Archive for the ‘Print column’ Category

Isakson: Revenue’s been dealt with, on to spending

The fiscal cliff is dead. Long live the fiscal cliff!

If you were unsatisfied with the deal struck last week or just miss the D.C. drama, fear not. We’ll be back at the abyss soon.

In March, the so-called sequester budget cuts stand to kick in; appropriations for federal operations will dry up; and the Treasury will run out of ways to pay the bills without raising the debt ceiling. As Congress faces that unholy trinity, Georgia’s Johnny Isakson will be right in the thick of things.

The second-term GOP senator was named Thursday to the Senate Finance Committee, which handles those big budgetary matters. Having to face those three pressures at once actually gives Isakson “some degree of optimism.”

“Because it is such a confluence of things, maybe we’ll get a macro deal instead of a micro deal,” Isakson said by phone Thursday.

Isakson has yet to attend his first meeting as a Finance member, but he knows where he wants the debate to go. “I think the revenue issue has been dealt …

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A new year’s note to MARTA’s new chief

“I’m a skeptic, and I want to protect taxpayers.”

Keith Parker spoke those words toward the end of his first visit to the AJC’s offices as MARTA’s new general manager, earlier this month. He was voicing his understanding of Georgia Republicans who view the transit agency with skepticism and the interests of taxpayers in mind.

Much of Parker’s broader message of working to find efficiencies and earn the trust of taxpayers, customers and skeptical state leaders could have been spoken by anyone. That’s no knock on Parker; he’d been on the job just one week when he met with us.

In fact, after listening to Parker, I found two reasons to think he just might have a fighting chance of doing at MARTA what hasn’t been done there before.

The first is that he has done it in politically similar states before. He has worked in Charlotte and, most recently, as head of the transit agency in San Antonio.

In the latter, he said, he persuaded Texas’ GOP-dominated state legislature to make …

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A Christmas musing on snow, man and a snowman

Get ready for snow on Christmas, everyone. It’s coming, says … my 3-year-old.

Without snow on Christmas, he posits, how will Santa Claus be able to come and deliver our presents?

The unestablished correlation between frozen precipitation and flying reindeer notwithstanding, I’ve tried to explain to him that we live in Atlanta, where the climate is warm and he has a better chance of hearing Santa up on the rooftop than of seeing snow on the ground. It doesn’t help my argument that it did snow on Christmas Day 2010 in Atlanta — and more heavily in Dalton, where we were that day — which is one of the two Christmases he can at least kind of remember. Nor does the phrase “first time that’s happened since 1882” mean much to him.

Based on that one time, I would love for it to be traditional here to have snow on Christmas (and only on Christmas; family and employment aren’t the only reasons we live in the South). It proved to me a white Christmas is truly worth dreaming of.

Reality …

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Why the same old gun-control answers aren’t comforting

As the father of two small boys, I’m as haunted by last week’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., as anyone who didn’t know personally the victims or their killer.

I have the same fears as all parents anticipating the long, potentially treacherous path ahead of their children in this broken world of ours. My fears are only multiplied by my doubts there are many real options for thwarting future slayings in other unsuspecting towns.

The two primary questions we ask after mass killings are: Why do some people act so heinously? And how can we keep others from doing so?

The first question invariably draws answers like: madness, isolation, social awkwardness or marginalization, familial dysfunction, a craving for fame (or infamy), the prevalence of violence in our popular culture, and evil pure and simple.

The second question typically brings suggestions for treating these mental illnesses and social failures. That, and gun control.

Guns typically don’t make the list of answers to “why,” …

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For Legislature, all roads lead to ethics reform (and vice versa)

The story of the year in metro Atlanta almost certainly was voters’ rejection of the $7.2 billion transportation sales tax. That’s true not only because the result was so lopsided in a region famous for its traffic congestion and desperate for relief, but because the clear message was that voters torched the T-SPLOST due to a lack of trust in government.

But what does “lack of trust” mean in practice?

Happily, an opinion poll commissioned for, and reported last Sunday by, the AJC translated the public’s lack of trust into numbers. It suggests ethics reform is key if the Legislature is to shore up the trust deficit.

Sixty percent of those polled last month, in the same 10 metro Atlanta counties that voted down the T-SPLOST in July, said they believe “people in the government waste a lot of money we pay in taxes.” The same percentage said “not many” or “hardly any” of the folks in government are honest.

