Wednesday, July 31, 2013

TSPLOST One Year Later

It is an ignominious anniversary. One year ago 9 of the 12 regions voted against the TSPLOST (a local one cent sales tax pegged for transportation). Of course, one of those regions was Atlanta.

It should be remembered that even supporters of TSPLOST considered it a crap sandwich. It was so full of poison pills and political chicanery that even those desperate for transportation relief pulled levers reluctantly.

Of course this didn't prevent the Atlanta Tea Party (conveniently headquartered in Dacula) from claiming credit.

Rightly so. To a degree.

They used a broad coalition of traditional rivals such as The Sierra Club and the NAACP to lash TSPLOST from stem to stern. Also, anxious to show they were not just the voice of "NO", they promised to use their new power and take leadership in the new tax free transportation world that followed.

Atlanta Tea Party's Debbie Dooley promised the marriage of convenience with The Sierra Club would continue and together they would work a executing a "Plan B". Prior to the vote, they presented one version (see below). After the election, didn't hear much about it ever again. You would think a group that in Dooley's words "took on the governor, the lieutenant governor, the mayor, big business and slick political consultants...emerged victorious" would be revel in strikiing off additional victories.

Here's what they proprosed four days before the vote:

1) Discard the current three different taxes on motor fuel and enact a single motor fuel tax, based on the value of the commodity and allowed to rise and fall with price inflation, dedicated solely to funding transportation with a portion[a] of the motor fuel tax receipts available for “all transportation purposes,” including operating costs as well as capital and maintenance.

2) Allow any two or more local governments to create, and fully fund, transportation projects to meet the needs of their citizens through referenda on local motor fuel or sales taxes, and other revenue sources.
a) Allow referenda to levy local fractional sales taxes and motor fuel taxes of less than one percent for local transportation funding purposes.
b) Leave decisions over specific allowable allocations of local transportation taxes and fees in control of the local governments and their agencies that administer them, free from State interference.
c) Allow combinations of local governments to form fiscal partnerships with GA DOT for sharing capital and/or operating costs of local transportation projects to meet the needs of their citizens.
3) Before elected officials are given more money they need to show they can be trusted with what they have. As a first step toward transparency and accountability, DOT Board members should be elected at annual public meetings of Congressional District Legislative Caucuses in each Congressional District for open public election (no secret ballots) to one-year terms of service and review of transportation activities in the District.
4) Before MARTA is expanded, it should be brought up to date on maintenance and be restored to a reasonable level of service.
a) The Legislature should end its interference in MARTA budgets and resume an oversight role. Voters and elected officials where the MARTA tax is collected (Fulton, Dekalb and Atlanta) should decide how MARTA revenue should be spent.
b) The hotel/motel tax the City of Atlanta collects yearly should in some part go to MARTA or transportation needs, not to be used to build a new stadium for the Falcons.
c) Other options that should be considered include distance based user fares, charge for parking at MARTA lots, use part of the hotel/motel tax to help fund MARTA — even consider raising the tax to fund transportation needs.

Other than bitching about the new stadium, do you remember hearing anything about any of that during the last legislative session? Yeah. Me neither.

What has happened is true to his word, Governor Deal has executed his plan B - I decide what gets built where.

Good for those living at either end of GA-400. For everyone else? Not so much.

Same as it ever was.

Chart Of The Day

You can disagree with Obamacare. You can think it is the wrong policy for the country. You can even believe, with some credence, that it will raise rates.

But stop pretending that rates were not already increasing dramatically prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

As you can see from the chart above (provided by Kaiser), annual health insurance increases were far out pacing inflation. From 2000 to 2005, the average annual rate increase topped 8%.

We will soon hear "repeal" for the fortieth time in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, we will not hear what comes after and everyone should be able to agree returning to the status quo is not tenable.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Another Reason We Should Love Atlanta

Ethics in government has been a hot topic in Georgia during the last two legislative sessions but a new study from Harvard may indicate we should be counting our blessings.

Felipe Campante of Harvard and Quoc-Anh Doh of Singapore posit the more isolated a state capital the greater possibility of corruption. One of the most dramatic examples they use is New York, with upstate Albany, and Massachussets, with white hot center Boston.
if we compare two Northeastern states with similar levels of GDP per capita, we see that Massachusetts, with its population quite concentrated around Boston, is measured as considerably less corrupt than New York and its isolated Albany
The researchers provide plenty of data to show their hypothesis is more causation than correlation and provides evidence of ancillary causes such as concentration of media coverage.

Next January, when once again we debate the cost of steak dinners or even trips to France, just remember it could be worse. The Gold Dome could be in McIntyre.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Majestic Neon

No Senate race today. No politics. Just a little fun for Friday.

Flavorwire lists 35 of America's most majestic neon signs. Two are in Atlanta. Can you name them without looking? (Hint: sadly the Majestic's majestic sign is not one of them.)

Have a great weekend everyone. Politics resumes next week.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What If....Republicans Start To Lose?

According to the Yoda of the Numbers, Nate Silver, punditry is not only useless but is comparable to a cardinal sin. Well, either I could turn this blog into a never ending stream of kittens (and make more money than a porn mogul) or I could commit a little sin. I hate cats, so sin it is!

Let's play what if.

The what if is not what if Michelle Nunn wins in next year's Senate election. The slavering national press already has that covered and I've already said I don't believe it will happen. (To be Nate Silver-like, I'd put her chances at about 20%)

Instead, what if after Michelle Nunn, the Georgia Republican Party rests on its laurels believing its shield of righteousness will protect it from all challenges?

