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January 31--  The Association County Commissioners of Georgia is supporting legislation designed to keep the state honest in how it spends tax money.

" When Georgians purchase new tires for their vehicles, a $1 per-tire fee is added to the cost.  This fee, established in Georgia law, is dedicated to the Solid Waste Trust Fund to address landfill emergencies, clean up illegal scrap tire piles, support recycling and litter reduction initiatives and fund other solid waste management programs.  Yet over $40 million in scrap tire fees collected over the last decade have been redirected to other state programs. 

The Solid Waste Trust Fund is not alone.  Dedicated fees for programs such as cleaning up hazardous waste sites, providing indigent defense, training law enforcement officers, and teaching driver’s education programs have also been redirected, with appropriations ranging from zero to something far less than the amount the fees have brought in over this period. 

House Bill 127 seeks to address the redirection of dedicated “fees”. This legislation was introduced by Representative Jay Powell and has the bipartisan backing of over 40 co-sponsors including House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, Rules Chairman John Meadows, House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey and Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.  Under Rep. Powell’s bill, if the fees are not appropriated for their statutorily-dedicated purposes, then those fees will be reduced or eliminated, proportionate to the amount that is redirected.   To minimize impact on the state budget, the new appropriation requirements would be phased in over four years. Rep. Powell introduced similar legislation last year which passed the House overwhelmingly before failing in the Senate.  

“In recent years, budget times have been tough and the General Assembly has had to make ends meet the best it can.  However, we cannot continue to use these fees for other purposes,” said Representative Powell.  “We should either appropriate the fees as promised, reduce the fees to what is being appropriated, or get rid of the fees altogether.  House Bill 127 strengthens transparency in the budget process and trust in our government.”

“The Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) strongly supports HB 127 and commends Representative Powell for its introduction.” said Todd Edwards, ACCG Associate Legislative Director.  “While we recognize that the State may have needed to redirect these funds to address budgetary shortfalls over the last decade, we are pleased that they are considering legislation to prohibit this practice in the future. Otherwise, county taxpayers continue to pick up the costs they thought they had already covered.” 

 

 

January 31--  Local United Way volunteers were estatic at last November's Victory Luncheon when the 2012 campaign exceeded its goal of $465,000 by $46,000.  

Now they're even happier with the announcement that final contributions pushed the total to a record high, according to Executive Director Patricia Dixon.

"It's the most our campaign has raised since I've been here for 14 years.  We hit $536,601.  In 2010 we had our highest previous amount at $536,598.  After the campaign victory celebration, we really wanted to get busy and see if we could get a least one dollar more than what we had ever gotten before and we've been successful thanks to the community wanting to make things better here," she said.

Dixon says 22 community service agencies in Toombs, Montgomery and Wheeler counties will benefit from the record campaign.  Now it's up to the United Way allocations committee to see who gets how much,

"We're about to have an allocations committee meeting where a group of  citizens will divide up into teams and go into the agencies and see exactly how they're using the United Way money and make sure it's being used like they said it would be used.  Then they will come back and decide how much each agency will get," Dixon reports.

Dixon says it's important to remember that 99% of the campaign money goes to local United Way agencies.  The remaining one percent goes to the National United Way organization to pay for affiliation support.

January 30--  The Toombs County school board has called a meeting to conduct a fair dismissal hearing.  The hearing for teacher Jimmy Price will be held Thursday, February 7th at 6:30 p.m. at the board offices at 117 Wesley Avenue in Lyons.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery County school board has hired a former Toombs County Middle School Principal as a substitute math teacher.  The board held a called meeting Monday night and hired Eric McCord of Vidalia to sub at the middle school.

January 30--  Local officials are planning to get road improvements moving as soon as money starts rolling in from the one cent transportation sales tax which area voters approved last summer.

Vidalia City Manager Bill Torrance promises that patchwork-prevalent Adams Street is first on the city's list.

"Adams Street is Vidalia's first project and I know everybody will be happy to hear that.  There's water, drainage and sewer that has to be repaired and the result is going to be a much better road," he said.

Torrance and new Toombs County Manager John Jones were on the January edition of "Vidalia Today."  Jones expects lots of work on county roads and  some major state routes.

"There's going to be a lot of activity on our roads in the next ten years.   With the bypass coming through between Lyons and Vidalia, there's the widening of U.S. One South and replacement of the Altamaha River bridge in the south part of the county," he said.

Meanwhile, the City of Vidalia hopes to finally get started this Summer on a project funded by a federal grant some eight years ago.  Torrance says the $400,000 project has been delayed in federal and state bureaucracies, but he's hopeful bids will be let in June for the work.  He says it will help improve the appearance of downtown Vidalia north of the railroad tracks.

"Walk into the historic downtown right now and you'll see that same thing happen in the north side.  It will look just like it.  I think it's going to really complete the downtown look we were trying to accomplish and the result is going to be very good for our community," Torrance believes.

January 29--  Sen. John Albers (R- Roswell) today introduced Senate Bill 73 to reduce the financial burden on local governments who failed to pass the Transportation Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (TSPLOST) referendum. If passed, this legislation will effectively remove the TSPLOST “penalty provision,” which requires local governments who rejected the TSPLOST to pay more for transportation grants.

Taxing any one part of Georgia simply because they did not pass a tax increase is un-American, said Sen. Albers. “This is unfortunately the case for 113 counties across the state that voted against the TSPLOST tax.”

