Your morning jolt: ‘Out-conservatized’ in Washington

In 2008, three Georgia congressmen – Phil Gingrey, Lynn Westmoreland and John Linder – tied for first in the National Journal’s ranking of most conservative U.S. House members.

But the National Journal’s 2010 rankings, just out this morning, indicate our Republican crew may be mellowing:

Unlike Dems, GOPers get to fete a clear winner in the most-conservative sweepstakes: This year, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) takes the prize. He’s closely followed by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Jim Bunning (R-KY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). In the House, Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), Pete Olson (R-TX), John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Mac Thornberry (R-TX) share the prize.

Nary a Georgian in the crowd.

Overlooked in all the hoopla over Carol Porter entering the Democratic race for lieutenant governor is this from Larry Peterson of the Savannah Morning News:

State Labor Commissioner Mike Thurmond will be the keynote speaker at the local Democrats’ major annual fundraiser on March 4….

He has not said whether he will run for re-election or – as many think he might – for lieutenant governor. There has been speculation that Thurmond will use the local party event, the Toby Buttimer Awards dinner, to reveal his intentions.

All five Democratic candidates for governor will be at the event.

Not too long ago, a janitor pushed an empty trash bin into one of the state Capitol’s elevators. He looked at a reporter, put on a deadpan face, and said, “It’s the state budget.”

With that in mind, state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) has begun a hard sell of HB 39, his bill to hike the cigarette tax by a dollar. Here’s a peek at an op-ed piece he’s written for the weekend newspapers:

Right now Georgia’s 37-cents a pack cigarette tax generates about $237 million a year, but we spend $537 million a year treating smoking-related illnesses in Medicaid patients alone. That means Georgia’s taxpayers are subsidizing the medical costs for the smokers among us to the tune of $300 million a year.

Per household, Georgians are contributing $550 a year to cover the smoking-related medical costs for the state’s Medicaid patients. Raising the cigarette tax by a buck a pack would generate at least $350 million and put the burden where it needs to be – on the smokers themselves….

Beyond tax equity and healthcare issues is the fact, of course, that Georgia is facing unprecedented budget challenges. The General Assembly is struggling now to plug a $1.1 billion hole in the state budget. The “buck a pack” tax increase on cigarettes would attract an estimated $1 billion in new federal health care funds, giving us much-needed flexibility in other areas of the budget.

Without new revenue, we’re facing truly draconian budget choices. Do we really want to lay off state patrol officers, fire prison guards and reduce the number of school days so that we can maintain Georgia’s reputation as one of the cheapest cigarette markets in the nation? Is that more important than, for instance, rebuilding a public health system that is already suffering from more than a 30 percent vacancy rate and is inadequate to handle responsibilities that range from checking diabetes and hypertension to responding to disease epidemics and terrorist attacks?

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17 comments Add your comment

Wiregrass Willie

February 26th, 2010
8:57 am

It is a step in the right direction. We could follow up with an increased motor fuel tax for transportation (a huge part of which would be paid by out of state motorists traveling through the state) instead of the regional sales tax that will result in better roads in retail centers and worse roads for the rest of us trying to get there, and a fat tax on fast food to cover the extra medical costs associated with obesity and heart disease.

The Snark

February 26th, 2010
9:13 am

Georgia ranks near the very bottom when it comes to the cigarette tax. But don’t pat yourselves on the back for being so firm in your opposition to taxes. Because the low cigarette tax just means that income taxes are used to pay for treating smoking related illnesses through the medicaid program.


February 26th, 2010
9:32 am

While the sin tax on cigarettes is a good idea, Rep. Stephens shouldn’t be so confident in the revenues he’s projecting. Raising the price of cigarettes can deter consumers from purchasing cigarettes in the first place (which would be nice from a public health standpoint, but not from a revenue standpoint) or convince those individuals living near the Carolinas, Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee to travel out-of-state to make their purchases.

The reason lottery revenues were so large in those early years was because Georgia was ahead of the curve in instituting it. People were willing to drive from Chattanooga or Auburn for a chance to win a million bucks. I’m sure folks in Columbus and Rabun Gap jonesin’ for a fix of some nicotine will hop in their trucks and head across the border to pick up a pack of Camels.

Georgia needs to raise the gas tax to pay for transportation issues in this state. They need to do away with the loads of tax cuts they’ve given to developers and corporations in an attempt to raise revenues. Although I’m sure that last one will make our lawmakers’ lunch-dates a whole lot more awkward.