What if they start to lose elections?

Sound far fetched? One only has to look at the resolutions of the last Georgia Republican convention - a sop to a specific industry, opposition to an education proposal -  to infer that a decade of white washing Democrats has led the Republicans to a place where they are obsessed with the tactical while believing the strategic is a given.

If we accept this as valid, where might another electoral victory lead them? Let's speculate.

2014 - Republicans elect Phil Gingrey/Paul Broun in the primary. Gingrey/Broun beats Michelle Nunn, 52-47

2016 - After two years of Sen. Gingrey/Broun and continued demographics changes, State Rep. Jason Carter uses a strategy focused on not only Metro Atlanta but the other four metro areas (plus Libertarian defections) to narrowly beat U.S. Representative Tom Price for U.S. Senate. Democrats win Gwinnett County for the first time in a generation.

2018 - Using the groundwork laid by the new Senator Carter, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed not only wins Gwinnett but peels off Henry County to decisively beat U.S Rep.Austin Scott and becomes Georgia's first African American governor.

And then the fight really begins. What insiders understand is despite the importance of these races, they are brushwars compared to the all out war that 2020 will be. In that year, whichever party holds the Presidency will be up for re-election, we'll have a census and this will ripple all the way down to the state house where the representatives who will draw the next voting districts will be elected.

If the Democrats hold the governor's mansion and are within striking distance of taking back either side of the Capitol, it will be a bloodfest.

Is that all a little out on a limb? Likely. However, once you leave the fever swamp of over-confidence where the ardent currently wallow, I guarantee there are a few furrowed Republican brows who have pondered these scenarios.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Deep In The Fever Swamps

Comment sections are vital to the the health of the social media landscape. If you don't agree, I have a stack of AJC back issues I'd like to sell you. They are the mulch that support and feed the surface landscape, however don't dig too deep. Otherwise, you'll just end up in the dark covered in garbage and dung.

But occasionally it is fruitful to turn the earth and see what's percolating underneath. With these cautions in mind, let's see how the commenters of Georgia's two major partisan websites handled yesterday's announcement by Michelle Nunn that she is entering the race for U.S. Senate.

The Riotgrrls at Blog For Democracy were not too happy with the roll out. I'm hard pressed to remember when they were ever happy with a candidate rollout. They are Democrats after all.
We’ve been waiting months, and if it weren’t for the intros in the articles we wouldn’t know Ms Nunn was even running as a Democrat. No mention of hoping for support from Georgia Democrats, no appreciation for President Obama’s leadership. Only a nod to the two Bush’s.
While true, Nunn's initial releases were as soft as curdled milk (even Republican site ZPolitics noted the lack of reference to Democrats), what Catherine and others are not seeing here is that Michelle Nunn is already running a general election campaign. Twelve months ahead of schedule. Instead of another Hunger Games primary, they have a candidate who can slow roll right up to the general election and appeal to the broadest part of the electorate while the Republicans spend a year trying to out crazy each other.

But as I said. Democrats. Only they can turn an advantage into a reason for full bore panic.

Over at Peach Pundit, everyone is wringing their hands over the Georgia Republican Party's initial response to  Nunn's candidacy. And not just the usual caged monkey poo flingers. From Bull Moose,
Just my opinion, but I think the GOP is making some big mistakes in it’s immediate attacks on Michelle Nunn. 
Most of the comments are about the juvenile nature of the press release and it isn't the best thing I've ever read. But I thought it was funny and a welcome break for the normal mad-lib/fill in the blank press releases.

But more importantly. It's July! 2013! Sixteen months from the election! The only people who read the thing are the people commenting on it. And unless their adderall gives out, in a day or so, they will move on to the next "outrage".

For the first time in a while, the Republicans are going to have a bloodbath while the Democrats stand on the sideline and watch. A little focus on the truly important might be useful.

Welcome to day 2 of the 2014 Georgia Senate campaign. Only 500 or so to go.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


47. That's the highwater mark for a Democratic candidate in a statewide race in Georgia in the past decade. It was achieved by Jim Martin in 2008 against Saxby Chambliss*.

Chambliss is now retiring and a new Democrat is seeking to replace him. Michelle Nunn is the daughter of legendary Georgia Senator Sam Nunn and she will certainly face whatever candidate emerges from the crowded Republican primary field.

47 is daunting but it gets worse. In the last election where President Obama was not at the top of the ticket, the Democratic highwater mark was 43% by Roy Barnes in 2010.

You will hear many stories today that will use words like "battleground" and "changing demograpics", but they will ignore the cold hard math. The last time a non-incumbent Democrat posted over 45% in a statewide race where Barack Obama's name wasn't at the top of the ticket was Michael Coles well-funded campaign against Paul Coverdell in 1998.


Anyone who ignores the unsexy numbers while charging towards the sexy narratives are dreaming of dog wagging tails in the political doldrums that suffocate the summer before a big election.

*Editor's note - Democratic candidate for PSC Jim Powell actually achieved 48% in 2008 but there was so much craziness in that election, it shouldn't be considered comparable.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Love Letter To South Georgia

From my Last Word column in this week's Creative Loafing.
When I was a boy, the roads surrounding my home were still dirt and I would walk, barefoot, between my house and my grandmother's place. On an adventurous day, I might cut through the woods, avoiding the briars and the snakes they likely hid. Although the city limits were creeping closer, Moultrie felt very far away to my small eyes. Atlanta was as foreign and distant as the great cities of the North.
 Read the rest here.