Prior to Sen. Albers’ election to the Georgia Senate, the General Assembly passed the Transportation Investment Act in 2010. The Transportation Investment Act (TIA) authorized the establishment of 12 special transportation districts to oversee the development, implementation and oversight of various transportation-related projects throughout the state. In addition, the TIA provided the mechanism that authorized counties in each region to hold a transportation referendum.

Out of the 12 designated regions, only three passed the TSPLOST during the July 31, 2012 referendum. These regions are made up of 46 counties which include the River Valley, Heart of Georgia, and the Central Savannah River Regions. 

If voters in a region failed to pass the referendum, every local government must now provide a 30 percent match to receive any Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants. For the regions that passed the TSPLOST, local governments are only required to provide a 10 percent match rate to receive these same grants.

“During these challenging economic times, it is critical that regions across Georgia are given a level playing field when it comes to transportation funding. “Penalizing taxpayers for saying “no” to a tax increase sets an erroneous precedent for the future, especially as regions across Georgia –particularly Metro-Atlanta and the surrounding areas –need long-term transportation investments and improvements.” I remain committed to finding solutions to our traffic and transportation needs in Georgia.”

Senate Bill 73 is currently waiting to be assigned to a Committee. 

 

January 29--  Two business organizations dedicated to local commerce and economic development have inducted leadership teams for 2013.

The new chairperson for the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce is Susan Taylor from Darby Dental Services.  She accepted the board gavel from outgoing chairman Adam Moore.

{mosimage}"Our hopes and goals are that Toombs and Montgomery Counties will continue to grow in a positve direction and I believe a strong Chamber can help achieve these goals," Taylor told the organization's annual meeting.

The slate of officers assisting Taylor are Chairman-Elect Howard Hill from Trane, Vice-Chair for Economic Development B.J. Davis, Georgia Power; Vice-Chair for Community Services John Koon, Vidalia Communications; Vice-Chair for Membershhip Services Celest Robison, Robison Farms; Past Chairman Adam Moore, Lark Builders; and Executive Advisory Member Marsha Temples, The Temples Group.

The 2013 Chamber Board includes Russ Bell, Handy Andy Home Warehouse; Elaine Dixon, Vidalia Federal Savings Bank; Donya Hilton Wood, Oxford Apparel; Debbie Holley, ALLCARE Pharmacy;Johnny Jones, Johnny's Repair;Darren McClellan, Georgia Power Company;Ginger Morris, Vidalia City Schools; Cassie Neal, Cornerstone Children's Center;Doug Roper, Vidalia Federal Savings Bank; Lynn Rowland, City of Lyons;Tim Truxel, Dot Foods;Wayne Williams, M.D. Vidalia ENT Associates;Chris Zorn, Jr., Zorn & Son Insurance

The Chamber has over 500 members and Executive Director Bill Mitchell wants members to get something out of Chamber membership.

"We want our members to see a return on their investment.  When they join the chamber, we want to make sure they are getting something out of it that is beneficial to them and makes them stronger, more profitable and more engaged in the community," Mitchell said.

{mosimage}The Downtown Vidalia Association is being led this year by Jason Colbert from Community Hospice. (L-R) Colbert, Vice President Melissa Moore and new directors Marinette Scott, Tiffany Underwood and Thomas Bowers.

"Our goals are to increase membership this year, to have events to showcase downtown Vidalia and to show citizens what Vidalia is all about and the shops that are downtown.  We're looking forward to 2013 being and great year and to show people you don't have to go out of town and you can find everything you need right here," Colbert said.

January 28--  Board of Regents Chair “Dink” Nesmith and University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby have announced the name of the finalist for the University of Georgia presidency, Jere Morehead.

{mosimage}Morehead is currently the senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost at UGA. He previously served as UGA’s vice president for Instruction, vice provost for Academic Affairs, director of the Honors Program, and acting executive director of Legal Affairs.

In addition to his administrative responsibilities, Morehead is the Meigs Professor of Legal Studies in the Terry College of Business where he has had a faculty appointment since 1986.

In his current position, the deans of the various schools and colleges report to Morehead, as well as several vice presidents. Several other campus units report to the provost including the University Libraries, the Office of International Education, the Office of Institutional Diversity, the Office of Academic Planning, Honors Program, and the Museum of Art.

Morehead also serves as vice chair of the Georgia Athletic Association Board of Directors, vice chair of the UGA Research Foundation, a UGA Foundation Trustee, and a UGA Real Estate Foundation Trustee.

Morehead has published numerous books and scholarly articles on several legal topics ranging from export controls to jury selection, and he has served as editor-in-chief of the American Business Law Journal.

He is the recipient of several University-wide teaching awards, including the Josiah Meigs Teaching Award, the highest award the University provides for teaching excellence, the Richard B. Russell Undergraduate Teaching Award, the Teacher of the Year in the Terry College of Business, and the Tresp Teaching Award in the Honors Program.

He has served as a visiting faculty member at the University of Michigan and served as an assistant United States attorney with the Department of Justice from 1980-86.

He is a 1980 graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law where he earned his J.D. degree.

The Board of Regents will take final action on the selection of the next president of UGA at a future meeting.

January 28--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville provides an explanation of the state budget proposed by Governor Nathan Deal.

