot of the findings are predictable — e.g., self-identified Republicans are less likely to support a tax increase.

The most interesting finding in my view, however, was on a question that would seem to have nothing to do with partisanship or ideology: How often are you inconvenienced by traffic congestion?

Here are the results:

Democrats:

Daily — 28%; A Few Days a Week — 34%; Rarely — 27%; Never — 11%

Republicans:

Daily — 17%; A Few Days a Week — 26%; Rarely — 42%; Never — 15%

Independents:

Daily — 21%; A Few Days a Week — 49%; Rarely — 27%; Never — 2%

I was shocked by the difference between traffic problems for Democrats and Independents and those for Republicans. There are as many GOPers who say they rarely are inconvenienced by traffic as there are who say it happens daily or a few …

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Why we need to look closely at spending in the tax code

If you’re interested in the debate about federal taxes, I highly recommend the Washington Post’s report about tax expenditures, a.k.a. spending in the tax code.

Some people on the right scoff at the idea that tax breaks should be considered government spending, and I agree with them that there’s a fundamental danger in such phrases from the Post story as “the government has reached a rare milestone in tax collection — it has given away nearly as much as it takes in.” The government doesn’t “give away” your income back to you. It was yours to start with. Suggesting otherwise leads to the slippery slope of talking about how much of your money you “deserve” to keep.

At the same time, I think it’s very short-sighted for conservatives to let any and every tax credit and loophole count as good tax policy. Some tax credits very clearly are nothing but a different mechanism for promoting government goals and policies, and those very same conservatives would object to the government …

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