Archive for the ‘Print column’ Category

This ethics bill is hardly a stopping point

Shortly before the 2013 legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed an ethics bill by a combined vote of 225-0. Such overwhelming, bipartisan actions often are hailed. Should this one be?

Before I answer, let me offer an analogy to kicking a field goal. No, not the one involving Charlie Brown and Lucy.

I mean the one Sen. Josh McKoon made just before HB 142 passed in his chamber. The Columbus Republican has been an early and tireless champion of ethics reform. After enumerating the final bill’s problems, including the way it came into being, McKoon explained why he’d vote for it anyway:

“It’s not everything we need to do, but it’s definitely putting points on the board,” McKoon said. “Tonight, let’s put this one through the uprights, but let’s be prepared to come back next year to score a touchdown on ethics reform.”

I sympathize with the position McKoon found himself in. I also think his analogy should go further.

The way football fans think …

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Most important bill of 2013? A river runs through it

The final day of the legislative session is upon us, with a variety of high-profile bills from guns to ethics to education yet to be decided. But legislators already have taken what could become one of their most consequential actions this year.

And it’s not even a law.

HR 4 is a resolution calling for the settlement of something that, at least until recently, you probably believed was settled long ago: the Georgia-Tennessee border.

Turns out, HR 4 is the 10th such resolution our General Assembly has passed since 1887 seeking to correct a surveyor’s error in marking the border two centuries ago. This time, however, the Legislature explicitly threatens legal action if Tennessee will not resolve the dispute with us by the end of next year’s legislative session.

You can practically hear the guffaws ringing through national news stories about HR 4. To read some of them, you’d think even a meth-addled Don Quixote would know better than to accept this quest.

I, too, …

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How to bridge the gap between House, Senate on ethics bill

A ban on lobbyist-to-legislator gifts with several big exceptions, or a $100 cap with fewer exceptions? That’s the main question legislators must answer by midnight Thursday if they are going to pass ethics reform this year.

The proposed ban originated in the House, the cap in the Senate. Either one would be an improvement over the status quo of unlimited gifts. But, ultimately, legislators must pick one approach. And the best approach would be an even tighter version of the $100 cap.

House Speaker David Ralston has called a cap, rather than a ban, a “gimmick.” Referring to the $100 cap senators imposed on themselves on the first day of this session, Ralston has wondered aloud: Does it limit gifts to $100 per day? Per hour? Per minute? He opted instead to sponsor a bill with a ban.

The speaker was right to question the Senate rule’s lack of specificity. But with only three days left in this session, and with his bill looking dramatically different as senators send it …

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Morehead eyes private money to sustain UGA’s rise

In January, as the University of Georgia was wrapping up the search for its new president, I came across an open letter former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels wrote to the people of Purdue University, whose presidency he had just assumed.

The letter made so many good points about the role and future of higher education that I considered writing a column about it, along the lines of: “I don’t know who the next president of UGA should be, but he or she should think like this.” Before I did, UGA announced its next president. And he was thinking about Daniels’ letter, too.

In particular, Jere Morehead noticed this part of the missive:

“We should all remind ourselves every day that the dollars we are privileged to spend come, for the most part, from either a family or a taxpayer. We measure many activities by FTEs, full-time equivalents; we should likewise see every $10,000 we spend as an ‘STE,’ a student tuition equivalent. Any unnecessary expenditure of that amount could …

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Don’t move backward on school choice

Gerard Robinson recalls the first time people called on legislators to put income limits on Georgia’s tax-credit scholarships. He was one of them.

“When the coalition in Georgia worked to create” the scholarships in 2008, Robinson told me Thursday, “I was actually in the minority asking and pushing for a means-tested voucher. … When it became law, I said fine, let’s make this work.”

Robinson certainly has tried to make the $51.5 million-a-year tax-credit scholarship work. He’s a board member for the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, the largest of Georgia’s student scholarship organizations (SSOs) which collect donations via the tax-credit program and award them to deserving students.

But he also brings a national perspective, having worked with Milwaukee’s voucher program and as a top education officer in Florida and Virginia. And he thinks Georgia shouldn’t move backward and impose income limits, the practice known as means-testing, as other states do.

