Archive for the ‘Georgia Legislature’ Category

Medicaid bed tax: Misnamed, unsustainable, divisive — and apparently irresistible

For an up-close view of the brokenness in our political and health-care systems, and especially of the way they make one another worse rather than better, you could hardly do better than watch the debate over Georgia’s hospital bed tax. It has it all.

First, there’s Medicaid. It’s the program states can’t live with — no matter how much money they pour into it one year, the cost only rises the next, in part because states have limited control over it — and can’t live without — the federal dollars involved are too numerous to pass up.

Medicaid funding is an inherent contradiction in fiscal responsibility: In order to balance their budgets, states look for ever more ways to get ever more money from a federal government that is ever more in debt. Meanwhile, even as Medicaid funding rises, Medicaid patients have ever more trouble finding doctors who will accept them because of the program’s low reimbursement rates.

So, Medicaid is so broken as to somehow render …

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Grover’s right: Bed-tax bill is all about passing the buck

Say what you will about Grover Norquist — and I know many of you have had plenty to say about him in the past, none of it good. But I don’t think there’s any question his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, is right about one particular element of its statement regarding Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to have the Department of Community Health, rather than the Legislature, decide whether to continue imposing the hospital bed tax (or “hospital provider fee,” in the current Georgia political vernacular).

Here’s the statement, obtained by my AJC news-side colleagues. I’ve put the seemingly unobjectionable part in bold-face:

Gov. Deal’s decision to shift taxing authority from the legislature to the Department of Community Health does nothing to improve the hospital bed tax. Instead, it is a step in the wrong direction, attempting to absolve the governor and legislature of any potential blame for the looming tax increase.

The hospital bed tax remains a job-killing tax hike that will …

Continue reading Grover’s right: Bed-tax bill is all about passing the buck »

The Georgia Legislature is back in town (Updated)

Keep an eye on your life, liberty and property: Georgia’s Legislature is back in action starting today.

My news-side colleague Kristina Torres has an overview of the top five issues to watch during the next few months. I agree with the five and would add to them the continued murmurs about expanding gambling in Georgia to increase funding for the HOPE scholarship, as well as the difficulty of waiting while Congress debates its own spending levels for the years to come, which could affect Georgia’s funding for Medicaid, education, transportation and more. See, too, if Democratic legislators are able to cause trouble for the overwhelming GOP majorities on issues such as illegal immigration — for instance, when legislators try to tweak the 2011 illegal immigration law to fix unintended consequences for Georgians trying to renew their drivers licenses.

On the ethics front, look for the Senate to take some sort of action today on a $100 cap on lobbyist gifts — passing a bill for …

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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 …

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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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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 …

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

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 …

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

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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No good reason to rush a vote on mediocre tax package

We saw this movie last year: Georgia’s legislative leaders wait until late in the session to try to make changes to the tax code, even as questions remain about elements of the package, their projected impact on the state budget, and the assumptions underlying that projected impact. Only, this year the action is happening later, after less public discussion, with less time to review the projections. The House reportedly will vote on the bill later today, and the Senate before the end of the week.

It was a bad idea last year, and it’s a bad idea this year.

Despite protests to the contrary by legislators, this year’s tax bill — in no way can it be considered a real tax “reform,” much less a “comprehensive” one — does not comprise only changes that have been thoroughly vetted in public. The “E-Fairness” element, a.k.a. the “Amazon tax,” was not part of the mix last year. It’s a tax that, in most of the states in which it’s been passed to date, has succeeding less in “leveling the …

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Unsure of the new tax reform package? Join the club

After attending yesterday’s legislative hearing about the new tax-reform bill, I had to go home and tend to some unexpected family business. (Not to worry, everyone’s OK.) But even if I’d been free all yesterday afternoon to write about the bill, I’m not sure I’d have known exactly what to say. I still don’t.

I will have more to say about the individual components of the package at a later date. For now, I’ll stick to my broad impression of it.

From the yeoman’s work of the members of a special council created two years ago to modernize a state tax code that had been appended and patched up with little more than duct tape over the years, we stand to get what amounts to this:

  • No change in the personal income tax rate, brackets or deductions — just a partial reduction of the “marriage penalty” and a hard cap on the investment income retirees can exclude.
  • No change in the corporate income tax (despite a campaign promise by Gov. Nathan Deal).
  • No flattening or lowering of the tax …

Continue reading Unsure of the new tax reform package? Join the club »