Archive for January, 2013

In defense of Georgia’s tax-credit scholarships

This month the Wingfield household, like millions of others across America, has received a growing number of tax documents. Among them are forms certifying that we gave $50 to this charity or $100 to that one, allowing us to reduce what we owe in taxes.

What neither we nor the IRS will receive is official documentation that our church converted X number of non-believers into Christians, or that a charity we supported decreased poverty or sexual exploitation by a quantifiable amount. Or that everyone who benefited from our donations earned less than a certain amount of income.

Yet, similar bits of data are being requested of one of the kinds of non-profits we could have supported but didn’t: Georgia’s student scholarship organizations.

These SSOs accept donations from Georgia taxpayers, who can then reduce their state income taxes by an equal amount — up to a limit for all donors of about $50 million per year, or one-quarter of 1 percent of all revenues the state expects to …

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Ralston’s ethics proposal would be a significant step forward

It took public pressure from GOP and Democratic primary voters and a few years of cajoling (and, yes, lobbying), but the ethics reform package unveiled today by Speaker David Ralston represents a significant step toward better governance in Georgia.

I’ve given the two bills Ralston introduced a once-over, and my initial impression is that they are a serious effort toward addressing public concerns about special interests’ inordinate influence over the lawmaking process. The package includes:

  • an outright ban on lobbyist gifts to all elected public officials in Georgia, at both the state and local levels of government, with only a couple of relatively narrow exceptions (more on those later);
  • a broader definition of “lobbyist” to require registration of more people who seek to influence lawmakers;
  • the restoration of the state ethics commission’s rule-making authority, which is critical if enforcement of ethics laws are to have any teeth;
  • the elimination of filing requirements …

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UGA makes a good choice for its next president

After the passing of journalism professor Conrad Fink a year ago, there’s no one at the University of Georgia I know better than Jere Morehead. I think he’s a terrific choice to be the university’s next president.

Morehead was the head of the Honors and Foundation Fellows programs for my last two years as a student in them (fall 1999 to spring 2001). He not only turned around — quickly and with little fuss — these programs which had been divided and in somewhat of a state of disarray after a breakdown in leadership the year before he took them over. He also built lasting relationships with the students he advised: I’ve lost count of the number of my classmates’ weddings where I’ve seen him in attendance. I do know the most recent one was in December, more than a decade after our mutual friend, the groom, had graduated. As a former professor, he has also, to my knowledge, been a good and respected friend of UGA’s faculty.

Morehead has built these relationships by being good at …

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Senate immigration reform tries to be everything to everybody

The package of immigration reforms unveiled today by four GOP senators and four Democratic ones has been pitched as “comprehensive.” And it certainly is comprehensive — so all-encompassing, in fact, it seems to include everything both side wants, even the things that would seem to be mutually exclusive.

For example, the package’s first “pillar” stipulates that a revised “path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here” is “contingent upon securing the border and combating visa overstays.” For the left, the the key bit is the “path to citizenship.” For the right, it’s “securing the border.” (I’m speaking in broad terms for both groups, obviously.) Those two goals aren’t necessarily in conflict; it depends on how you try to accomplish them.

That’s where the contradictory details come into play. The Republican senators point to the package’s “commission comprised of governors, attorneys general and community leaders living along the Southwest border” and suggest this …

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Tough choices loom as Georgia maps its road(s) ahead

Few people expected Georgia’s legislators to pursue any big new transportation initiatives this year. So far, legislators are meeting that expectation.

The rejection of the T-SPLOST in nine of Georgia’s 12 regions is still fresh, and most state agencies face budget cuts amid stagnant tax revenues. Yet, this is a critical moment for our state to figure out how to pay for transportation infrastructure.

But not only our state. All signs indicate the so-called budget sequester will force Congress to cut spending by tens of billions of dollars a year. And that will be just “the first of many large cutbacks” affecting transportation, predicts Robert Poole.

Robert Poole

Robert Poole

“There will be no more ‘nice to have’ things,” says Poole, co-founder and head of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation. “If we’re going to continue … to invest in transportation, the states are going to have to pick up the ball.”