 

GOVERNOR'S BUDGET REFLECTS LEAN TIMES

The Governor proposed a $19.3 billion budget for FY13 Amended that is similar in total size to the General budget passed last spring.  But due to worrisome revenue collections, he lowered the tax revenue estimate from 5% growth over FY12 collections to 4% growth.  This puts us more in line with economists' projections.  He did utilize $172 million in funds available in the RSR for K-12 growth to offset this reduction.

 

In FY14, the Governor proposed a $19.8 billion budget that is built on 5% tax growth over his FY13 Amended estimate.  This is a little high from the 3 to 4% that economists are projecting.  But population growth and increasing mandatory expenses require this much growth so we will just have to hope for the best.

 

GOVERNOR'S RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Governor's Office for Children and Families- the Governor proposed $5 million to create grants to incentivize creating community- based options for the juvenile justice system in Georgia's communities.
  • Early Care and Learning- $13 million appropriation proposed to increase the number of days in the Pre-Kindergarten instructional schedule to a full 180 days.
  • K-12 Public Schools- the proposed budget includes $156 million in funds to provide for enrollment growth in FY 2013 as well as $147 million for FY 2014 for enrollment growth as well as the teachers experience and training salary schedule. The Governor's Budget also funds the Equalization Formula at $41 million.  FY 2014 marks the first time the equalization program has been fully funded since 2008.  $1.6 million is proposed to continue a Reading Mentor Program to help insure students read on grade-level by the time they finish third grade.
  • Student Finance Commission- 3% increase in HOPE Scholarship awards from FY 2013 is proposed in the FY 2014 General Budget, which would make a total of $600 million for  HOPE.  The Governor's proposal also includes $6.5 million in new lottery funds to fund the Industries Workforce Development Grant providing additional funding to students who are enrolled in high demand certificate or diploma programs, such as practical nursing, truck driving, and early childhood care and education.
  • Community Health- the Governor recommended $247 million to cover additional Medicaid expenses in the FY 2013 Amended Budget and $256 million in the FY 2014 General Budget.
  • Judicial Council- the Governor proposed $11.6 million to fund Accountability Courts, which were a major part of last year's criminal justice reform aimed at saving the state money as well as reducing recidivism rates.
  • Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities- for FY 2014 the Governor recommended $35 million as part of the fourth year of a settlement with the Federal Government to add more services for developmentally disabled patients and other mental health issues in state hospitals.

HOSPITAL FEE PASSES SENATE, GOES TO HOUSE

SB 24 passed the Senate last week by a vote of 46-9.  The bill essentially continues an existing program of assessing provider fees to hospitals (the current rate is 1.45%) in order to receive matching funds for Medicaid expenses from the Federal Government.  SB 24 gives the Department of Community Health, who already levy this fee on nursing homes, the ability to assess and collect this fee. The Federal Government matches 65% to the state's 35% in providing the funds, so last year $235 million in provider fees led to the federal government providing the state with $454 million to pay Medicaid expenses.  Much like in the nursing home fee, high insurance and private hospitals end up paying the largest burden of the fee.  All of the revenue raised by the provider fees is placed in segregated accounts within the Indigent Care Trust Fund and can only be used to fund the state's share in Medicaid payments.  It ultimately doesn't matter who has control of assessing the fee, the bill gives oversight to the General Assembly in the budget process, as well as through the Administrative Procedures Act which requires the DCH to approve any rule changes with the General Assembly. The bill is set to sunset in 2017.

 

January 26--  The Association County Commissioners of Georgia provides counties with a weekly update on what's happening in the Georgia legislature.  Here's the report for this week.

"State legislators set aside this week to more closely examine the Governor’s proposal for the amended FY 2013 budget and the FY 2014 budget. State agencies testified before appropriations committees to explain the impact of the recommendations on programs and services. State revenues continue to show an upward trend; however, increased spending requirements in major areas such as education and healthcare combined with an uncertainty in federal funding resulted in most state agencies taking a three percent budget cut. 

 
Click here to review for ACCG’s budget analysis.

 

The Good News: Reimbursement for County Jails

 

One of ACCG’s priorities during the 2012 legislative session was the ability for counties to submit sentencing packages electronically to the Department ofCorrections (DOC).  Counties are not reimbursed for housing state inmates until the DOC receives and accepts the sentencing package.  In the past, this process could take months, resulting in counties housing state inmates without reimbursement.  Last year, as a part of the Criminal Justice Reform, a requirement was passed for DOC to accept electronic sentencing packages. All 159 counties are now submitting sentencing packages electronically.  The Governor’s FY 2013 Amended Budget includes an additional $14 million in funding for reimbursement to counties, bringing the total allocation for FY 2013 to $27 million.  This increase in reimbursements is a direct result of the implementation of submitting sentencing packages electronically."

To see the entire Legislative Update, click here.

 

 

January 26--  The Associated Press reports the latest on Lee Price, the infamous investment banker who allegedly swindled millions of dollars from investors in the now defunct Montgomery Bank and Trust.

"A south Georgia bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before he vanished last summer was indicted on federal fraud charges Friday.

However, it's unclear whether Aubrey Lee Price of Valdosta will ever face any charges in court. He went missing June 16 and a Florida judge recently declared him dead, although the FBI doesn't buy his statements in a written confession and letters to his family last year that he planned to drown himself off the Florida coast.  Security camera footage later showed Price at a ferry terminal in Key West.

