Archive for March, 2012

From Sine Die, a look at how ethics gets squeezed out of the sausage

Around 6 p.m. Thursday, the final day of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle had to make a phone call.

He wasn’t phoning the speaker of the House so they could gavel the session adjourned, sine die. Rather, Cagle was asking his chief legal counsel about an amendment to a bill.

I know, I know: Government-jargon-blah-blah-blah alerts are sounding all across metro Atlanta right about now. But this story isn’t about Gold Dome process. It’s about money, power and how the two intersect in ways that can be hard to see.

For a seasoned presiding officer who wastes little time assigning bills to committees and making various other rulings from the rostrum, Cagle’s pause was unusual. Then again, the amendment was unusually delicate: Sen. Jason Carter, an Atlanta Democrat, was proposing a $100 limit on lobbyist gifts to legislators. It was the same limit proposed by Republicans and — until then — snuffed out by higher-ranking Republicans in both the Senate and …

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Poll Position: If Obamacare mandate falls, what goes with it?

During three days of oral arguments about Obamacare at the Supreme Court this week, legal analysts were at pains to predict which way each justice was leaning based on his or her line of questioning. For all but the most experienced court watchers, this seems like an exercise in futility: Justices may be just as likely to question an attorney’s point in the hopes of eliciting a stronger case for it as they are to seek to poke holes in it. I’ll just stick to the prediction I, like many others, made when the first legal challenges were filed: This case will come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s most frequent swing vote, in what most likely will be a 5-4 decision.

If the mandate is struck down, how much of the rest of Obamacare should go with it?

  • All of it (232 Votes)
  • Nothing else (109 Votes)
  • Only those parts the administration argued for (e.g., community rating and pre-existing conditions) (28 Votes)

Total Voters: 369

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Much of the analysis …

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Where I stand on key bills as the 2012 session wraps up

The AJC’s Capitol correspondents compiled a list of some of the most prominent bills yet to be settled in this year’s legislative session, which will end by midnight today. I haven’t written about most of them but, for the record, here’s where I stand on each (I’m not going to link to each one, but you can search for the text of any bill that interests you here):

  • SB 469 (outlawing picketing outside private residences): The changes proposed by the House, which broaden the bill to cover anyone’s residence rather than just those of business leaders dealing with labor unions, strike me as constitutional and desirable — a protest outside one’s home isn’t a negotiation tactic, just pure intimidation. I support it as amended by the House Judiciary Committee.
  • HB 954 (limiting elective abortions to the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy, rather than the current 26): Anti-abortion activists say the bill has been gutted; pro-abortion-rights activists still oppose it anyway. What’s the point …

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In broader cheating scandal, lessons from and for Atlanta

My news-side colleagues at the AJC did it again. By taking their examination of suspicious test scores nationwide, with the “Cheating Our Children” series that began last Sunday, they felled another wall standing between the public and the truth about what’s going on in our public schools.

The question now is what the public, and those who make public policy, will do with this information. There are lessons both from and for Atlanta.

From the experience of Atlanta Public Schools, we know that, as explosive as the information about suspect wrong-to-right erasure marks on standardized tests at dozens of schools was, little would have come of it had there been no political will to look deeper — and keep looking.

In a couple of meetings during the process sparked by AJC reports, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue demonstrated a palpable anger about the way adults had cheated schoolchildren. That fire in his belly proved crucial when supporters of APS tried to pooh-pooh the wrongdoing …

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Dear Mr. Blank: About that line about NFL teams owning their stadiums . . .

Given the local debate about using $400 million-plus in tax revenues to build the Falcons a new open-air stadium, I couldn’t help but notice this nugget from team owner Arthur Blank’s comments about the penalties handed down to the New Orleans Saints for that team’s bounty program (via Pat Yasinskas at

“I think the league has handled it well and appropriately,” Blank said. “One of the other owners made this point, but I told the commissioner I totally agree with him, the NFL, outside of our stadiums, the only things we really own are our reputation, our integrity, our shield and the relationship and trust we have with our fans and our sponsors. Anything that’s done that violates that or hurts that, is something that has to be dealt with.” (emphasis added)

Only a handful of NFL teams own their own stadiums, and Blank’s angling for taxpayers to fund a new dream home for his team certainly doesn’t put him in line to join that exclusive club.

