Archive for the ‘State’ Category

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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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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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 politicians …

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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 …

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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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Another Southern state not named Georgia looks to ditch the income tax

Another day, another Republican governor making a bold proposal on an issue Georgia lawmakers have been wrestling with. From the Times-Picayune in New Orleans:

Gov. Bobby Jindal is proposing to eliminate Louisiana’s income and corporate taxes and pay for those cuts with increased sales taxes, the governor’s office confirmed Thursday. The governor’s office has not yet provided the details of the plan.

“The bottom line is that for too long, Louisiana’s workers and small businesses have suffered from having a state tax structure that is too complex and that holds back economic prosperity,” Jindal said in a statement released by his office. “It’s time to change that so people can keep more of their own money and foster an environment where businesses want to invest and create good-paying jobs.”

Jindal said the plan would be revenue-neutral and that the goal would be to keep sales taxes “as low and flat as possible.”

Another Louisiana newspaper, the Monroe News-Star, reports the …

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Chambliss: Government shutdown is up to Obama

If you think the 112th Congress was a weak, unproductive bunch, you’re not alone. Saxby Chambliss agrees with you.

“Unfortunately that’s the way it feels inside, not just outside,” Georgia’s senior senator told me over coffee at his Cobb County office Tuesday. “Harry Reid’s leadership [in the Senate] leaves a lot to be desired, and the in-your-face stuff that the president’s thrown at us has gotten a lot of backs up on our side, in both the House and the Senate. You throw the presidential election in there and it just kind of all came together, and nothing got done.”

Readers who are not GOP partisans would probably add House Republicans to Chambliss’ list of Washington’s bad actors. But after spending the past few years working with a handful of his fellow senators to fashion a big, bipartisan deal to reform the federal tax code and reduce spending, to no avail, Chambliss conveyed disdain for the way the Jan. 1 agreement to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff came about. And he …

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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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