The indictment in U.S. District Court of Eastern New York charges Price with securities and wire fraud, alleging he faked account statements to cover up big losses from investments he made in equity securities, options and real estate. It's the second criminal prosecution pending against Price, who had served as a director of Montgomery Bank & Trust in Ailey, Ga. He was also charged with bank fraud last year in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

Prosecutors say Price raised $40 million from his bank and 115 investors, and lost much of the money. Melanie Damian, the lawyer appointed to recover Price's assets and help investors recoup some of their losses, said it's still unknown exactly how much of their money he lost.

On Dec. 31, a circuit court judge in Florida agreed to order a presumptive death certificate for Price at the request of his wife, Rebeka. Her attorney, John Holt, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday evening.
Judge Greg S. Parker ruled that the evidence left a reasonable conclusion "that Aubrey Lee Price took his own life at sea."

Authorities are still hunting for Price and are skeptical of his suicide story, considering how often he lied to investors and his own bank, said George Venizelos, assistant director of the FBI's New York office.
"It is therefore reasonable to assume that Price's talk of suicide was also a lie," Venizelos said. "The FBI is actively looking for Aubrey Lee Price."
Authorities have said they believe Price slipped away with up to $17 million of investors' money.

In his rambling confession letter, Price denied stealing any of his clients' money, saying he lost it all through bad investments.
"I created false statements, covered up my losses and deceived and hurt the very people I was trying to help," the letter said.

Damian, the receiver appointed to track down Price's assets, said Friday that more than $400,000 has been recovered. She said Price owned more than $2 million in property and she hopes investors will ultimately recoup more than that.

As long as Price remains missing, Damian said, she doesn't expect the criminal prosecution would necessarily help with repayment of Price's investors.
"I'm sure if he was in custody people would want to see him pay the price for what he did," Damian said. "For the victims, we just need to try to recover as much as possible."

January 25--  The Augusta Chronicle editoralizes on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's testimony this week before committees of the United States Congress.

"The Obama administration did its level best to prevent you from hearing it. But those listening closely Wednesday nonetheless heard the unmistakable thud of American self-governance hitting a new low.

This administration lied through its teeth last fall about what caused the attack on our embassy in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya. Officials initially blamed an anti-Islam Internet video – and, in fact, the American filmmaker is the only person incarcerated as a result of the attack.

Ultimately, after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on a handful of Sunday talk shows to spin the fantasy that the Internet video caused a public protest outside our embassy that went bad, the administration had to admit there was never any protest at all – and that the attack was a premeditated al-Qaida-style assault.

The administration also has been caught red-handed with cables from the Benghazi embassy pleading for better security prior to the attack – which caught officials napping on Sept. 11, of all days.

Then the administration managed to delay the day of reckoning on Capitol Hill far past the November election – until this Wednesday, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally fielded the questions of Congress in an oddly truncated one-day session.

There, she managed to take things to an entirely new low. Exhibiting gratuitous and unjustified indignation, Clinton flailed her arms and angrily wailed about the cause of the attack, “What difference ... does it make?”

Well, four dead Americans makes a huge difference to some of us, Madame Secretary.

We have never seen so many well-educated, high-paid, high-office adults acting so much like teenagers who didn’t do their homework and are trying to shift both blame and attention. Except that, in this case, four people lie dead and terrorists around the world have seen that America can be attacked with impunity.

Mrs. Clinton’s Biden-esque theatrics are shameful enough. But her unprecedented claim that the cause of last fall’s deadly attack doesn’t matter is beyond shameful. It’s disgusting and reprehensible. A country that was lied to and stonewalled – to this day – is now being told not to care.

Just remember her insult to the nation when the frothy sycophantic media beg her to run for president in 2016.

Moreover, get a load of what she says about the cause of the attack in these two sentences – and how wholly and completely inconsistent and contradictory they are:

“What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and to do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”

Read that again: “What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened...” Hello? If it’s her job to figure out what happened in the attack, how can the cause of it possibly be irrelevant? It’s just nonsensical.

But that’s what happens when you try to gin up undue indignation in an effort to somehow look heroic instead of culpable. It’s what happens when you think that combativeness is a defense.

Meanwhile, notice what else made the news Wednesday: The Department of Defense suddenly decided to drop the bombshell that it will allow women in combat. Could that have been a diversionary tactic to make the Clinton story less conspicuous? If so, it worked: It led several nightly newscasts and may have been responsible for knocking the Clinton story off of front pages.

America today appears to be that easily manipulated, that successfully lied to and filibustered. And so many Americans don’t seem to notice or care.

Regrettably, in the end, Mrs. Clinton may be right. It may not matter after all."

 

January 25-- U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., made the following statement in response to the ruling today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that President Obama’s recess appointments last year to the National Labor Relations Board, a federal labor board known as the NLRB, were in violation of the Constitution. 

Isakson is the ranking Republican on the Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has jurisdiction over the NLRB.

“This court ruling is a great victory for the U.S. Constitution,” said Isakson. “This decision confirms my belief that the president disregarded the Constitution when making his so-called recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. I hope this sends a clear message to the president that he cannot simply bypass Congress in the nomination process.”

In February 2012, Isakson joined 38 of his Senate colleagues in filing an amicus brief and joined a court challenge to President Obama’s Jan. 4, 2012, recess appointments of three nominees who had yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. If the court ruling stands, the more than 200 decisions that have been issued by the NLRB since these Obama appointments were made could be declared invalid.

 

January 25--Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss announced today he's not seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate.  Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued the following statement.

