There are certain rules of polite society that Momma made us learn by rote.
When spitting in front of company, use a paper cup. If you have to wear a pair of underwear more than once, turn it inside out.
And never, ever pitch a tax increase during the apex of a tea party-driven, anti-government convulsion. That was her big one.
And yet, on the first Tuesday of November, we will have just that — a statewide referendum to approve a $10 surcharge on your annual auto tag fee.
Why? Because in certain areas of Georgia, many visited frequently by you, your spouse and your precious offspring, emergency medical care is so scarce that your chance of surviving a major accident has dipped to 50-50.
Flip a coin — live or die.
With 8 million vehicles in Georgia, the levy could raise $80 million a year to fund a network of 16 trauma centers within reach of most of the state — and offset the high cost of medical specialists constantly required to be on hand or on call.
The campaign for Amendment 2 began last week with a 30-second TV spot and a punch-to-the-gut narrative: Car wrecks. Mother pulled free. Daughter placed in ambulance. Half-way down the road, the ambulance lights go out and the siren goes silent.
“Too far to go. Not enough time,” says the narrator.
The new ad is the work of the business-backed group Yes 2 Save Lives, headed by George Israel, former president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a real quality-of-life issue for Georgia — 700 lives per year that are being needlessly lost,” Israel said. “The key is having neurosurgeons within an hour of an accident.”
When it comes to emergency medical care, some areas of the state are more abandoned than others, but the I-75 corridor below Macon is the loneliest.
“When you leave Bibb County, there’s not a single, solitary neurosurgeon even answering calls until you get to the Florida border,” Israel said — a thought that should add boatloads of excitement to that next trip to Disney World.
Supporters of Amendment 2 are fully aware of the climate. Even if Israel and his friends hit their fund-raising target of $5 million, their own polling says the vote will be exceedingly close.
“It is not going to be a walk in the park. It’s going to be tough,” Israel said.
Anti-tax groups already have declared their opposition to Amendment 2 — though it’s not clear how hard they intend to fight it.
Early this spring, Virginia “No Relation” Galloway, leader of the Georgia director of Americans for Prosperity, and J.D. Van Brink, chairman of the Georgia Tea Party, condemned the referendum as an effort to “cater to the powerful hospital lobby.” Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party, said her group will oppose the measure.
But in a strange way, opponents and proponents of Amendment 2 may be on the same side — united by their distrust of government.
“We have found from our focus groups that the big issue in the mind of the potential voter is, ‘Is this money really going to go where they say it’s going to go?’” Israel said. “There’s just a huge amount of skepticism out there about anything that has to do with government, period.”
Proponents of a statewide trauma network have spent year after year at the state Capitol in search of a steady, protected stream of funding.
Gov. Sonny Perdue backed a “superspeeder” law that carried extra-heavy fines, with funds aimed at a trauma network. It’s good policy, but doesn’t generate nearly enough money, said Dr. Dennis Ashley, a trauma surgeon in Macon and chairman of the underfunded Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission. He’ll be one of the many faces of the Amendment 2 campaign.
But consider him just as skeptical as any member of the tea party.
“We’re voters too. And we pay taxes and fees, too. And we’ve watched our money go into the coffers of the General Assembly and then be used for pork projects and things. And that’s not what anybody wants,” Ashley said.
And so Amendment 2 will include language that prevents money raised by the $10 fee from being spent on anything but trauma care. Much like cash from the lottery is, by constitutional amendment, placed beyond the reach of the General Assembly.
Nor are backers of Amendment 2 seeking endorsements from Georgia’s political leaders. “We have not asked the candidates. I’m just not sure how voters see candidates right now,” Israel said.
Which is probably a smart move. But even that may not help Amendment 2.
In which case, Georgians may be advised to keep a spare quarter with them at all times — to be ready for that sudden, life-changing game of heads-or-tails.