A gathering of the House Republican caucus, its first since the resignation of Glenn Richardson, begins in about an hour.
Many Republican members have made written attempts to sketch out an an agenda for what’s likely to be a fairly unstructured venting session. But this from state Rep. Fran Millar of Dunwoody is by far the most detailed and wide-ranging:
DATE: December 11, 2009
TO: Fellow Caucus Members
FROM: Fran Millar
RE: The Future
During this difficult time, I have urged patience and stated that what is important is that we do this right. I had hoped Mark was going to announce in his letter that we would have an election prior to the session. I certainly did not expect his email stating he was pursuing other career opportunities and would not be running for Speaker. Hopefully, he will provide further clarity on Friday.
Even in adversity, I believe everything happens for a reason. I agree with Jerry Keen that we have much to be proud of. We have been good fiscal stewards and most of the credit goes to Ben, his Appropriations Vice Chairmen, and their committees. Legislatively, the people of Georgia like what we have done with tax relief, immigration control and tort reform.
However, as Republicans we do have a public image perception that we need to fix. It goes beyond Glenn’s tragedy and also includes other areas of state government where we have control.
The good news with a new Speaker is that we can look at how we do business and make changes that we the members feel are necessary.
Some points that I feel we may wish to consider follow. They certainly do not all originate with me, but I feel they are important and warrant your reaction:
– As respects procedure, we probably need to eliminate the Hawk position. If we can’t pass or defeat legislation when we have a majority of members, then shame on us.
– As respects the Rules Committee, we should only be amending legislation with technical flaws. I am not a hypocrite and have been the beneficiary of a Rules Committee Substitute. Going forward and unlike the Democrats, we will demonstrate integrity for the committee system. A bill that the Rules Committee does not like “will go back to the committee from whence it came”. Remember the Rules Committee still has the final say on whether or not a bill hits the floor.
– The Democrats are labeling us the culture of corruption and this is their planned approach in the 2010 election cycle. Therefore, we need to deal with ethical issues on an objective bipartisan basis. It has been suggested a code of conduct may be in order for House members. Bottom line, Joe Wilkinson and his committee should be allowed to do its job with no interference from leadership. As an aside, I do not appreciate seeing some statewide candidates now trying to exploit this situation to further their own ambitions.
– We really need to take advantage of expertise within our Caucus. We all know Mickey is the person on Peach Care/Medicaid. Mark Butler needs to be consulted on all Mental Health issues; Lynn Smith on water; Judy Manning on what’s really happening with Foster Care/DFCS. When we have legislation affecting small business, our entrepreneurs need to be consulted (Allen Peake, Jimmy Prewett, Mark Hamilton). What does law enforcement think (Willie and Tim) of a bill? How does this bill affect agribusiness (Jon Burns/Terry England)?
I could go on, but I think the message is clear. We need to inventory our talent and then listen to them. We also have excellent outside resources we can call on such as Center for Health Transformation (Newt’s group) and SREB (Education database/think tank).
By profession, I am a deal maker in an industry where there is no reward for second place. I learned early in my career to utilize the talent of others. When I ran a company, it was much easier to win a deal when we had the right people at the table representing our firm.
– Mark Burkhalter was absolutely right when he stated we do not want to raise taxes in 2010 (or new fees). The Atlanta newspaper has been covering each of the metro counties approach on the hated property tax.
Tom Rice and Edward Lindsey and their Policy Committee have done a great job. We know painful cuts will need to be made, but I would like to offer suggestions in four policy areas that I consider critical for our success. Again, most of these concepts did not originate with me.
Trauma – Designate the $80 million of dreaded state property tax. When I talk to our non-metro members like Greg Morris, this is a critical need we must solve. Ben originally suggested this idea and with his approval, I tried to advance it last session. Would you make the necessary capital investment in a trauma center if you had to come to us every year for the funding?
Transportation – Before I did an editorial about creating a Public Transit Department (which includes MARTA) under DOT, I sent two memos to Glenn and briefly met with Vance. I was pleased to see Mark Burkhalter embrace the fact that mass transit needs to be included in a transportation solution. Don’t worry Steve Davis – not a rail line to Lovejoy.
MARTA, GRTA, DOT and ARC are forming a Regional Transit Committee. Its goal is to empower a single transit body to find the money to keep buses and trains serving more than 5 million people.
MARTA is going broke. Gwinnett will cut its bus service January 1. GRTA operates Xpress buses in metro counties not served by MARTA and has no funding beyond 2011. Finally, Clayton’s C-Tran bus system is scheduled to shut down in March.
We need to allow the ten county metro area the opportunity to do a one cent ballot initiative in November for all transportation and create a Public Transit Department under DOT. This does not mean heavy rail but at the very least an integrated bus system.
These ten counties generate 53% of state income but only receive 37% of state spending. Why wouldn’t the General Assembly members support this ballot initiative since it won’t cost the non-ten county residents any money (except when they visit the region)?
Education – Under Governor Perdue/Kathy Cox, our graduation rate has substantially improved under any methodology. Unfortunately, we must use the national standard in 2010 and I promise you our rate will not be 79%. The Governor will be gone but that is why BRIDGE was so important. Glenn realized it and we need to be able to have a counterargument when the Democrats try to capitalize on this.
Water – The Governor is employing a three-part strategy but I don’t see his planned discussions with counterparts in Florida and Alabama being productive.
We need to consider the alternative no one ever discusses and I recently broached the subject with Mike Garrett, President of Georgia Power. Why not cut the following deal with the Governor of Tennessee: Chattanooga becomes Atlanta’s second airport. Georgia owns the railroad right of way up to Chattanooga (I think), and we do high speed rail between the cities. (Mike says it is feasible.)
The Dalton area has about 16% unemployment and this would be a great boost for the region (like KIA in West Point).
In return, we get that necessary finger of the Tennessee River. Certainly Colonial Pipeline or some company has the capability to create the system to get the water south.
In conclusion, I am not saying the above ideas, which certainly aren’t all mine, are the answers but we need solutions now. We need an agenda that is doable because the Democrats will be out for blood. To get the business community back in our corner and prevent the substantial decline of economic development, we must solve these problems. I think Ron Stephens would concur.
I apologize for the length of this memo. Glenn’s tragedy affords us the chance to show the people of our state that we are different. Our deeds will reflect our words and we will prove we are the right party to lead. See you Friday!
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