“Saxby Chambliss’s tenure in the Senate saw tumultuous times for our nation, from wars against terrorists to the fiscal crisis that threatens us today. Representing us, Saxby became an expert and a leader on these most important issues. Having served with Saxby in Washington for many years, I understand the gravitational pull of Georgia soil because I too felt the call of home. Saxby didn’t wake up every morning and stick his finger in the wind; he started each day asking what he can do to ensure his grandchildren inherit a country every bit as great as the one enjoyed by our generation. History will remember Sen. Saxby Chambliss as a great Georgia leader and an American statesman; I will remember him as a friend.”

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today released the following statement in response to Sen. Chambliss’ announcement that he will retire from the Senate in 2014.

 “Saxby and I have been friends for 51 years and it has been my honor to serve alongside him in the U.S. House and in the U.S. Senate. We first met when we attended the University of Georgia together in the 1960s, and our wives – Julianne Chambliss and Dianne Isakson – happened to be sorority sisters at UGA. I have supported Saxby in every political race he’s run, and I’m grateful that he has done the same for me. Saxby is a true statesman who has worked tirelessly throughout his time in public life to represent the values and interests of Georgians. Our state and our country are better because of Saxby Chambliss. I will miss him dearly after 2014, but I look forward to working with him for two more years in the Senate to tackle the tough issues facing our county.” 

 

 

 

 

 

January 25--  School officials in Treutlen County locked down Treutlen High School Thursday afternoon after a rifle was found in a student's truck in the school parking lot.

According to Treutlen County Sheriff Tommy Corbin, "School officials found the weapon in the juvenile's truck and notified law enforcement.  They locked the school down due to their policy.  When the weapon was found in the vehicle and the deputies were called, the deputies found marijuana in the vehicle and then I brought the bomb dog and the drug dog and we checked the school where nothing was found."

Sheriff Corbin says the .22 caliber rifle in the truck was loaded with seven rounds of ammunition and less than an ounce of marijuana was found in the truck.  The 16-year-old student is charged with bringing a weapon on school grounds and drug possession.

Interim Treutlen County School Superintendent Regina Harris says the situation started when faculty members saw some students congregated in the parking lot at a time when they should have been inside and went to investigate.

She says the student's future in school will be determined after a full investigation in accordance with school policy.  Meanwhile, she wants parents to know that safety of students is the administration's highest priority.

Sheriff Corbin says his office and the school system work in close cooperation regarding school security.

"We cooperate with them very well.  If they see something that they're uncomfortable with we go out and check it out.  We are out at the school constantly riding through and checking, so we work really well with our school officials," he said.

January 24--  The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports feedback on Georgia Public Broadcasting's decision to hire a former state senator for $150K a year.

"A longtime producer has resigned and at least some Georgia residents have begun to cancel their donations over former state Sen. Chip Rogers’ new $150,000-a-year job with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The outrage followed a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealing Rogers’ salary and that he started work Tuesday as an executive producer for a new community jobs program.

The title plants Rogers firmly in middle management, but his pay ranks him as the second-highest paid employee on the GPB staff — at a rate higher than even the annual pay of Gov. Nathan Deal.

Ashlie Wilson Pendley, who has worked for GPB since 1997, and is senior producer for GPB’s “Lawmakers” program, cited four rounds of layoffs, an increasing number of jobs being outsourced and five years of stagnant wages as laying a foundation for her decision.

In her resignation letter this week, which was obtained by liberal advocacy group Better Georgia and shared with the AJC, Pendley said it was “unconscionable to create a position and compensate any individual in this manner during these difficult times.”

“This was the wrong decision for GPB,” Pendley wrote. Her resignation is effective Jan. 31. “It has the appearance of the political manipulation of the public airwaves.”

GPB President Teya Ryan said in a recent interview with the AJC that she was not pressured politically to hire Rogers, who has seen a series of missteps that include failing to repay a bank loan and public disclosure of his work for a sports gambling network.

One of the state Legislature’s most visible Republican leaders, Rogers resigned in December to take what he called a “dream” job with GPB. He had first been elected to the Legislature in 2002.

GPB officials are sensitive to the accusation, however. When GPB member Sandy Wood recently cut off her regular $20 monthly donation because of Rogers’ hiring, she received a letter from GPB Vice President Yvette Cook that noted contributions such as Wood’s would not fund Rogers’ salary. (It instead is paid solely through state taxpayers’ money).

Cook went on to note that Rogers “may or may not be the best spokesperson” for the new programming effort he now leads, which involves promoting Georgia’s push for more jobs and economic development. “The audience ultimately decides who makes it and who doesn’t,” Cook wrote.

Rogers, a former television and radio reporter, will spearhead the new effort’s development and go on-air as a radio host. The program is expected to begin broadcasting in late spring on GPB’s 17-station radio network. The shows will also stream live on www.gpb.org.

Wood isn’t waiting. She said she switched her donation to WABE-FM (90.1), a public radio station in Atlanta that’s not affiliated with GPB.

A GPB spokeswoman said Wednesday that Rogers, now an employee, could not discuss personal matters. He told the AJC Friday that he appreciated the opportunity to help develop quality programming at GPB, which would be personally and professionally satisfying.

GPB Vice President Nancy Zintak said the institution is concerned members may be upset. While she could not say how many members canceled their donations because of it, she said GPB has received about 130 related calls or emails since Dec. 5, after the AJC broke news of Rogers’ decision to leave office. GPB has 45,000 members, people who make private donations to support it.