Or maybe he meant the …

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Obama to Russian leader: I’ll cave after I’m re-elected

Just a reminder, to those ambivalent about President Obama’s track record in his first term, of the kinds of things that could await us once he no longer has to run for re-election. From ABC News’ Jake Tapper:

At the tail end of his 90 minute meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev Monday, President Obama said that he would have “more flexibility” to deal with controversial issues such as missile defense, but incoming Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to give him “space.”

The exchange was picked up by microphones as reporters were let into the room for remarks by the two leaders.

The exchange:

President Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

President Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you …

President Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

President Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this …

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Ryan’s new budget plan points the way to saner fiscal future

In February — three years after Barack Obama became president, and 32 months after the Great Recession officially ended — the United States recorded its largest monthly deficit ever: $232 billion. So, last month we borrowed the equivalent of Portugal.

The relatively good news is that February usually features low revenues and high spending. The country is not actually on pace for a $2.8 trillion shortfall this year. Whew!

The decidedly bad news: Washington still is well on its way toward a fourth straight year of spending $1 trillion more than it takes in.

That word, “trillion,” has lost some of its shock value during the past three years. But if you have children, grandchildren or just expectations of living more than another 10 years or so, you must know runaway red ink is the most important issue we face today. And, with apologies to each Republican telling the country that putting him in the White House is the key to America’s future, any steps toward solving this …

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Poll Position: Who was Atlanta’s greatest Brave of all?

After a long winter — in terms of the state Legislature and the GOP presidential race, not the temperature — the boys of summer are almost back, which means spring is near. But before we could reach Opening Day, we found out it’ll be the last season for one Larry Wayne Jones Jr., better known as Chipper.

Those of us who watched the Braves’ unprecedented streak of division titles during the 1990s and early 2000s have been treated to a succession of retiring greats during the past few years: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Bobby Cox and, now, Chipper Jones.

Who was the greatest *Atlanta* Brave ever?

  • Chipper Jones (66 Votes)
  • Greg Maddux (60 Votes)
  • Dale Murphy (42 Votes)
  • Someone else (28 Votes)
  • John Smoltz (22 Votes)
  • Phil Niekro (19 Votes)
  • Tom Glavine (9 Votes)
  • Andruw Jones (2 Votes)

Total Voters: 248

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And that got me thinking: Is Chipper the best Atlanta Brave ever?

Note the phrasing: Atlanta Brave. So, greats from the franchise’s days in …

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Transparency just a click of the mouse away? (Updated)

UPDATE March 26 at 12:15 p.m.: The problem appears to be fixed, as the option for 2012 lobbyist reports is available once again

ORIGINAL POST from March 22:

Not in Georgia, at least not right now. As the 2012 session winds down and a number of important, far-reaching bills are being passed or defeated, lobbyist expenditure reports for this calendar year are not available on the website of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. See this screen shot I took this afternoon:

Ethics Commission Web shot

This problem cropped up just this week: Last week, while researching a column about ethics reform and the proposed $100 gift limit, the 2012 reports appeared to work fine. The outage apparently began after a problem Friday with the state’s data servers (I’ve placed a call to the responsible state agency to confirm that and will update this post when I hear back). In the meantime, only reports through 2011 are available.

One doesn’t have to suspect any nefarious activity to see …

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The tax reform Georgia won’t get if this tax bill passes

If all goes according to plan, sometime today the state Senate will pass a bill tinkering with Georgia’s tax code. Thus will two years of ambitious thinking about tax reform end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

The way to think about this tax package, HB 386, is not whether it’s bad on its face. Some parts of it are clearly good; others elicit more of a “meh.” It’s more good than bad.

Rather, the real problem is this bill makes it harder to achieve the very bold tax reforms discussed since 2010.

I’m talking about lowering the personal and corporate income tax rates as low as a flat 3 percent from today’s top rate of 6 percent. That’s a worthy goal for a state sandwiched between two rival states, Florida and Tennessee, with personal income tax rates of zero. A third, South Carolina, is currently moving toward halving its own income tax rate to 3 percent.

A special council created in 2010 to study tax reform recommended just such a reduction to help Georgia …

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