“I believe the Georgia …

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Pressuring the people to pressure the politicians about our national debt

First came the New Year’s tax increases of the “fiscal cliff.” Last week, the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration took effect. Still, Congress will spend much of March negotiating a deal to fund the federal government for the next six months — a deal that, in all likelihood, will mean borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars more.

Lurching from one crisis to the next, however real or contrived each one may be, has not put the country on a more solid, sustainable fiscal path. That’s where Maya MacGuineas comes in.

“We actually know for the most part what the parameters of a fix are,” MacGuineas, head of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told me during a stop in Atlanta two weeks ago. “You know that you’re going to have to look at all parts of the budget.

“You know that a key challenge here is reforming our entitlement programs, as aging and health care are driving the debt, and that … we can reform entitlement programs in …

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Olens takes on another federal overreach: Dodd-Frank

In Washington, Congress passes and the president signs a vast expansion of federal power over a large and critical industry.

In corporate boardrooms, business executives believe that law usurps their rights. In state capitals, attorneys general believe it infringes on states’ sovereignty and puts them at great financial risk. The two groups come together and sue to overturn the law.

A recap of the Obamacare lawsuit decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer? Yes, but it’s also the lead-up to another legal battle stemming from Democrats’ dominance of Washington in 2009 and 2010.

Last month, Georgia joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn major portions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010. The law’s stated intent was to avoid failures of “too big to fail” banks and subsequent market panics, of the kind we saw in autumn 2008.

There are good arguments that the law’s authors got the policy wrong, and enshrined “too big to fail” in federal law rather …

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Numbers for Medicaid expansion don’t add up

Obamacare supporters want to talk numbers when it comes to expanding Medicaid in Georgia. OK, let’s talk numbers:

When they returned last month, Georgia’s legislators already faced a $774 million hole for Medicaid through June 2014. That was before any expansion, and even after assuming renewal of the “bed tax” that brings in some $700 million a year for the program.

Medicaid is already the fastest-growing part of Georgia’s budget. Including PeachCare for kids, it will consume $1 of every $7 in state funds in fiscal 2014, up from $1 per $9 a decade ago.

That increased ratio means almost $616 million will go to Medicaid next year instead of transportation, tax cuts, whatever. State lawmakers can do precious little to arrest the trend.

Still, Obamacare supporters want Medicaid to grow faster.

Pressure is mounting on Nathan Deal to follow the path taken by some other Republican governors — Florida’s Rick Scott and New Jersey’s Chris Christie joined the list in the past eight …

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With House on verge of ethics reform, give Ralston his due

It’s dangerous to heap too much praise on an unfinished product, particularly when there’s still politics to play out. But with a major ethics bill headed for likely passage in the Georgia House of Representatives Monday, it’s worth noting just how much of an unexpected, pleasant turn of events this is.

The bill’s not perfect — show me a bill that is — and it shouldn’t represent the last word ever in Georgia on the topic. It is, however, a bigger step forward than this supporter of ethics reform thought we’d see so soon.

And “soon” is the right word. It was just two years ago, following reports Speaker David Ralston had taken a lobbyist-funded trip to Germany with his family over the previous Thanksgiving, that the latest round of calls for ethics reform got under way.

Nothing came of those calls in that year’s session. As recently as nine months ago, Ralston was casting aspersions on his fellow Republicans who were going along with “media elites and liberal special interest …

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School choice: We can’t help the poor by helping only them

Opponents of school choice measures such as vouchers or tax-credit scholarships love to do a little two-step.

First, they insist choice measures be limited only to low-income families — for the sake of being “fair.” Then, they note the tuition charged by existing private schools and say these families couldn’t possibly make up the difference between those prices and the value of the voucher or scholarship, and thus we might as well scrap the choice measures.

With that, they sit back and fold their arms, confident they’ve done something other than prove the basic laws of economics apply to education.

Before we burst their bubble, let’s take a step back.

The goal of anyone interested in education should be to see that all children attend quality schools. Right?

In a triumph of hope over experience, choice opponents think this can be accomplished through existing public schools alone. If only we spend more and more (and more) money on them.

The rest of us understand the public …

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