“If they are upset with how things all happened, it’s completely understandable,” Zintak said of those who complained. But, she said, GPB has “always been a very good steward, from the smallest personal donations to significant grants and state money. We’re going to soldier through this.”

 

January 23--  The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) provides an explanation of new state laws that impact the purchase of vehicles in the state starting in March.

Tax reform legislation enacted by the Georgia General Assembly in 2012 created a new system for taxing motor vehicles registered in Georgia.  As a result, the annual vehicle ad valorem tax, often called the “birthday tax,” will change to a state and local title ad valorem tax on March 1, 2013.  The Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) encourages individuals who plan to purchase or transfer the title on a vehicle to learn more about these changes before visiting their local county tag and title office. 

Beginning March 1, 2013, state and local sales tax will no longer apply to the purchase of a motor vehicle (except for the 1% transportation tax on the first $5,000 of any vehicle sale in regions that have this tax).  All vehicles purchased or transferred into ownership after this date also will no longer be subject to the annual ad valorem tax. Instead, these vehicles will be subject to a new, one-time state and local title ad valorem tax (TAVT) that is paid at the time owner registers the vehicle and applies for the title with the county.

The new system for taxing vehicles only applies when the ownership of the vehicle is transferred through a title exchange.  All other vehicle owners will continue to operate under the current system and pay the annual ad valorem taxes until they no longer hold title to the vehicle. 

“This is a major change in the way taxes are paid on motor vehicles.  People need to fully understand that the cost to title a vehicle is going to be higher than what they may have previously experienced,” said ACCG Legislative Director Clint Mueller.  “The tradeoff is that they will not have to pay a sales tax if they have traditionally purchased a vehicle through a dealership and they will not have the annual ad valorem tax to pay every year.”

The title ad valorem tax is collected by the county tax commissioner before a new title is issued and the vehicle is registered.  The new title ad valorem tax is calculated at a rate of 6.5% of the vehicle’s value, not the sales price, as defined by the Department of Revenue’s motor vehicle ad valorem assessment manual.  When there is no value available in the assessment manual, the bill of sale or a reputable used car market guide determines the value.  The trade-in value of another motor vehicle will be deducted from the value to get the taxable value. 

For example, consider an individual who purchases a vehicle with a fair market value of $15,000.  He or she also receives $2,500 as the trade-in value for a previously owned vehicle.  The title ad valorem tax that would be due when the individual applies to have the title issued is $812.  The Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR) has developed a title ad valorem tax calculator to help people determine the amount of taxes they will owe that is available at:  http://onlinemvd.dor.ga.gov/Tap/welcome.aspx.

All vehicles purchased on or after March 1, 2013 are subject to this new system, regardless of where the vehicle is purchased.  Vehicles purchased through a private sale that were previously exempt from sales tax, such as vehicles that are sold between individuals and not through a dealer, will now be subject to the title ad valorem tax.

Following are other important changes that will go into effect on March 1, 2013:

·         Vehicles transferred from another state to Georgia will be subject to the title ad valorem tax in two installment payments, in addition to the title and registration fees that they were responsible for in the past.

 

·         Leased vehicles will still be subject to a use tax on the monthly lease payment.  The dealership is responsible for paying the title ad valorem tax and may include this cost in the term of the lease.

 

·         Vehicle titles transferred between family members, including spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents or grandchildren, will be handled as follows:

 

o   Vehicles owned prior to March 1, 2013:  The family member who is titling the vehicle has the option to pay the full title ad valorem tax or continue to pay the annual ad valorem tax under the old system. 

 

o   Vehicles purchased on or after March 1, 2013:  The family member who is titling the vehicle is subject to a 0.5% title ad valorem tax.

 

·         Title applications must be processed in the county where the vehicle is to be registered.

 

·         Salvage vehicles and vehicles donated to charitieswill pay a reduced title ad valorem tax at a rate of 1%.

 

·         Certain veterans who were exempt from annual motor vehicle ad valorem tax will also be exempt from the title ad valorem tax.

For more information on the new title ad valorem tax, go to www.etax.dor.ga.gov and click on “Motor Vehicles” and then the “Tax Calculator” button or www.accg.org and click on “Motor Vehicle Tax Reform.”

 

 

January 23--  The Savannah Morning News reports Rayonier is selling its nearby operations.

"Global forest products company Rayonier announced today that it has reached an agreement to sell all assets of its wood product business, headquartered in Baxley, to International Forest Products Limited – or Interfor - for $80 million. The sale, expected to close this quarter, will result in an after-tax gain of approximately $40 million.

Rayonier's wood products business consists of three lumber mills located in Baxley, Swainsboro and Eatonton. As part of the transaction, Interfor has agreed to hire all 260 current wood products employees.

The three mills contributed approximately $10 million in operating income to Rayonier in 2012."

 

January 23--  State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons says he did nothing wrong in helping bring a cancer treatment hospital to Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution published a story on legislator ethics prior to the start of this year's General Assembly session and singled out Senator Williams and several others.

The paper took Williams to task for accepting nearly $11,000 in legal campaign contributions over several years from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and then leading the effort to pass a Certificate of Need law which allowed the company to gain access to Georgia.

{mosimage}"I did fight a battle for a number of years to bring this hospital here because the big hospitals in Atlanta and around the state did not want competition in the cancer market.  The protected it with a vengence.  They hired 90 lobbyists to fight Cancer Treatment Centers of America from coming to Georgia.  We were able to win that fight and change the law so there is more availability for people in my district and across the state to get treated for cancer.  My dad died of cancer and I had a personal reason for fighting for more opportunities for Georgians.  As a result of passing the bill, we also made it easier for hospitals like Meadows Regional Medical Center to build a new hospital and a new cancer treatment center," Senator Williams says.