That’s 60 percent who think government wastes money and 60 percent who think …

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Some Georgia Republicans’ newfound fondness for state jobs

A bunch of small-government Republicans sure are learning to love life in the public sector.

Chip Rogers, the recently deposed Senate majority leader, last week became the latest GOP lawmaker to leave the Gold Dome for a job at a state agency. Rogers resigned his seat to accept Gov. Nathan Deal’s offer to work for Georgia Public Broadcasting.

One guesses he won’t use his new perch to take up Mitt Romney’s crusade against government subsidies for Big Bird.

If Deal ever holds an all-agencies employee picnic, Rogers won’t lack for familiar faces. He’s the seventh Republican legislator in the past two years to take a job with the state.

There are former representatives Timothy Bearden, now head of the Georgia Law Enforcement Training Center; James Mills, now a member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles; Hank Huckaby, now chancellor of the University System of Georgia; and Mark Williams, now head of the Department of Natural Resources.

Then there are ex-senators Mitch Seabaugh, now …

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#My2K bug: How Obama proved conservatives right on taxes

I’d like to thank President Obama for taking the time last week to explain why conservatives have been right about taxes all along.

Last Wednesday, Obama took his perpetual campaign to Twitter, encouraging supporters to send messages about how a middle-class tax increase would affect them. Never mind that no one is proposing a middle-class tax increase; the difference between Democrats and Republicans concerns raising taxes on couples earning more than $250,000 per year.

Even that difference concerns not whether they should go up, but by how much and which means: GOP leaders have offered to raise taxes on high earners by $800 billion over 10 years by limiting how many deductions tax filers can take. Obama wants to raise $1.6 trillion over 10 years by limiting deductions and raising tax rates.

Along the way, however, Obama conceded three of the main points the right long has made about raising taxes. And it only took him five of the 140 characters allowed for a tweet to do …

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The enduring fragility of freedom

Freedom doesn’t grow naturally in the course of human events. On the contrary.

If to err is human, so is to over-correct. And such over-correction almost always turns its back on liberty.

I’m given to such ruminations after the news this past week of a British judge’s recommendations following the 2011 phone-hacking scandal by a tabloid newspaper in that country. Reporters for the News of the World were found to have illegally accessed the voice-mail boxes of cellphones belonging to celebrities, victims of terrorism and, finally, a 13-year-old girl who had gone missing and turned out to have been murdered.

The scandal became a global sensation because the London-based News of the World was owned by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born media magnate whose U.S. properties include the Wall Street Journal, the Fox News Channel and 20th Century Fox movie studios. Murdoch and his son James wound up testifying before the British Parliament. Adding to the intrigue, a comedian in the …

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Sorting out the ‘we’ in Medicaid expansionists’ claims

When someone tells me I can get something of value for “free,” I raise an eyebrow. When that “free” thing is coming from the government — and worth billions — I reach for my wallet.

So it goes with the question of whether Georgia should opt into Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid.

In upholding most of the health reform law this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court did allow one concession to the states that sued to overturn it. The court ruled Washington could not threaten to take away states’ existing Medicaid funding if they declined to expand Medicaid. Each state must now decide whether to take part in the expansion and make anyone earning 138 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in August said he would decline the offer on two grounds. First, the state can’t afford its share of the expansion’s cost. Second, Deal doesn’t believe a heavily indebted Washington will uphold its end of the bargain, possibly putting the state on the hook …

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The importance of being present

Most of us, if all goes according to plan, spend less time with our parents as adults than we did as children. It’s been so ordained since the Garden of Eden.

They bring you home from the hospital, and almost immediately the weaning process begins. As a child, it doesn’t seem to go very quickly. But as a parent of two myself now, I’ve been amazed at how soon kids start spending short and then longer chunks of time away from home.

My older son spends some of those chunks of time with my parents, often going to my hometown of Dalton for a night or three at a time. Although we all get together fairly often, it’s fair to say he’s seen more of them than I have since we moved back to Georgia three and a half years ago.

This fall, I got to play a little catch-up.

My brother was getting married in China, to a young lady we’ve gotten to know over the past few years. But while they made final preparations in her hometown, my parents and I were to spend most of the 11-day trip on our own …

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