February 26th, 2010
9:34 am

Georgia taxpayers are on the hook for a lot more than just medical costs due to smoking. What about the medical costs associated with obesity and drug and alcohol addiction? What do you think it costs the state in dental bills to fix meth mouth? What do you think it costs the state to keep fat people up to date with their cholesterol, heart and diabetes medication? If you really want to save money, make the people with food, drug and alcohol addictions pay more as well as the smokers.


February 26th, 2010
10:02 am

I still think my SIN TAX idea is the best. LOBBY LICENSE at $100,000 per person. It would catch us up in one year, show a profit in two years OR greatly reduce the number on handouts the legislators grant each year AND help with the morals of our legislators (not to mention help them loss some fat from all the banquets).

retired early

February 26th, 2010
10:09 am

Did you folks not read the recent British study indicating that smokers actual save health care $$$ because they die more quickly? Also, what is the state doing with our share of the billion+ annual payments from the tabacco suit settlement? Ga’s payments are in the hundreds of millions range. Is Rep Stevens ignorant or just misleading when he fails to include that $$$ in his cost estimate. You need to find another income source for a change. and….. no.. I don’t smoke. I quit long ago but it was very difficult. Most smokers want to quit.

Ticked Off

February 26th, 2010
10:18 am

I say get rid of all those Idiot Lawyers running our State Government and vote in some Conservative Business Owners who actually know how to run a business (which the State of Georgia is). Then and only then will we be able to match expenses with revenue and maybe run a surplus. Politics as usual is not working and will not work in today’s economic climate. Folks, wake up…..we’re heading for disaster in our Local, State and Federal Governments……it’s time for action, now!!!!!!!!!!

The Cynical White Boy

February 26th, 2010
10:21 am

Yep, it’s tough to balance the checkbook, but thank God at least our State government has to do it, like we ordinary citizens do.

Too bad our Federal “Tax, Borrow and Spend” government is not legally required to do it like our State is. When we lose (what’s left) of our sovreignty to China and our other major creditors, it’s our Congress, and ourselves ultimately, we have to blame.

Kind of funny watching Oblah-blah these days, on one hand he’s beat if he raises taxes, on the other hand, he’s beat if he fails to payoff the unions and the key power-brokers of the Dems. Heh heh heh.


February 26th, 2010
12:23 pm

While I am generally uncomfortable with utilizing ’sin’ taxes to fund the general operations of Government, the proposal by Representative Stephens, as presented, makes sense. One could view the $350 million as a reimbursement for what is already being spent and view the $1 billion Federal Supplement as a much needed infusion of funds to improve the delivery of services to our citizens. I wouldn’t want to harm Representative Stephens politically by complimenting him on his level headed, reasoned approach, but maybe I just did;-) Sorry.


February 26th, 2010
12:59 pm

What a motley crew of wackos.


February 26th, 2010
2:59 pm

How to balance the budget: raise the gas tax and cig tax. Allow alcohol sales on Sundays to boost sales tax and alcohol tax revenues. Jesus would want you to balance the budget and have your wine on Sundays.


February 26th, 2010
6:16 pm

What’s been smoked out here is Stephens for proposing a tax hike. Time for his political career to be snuffed out.


February 26th, 2010
10:11 pm

By raising the cigarette tax we would be nothing more than a Dealer raising their prices on a Junkie that is hooked. We should tax the strip clubs nothing good there; we should tax the fast food places for obesity, where will it end …

Alabama Communist

February 26th, 2010
11:26 pm

state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) has begun a hard sell of HB 39, his bill to hike the cigarette tax by a dollar.*OP ED

Is this same Retarded Republican Dude, who saw a McDonald’s AD that said ” Over 3 Trillion Big Mac’s Sold” that decided a Fat Tax at 1 dollar per Big Mac will fund the State Budget until the year 2150?


February 27th, 2010
10:03 am

Why doesn’t the state go after all of the “independent subcontractors” working in construction. The cobb county courthouse is not the only place this practice goes on.
If Michael Thurmond was doing his job, he could clean up a lot of this stuff and collect a significant amount of revenue that is being left on the table in unemployment insurance taxes, not to mention state income tax. Look at the makeup of the construction workforce around you. And ask yourself if those guys doing the work are paying taxes like you are. I pay mine.

Christie S.

February 28th, 2010
9:59 am

It’s not that our Reps have grown more moderate, it’s that these other yahoos fell off the edge of the world. Please, Inhofe? That boy needs his lithium.

woodshed guy

February 28th, 2010
10:21 am

This bill is nothing but picking low fruit. You don’t really think the taxes received will go to medical purposes do you? Tax campaign donations and fine any lobbiest who gets within 500 feet of a private hunting preserve. NOOX.