Senator Williams now serves on the board of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospital which opened last August in Newnan and donates his compensation to charity.

"The money they pay me for serving on the board is donated to a charity at the hospital.  I receive no financial benefit personally.  The hospital has a charitable fund to help folks who can't afford to pay their cancer bill and that money goes toward that fund," he says.

The AJC reports the cancer company spent more than $350,000 in campaign contributions and lobbyists gifts to lawmakers from 2006 to 2008 when the Certificate of Need bill passed the legislature with 89 percent of lawmakers in favor.

Today Senator Williams says he favors reducing the amount of campaign contributions politicians can accept and claims the contributions he received from Cancer Treatment Centers of America had no influence on his efforts.

"I never felt like I was influenced, but money does talk here in Atlanta and in Washington.  There is corruption and it's part of the nature of man to be corrupt, but I'm doing all I can to make sure it doesn't happen to me," he said.

Senator Williams says this year he is taking no gifts from lobbyists.  He reports he will pay for any meals, ballgame tickets or gifts he accepts from lobbyists.

January 22-- According to Toombs County Sheriff Junor Kight, on Sunday, at approximately eleven-thirty a.m., a Georgia State Trooper chased a motorcycle into Toombs County.  The motorcycle wrecked in Cedar Crossing and the rider ran into the woods. 

The Toombs County Sheriff’s Office Deputies responded and the subject was apprehended after about forty-five minutes by the Toombs County Deputies, Georgia State Prison K-9. 

The subject, Larry Eugene Stone, forty-one-year old white male, has warrants pending in Florida and Georgia.  He is in Toombs County Detention Center pending local charges and awaiting extradition.  

January 22--  The assistant principal at Montgomery County Elementary School is resigning.

The Montgomery County school board accepted the resignation of Ginger White at its meeting Monday night.

School board chairman Jim Paul Poole told the board he was "personally disappointed" about the decision and said he had followed her career since she had joined the school system back when he was the school superintendent.

White spent most of her time in the school system as a school counselor and is now returning to that career field.  Her resignation is effective February 22 and she is moving to become a counselor in the Jeff Davis County school system.

January 21--  There's a critical needed for volunteers to help children from troubled homes in Toombs County.

Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children in this area serves 15 counties which make up the Dublin, Middle and Oconee Judicial Circuits.  Julie German from the Eastman office says community volunteers are trained to make  recommendations to judges regarding kids who's families are broke and broken.

" It does impact their children.  When they can't provide their children with the appropriate clothing for the season or they're not taking them to medical because they don't have transportation.  We've had children that when they came into care, they were so far behind with their immunizations, they would have to have from eight to ten immunizations done."

"It can be overwhelming and if you stop and think too much about it, you might go screaming into the night, but you have to think about those children and the impact you're having on their lives and on their futures," German says.

Given the challenges, you might wonder why anyone would volunteer to help.  However, German says the successes make it worthwhile.  She remembers an infant a volunteer reunited with its family.

"We were able to get that child reunited with his family in another state despite all the obstacles we encountered.  He is connected with his birth family and has siblings whom he sees on an almost daily basis.  Were it not for our volunteer,, that child would have been adopted and he would not be connected to his birth family.  That's a real success story," German notes.

German says volunteers normally handle only one or two cases at a time and get to choose which cases they take.

For more information, call 912-537-2009 in Vidalia or go to the CASA website, http://www.tlcchildrensservices.org/about-us/tlc-casa/

January 21--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville has ten reasons with caveats on why he is optimistic in the coming year.

TEN REASONS TO BE OPTIMISTIC IN 2013

Yes, this annual column may be a little later this year. There are a number of reasons and the disarray in Washington has something to do with them. Others have to do with coming up with "optimistic" reasons where I am seeing maybe that "encouraging" signs for 2013. Webster uses adjectives like "best possible" in defining "optimistic." Anybody who thinks the solutions coming out of Washington fit the "best possible" conclusion just simply has returned from Colorado or Washington state enjoying the newly voted freedom to use marijuana. "Encouraging", on the other hand, according to Webster, uses words like to "stimulate, incite or foster" in its definition.

So, if we are to leave the title of this column with "Optimistic" in it, we probably should put disclaimers like the lawyers and drug manufacturers do at the end of the commercials.

My disclaimer for this column and indeed for the beginning of 2013 is the one you see on the right-hand mirror on your car: "objects are closer than they appear." While we have every reason to be both encouraged and optimistic about our economic future in 2013, there is strong reason to believe that events at the highest levels of government in this country are going to have effects that the state will have to react to and in fact may inhibit our recovery and progress. And that the $17 Trillion National Debt, and the certain day of reckoning and resultant pain for all, "is closer than we think."

So, with the above disclaimer, here are my "Ten Reasons to be Optimistic (Encouraged) in 2013.

1.  Georgia's economic development efforts continue to show progress. In Calendar Year 2012, Georgia's Dept. of Economic Development reported 385 projects and expansions in Georgia, over $7.4 Billion in new investment creating some 26,000 jobs when all are operational.