But, Poole added during a Thursday speech at a Georgia Public …

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Before dropping out, Chambliss had mixed feelings about running again

The first serious indication I got from Sen. Saxby Chambliss that he wasn’t planning to run for re-election next year came two weeks ago, during an interview at his local office in Cobb County. I put some of it in my write-up of the meeting, and I could have written a whole column about his mixed feelings about running for a third term in the Senate. But I had to balance space considerations (that piece was for the print edition of the AJC) and interest in what the “Gang of Six” member had to say about the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, etc., so I kept the re-election talk in my column limited and placed at the end. Plus, he gave me no reason to believe he’d announce his intentions for 2014 so soon.

Looking back, and in light of his statement today that he’s leaving due in largest part to “frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress,” I thought I’d publish his entire remarks about whether he’d run and how …

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With Saxby out, these Georgians might run for Senate in 2014 (With updates)

My colleague Jim Galloway drops a mighty big political bomb for a Friday morning more than 21 months before the next election: Saxby Chambliss reportedly has told his senior staff members he will not run for re-election next year. (Update at 11:40: An announcement from Chambliss’ office just arrived, making it official. He’s not running.)

There’s been plenty of speculation about this possibility in the past, and just a couple of weeks ago he told me — in probably the strongest terms he’d used to that point — that he was seriously considering it. Now that it’s set to become official this morning, we can begin speculating in earnest about who might run for that seat.

In my mind, the list is not short. Here are some possible names, in alphabetical order and with some thoughts about their respective likelihood of running:

Paul Broun: The congressman from Georgia’s 10th District is first on the list alphabetically but probably would be first on the list if I were ranking the …

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House GOP skirts debt-ceiling drama, can now focus on spending cuts

As I suggested last week, congressional Republicans don’t have to play around with the debt ceiling in order to make sure spending is cut during the next two months. And it appears that approach is more or less what they’re doing. From the Washington Post:

As House Republicans prepared to vote Wednesday on a plan to suspend the debt limit, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan made clear that the party is in no way abandoning its uncompromising approach to the budget battle with President Obama.

Republicans will insist that automatic spending cuts take effect March 1 unless other cuts are adopted, Ryan said. They may force a shutdown of the government on March 27 unless Democrats agree to additional cuts. And they will demand that any future increase in the debt limit – likely to be necessary this summer if the measure to suspend the current debt limit is adopted — be paired dollar-for-dollar with spending cuts or other reforms.

“We have a sequester kicking in on March 1, a …

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What Phil Mickelson has in common with low-income Americans

Professional golfer Phil Mickelson has been in the news lately for complaining — and then apologizing about complaining — about the marginal tax rate he faces under new tax laws at both the federal level and in his home state of California. He claimed he now pays more than 60 percent of his income in taxes.

Presumably, he apologized because now is not the most popular point in U.S. history for questioning the wisdom of the government for taxing sharply the income of Americans who earn tens of millions of dollars a year. And as someone who earns a goodly chunk of his millions precisely because of his popularity (think endorsements), Mickelson has to consider such things.

So perhaps readers will be more interested to know that Mickelson has nothing on low-income Americans when it comes to watching his take-home earnings dissipate with each additional dollar. But not only because of tax rates.

Based on data released earlier last fall by the Congressional Budget Office, the

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Clinton: Here’s how you ‘patronize’ gun owners without being patronizing

This is just Bubba being Bubba, in a way no other politician today can quite manage. From Politico:

Former President Bill Clinton warned a group of top Democratic donors at a private Saturday meeting not to underestimate the passions that gun control stirs among many Americans.

“Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents by looking down your nose at them,” Clinton said.

“A lot of these people live in a world very different from the world lived in by the people proposing these things,” Clinton said. “I know because I come from this world.”

So far, so good. Sound political advice, and seemingly genuine toward both the donors he’s advising and the people he’s advising them not to patronize. Toward the end of the story, however, we get this:

“A lot of these people … all they’ve got is their hunting and their fishing,” [Clinton] told the Democratic financiers. “Or they’re living in a place where they don’t have much police presence. Or they’ve been listening to …

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