2.  Agriculture in Georgia continues to be generally profitable. Soybean prices are at an all-time high and both corn and peanuts had record yields and prices. Onions and fresh vegetable prices were satisfactory in a good production year. Cotton, while prices have returned to around 70 cents a pound, is still enjoying a profitable year due to high production yields. Poultry exports remain strong and a third wood pellet plant announcement this week highlighted the growing biomass market in Europe.

3.  Georgia, the Southeast and the entire country will continue to benefit from the dramatically increased natural gas and oil production in the United States. It is causing in Georgia a rebirth of fleet vehicles operated by gas and Savannah's ports will become an exporter, not an importer, of natural gas from Elba Island.

4.  You can't grow without population growth. Georgia has continued to grow even after the 2010 reapportionment and despite the recession. Interestingly, Dr. Albert Niemi, Dean of the Cox School at SMU, reported recently that Georgia ranked third nationally during 2004-10 in In-Migration and had the highest number of in-migrations from abroad.

5.  Georgia's Unemployment has continued to drop and last month sank to its lowest point since 2009. While 8.5% is still high, Georgia's rate is steadily falling and compares favorably to other Southeastern states.

6.  Every week or so, there is a national news article about crises in pension funds around the country and in some states pension benefits and COLA's are being cut or eliminated. Georgia's two big ones TRS and ERS, rate well nationally, and have received appropriate state contributions. In the 2014 State Budget, Gov. Deal is proposing to add over $127 million to keep those funds in good shape.

7.  Even in unsettling times in the world's economies, Georgia's Ports continue to show strong gains in imports and exports and the future is especially bright if the port deepening continues to move in a timely fashion. So far in FY 2013, total tonnage is up 4.1% and container tonnage is slightly down (-0.4%), which, given the strike threat, fiscal cliff potential and other world economic factors, is probably pretty good. A bright spot is equipment and auto "roll-on roll-offs" showing a 23.1% increase. The total tonnage at Brunswick is up 54.5%. Wood pellets exports, mentioned elsewhere, is also up substantially.

8.  "It ain't bragging if it's true"...well, Georgia is still selling infrastructure bonds at historically low interest rates due to continued confidence of the bond underwriting agencies who validated the states AAA bond rating. Moody's cited Georgia's "conservative fiscal management, moderate debt burden and relatively well-funded pensions."

9.  New home and multifamily construction is beginning to shake off the cobwebs of the recession and move forward. According to the Georgia Chamber, for the first ten months of 2012, building permits statewide averaged a 31% increase and ranged from a 101% increase in Athens/Clarke County to minus figures in areas like Valdosta, Rome and Augusta.

10.  The number of bankruptcies was a sure sign of the recession, so a declining number has to mean something positive is happening. Ga. Credit Union Affiliates reports that nationally the number of bankruptcies decreased by 12% in 2012 and the Georgia number is two percentage points better than the national average.
 

 

January 21--  The Vidalia City Council used its first meeting of the new year to make appoints to various city boards.

Matt Oxley was reappointed to the Revolving Loan Committee, Russ Bell replaces John Sharpe on the Recreation Board, Lorenzo Folsom was reappointed and Billy Snell named to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Sherri Threlkeld was reappointed to the Library Board, Chip Matheson was renamed to the Vidalia Development Authority, Tres Herin and Brian McDaniel were named and Wendell Dixon was reappointed to the Development Authority of Vidalia and four members reappointed to the Downtown Development Authority are Reese Thompson, Frank Sherman, Donald Estroff and Terry Edmonds.

January 18-- The State Board of Education yesterday appointed seven State Charter Schools Commission members. In 2012, the General Assembly passed HB 797, the State Charter Schools Act, which creates a seven-member state level Commission that has the power to authorize charter schools. The Commission members are appointed by the State Board of Education based on two recommendations for each open seat from the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House – with the Governor providing nominations for three positions, the Lieutenant Governor providing nominations for two positions and the Speaker providing nominations for two positions.

“I am pleased to see that the members of the Charter Schools Commission represent a broad cross section of backgrounds and expertise in business, education, non-profits, and government,” said Governor Nathan Deal. “I know they will take their duty of reviewing charter school petitions and approving high quality charter schools seriously, and I look forward to working with them to improve student learning and achievement across Georgia.” 

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle added, “Strengthening and reforming the way we educate our children has long been a passion of mine, which is why I have consistently supported Charter Schools in Georgia,” Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said. “I’m proud to nominate Tom Lewis and Paul Williams to the Charter Schools Commission, two highly-qualified individuals that share my passion for public education. I look forward to working with them during the next few years and congratulate each of the appointees.”

House Speaker David Ralston stated, “When Georgians voted to approve the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, they chose to set Georgia on a path that would allow for the creation of additional educational opportunities for students in our state and greater parental involvement. Now, the appointment of the Commission marks another important step in providing the options that will ultimately allow all Georgia students to receive the education that they deserve. I am confident that the appointed members will serve the people of Georgia well using their experiences, background and knowledge to make the best decisions for our students and for communities across our state.”

The new State Charter Schools Commission members are:

Governor Deal’s Nominations

 

  1. Dr. Charles Knapp
    • Dr. Knapp is an economist and educator. He is the President Emeritus of the University of Georgia, having served as the President of the University of Georgia from 1987 to 1997.  Dr. Knapp served as President of the Aspen Institute from 1997 to 1999.  From 2005 to 2011, he was Chairman of the Board of the East Lake Foundation, the organization responsible for the highly successful community redevelopment project in Southeast Atlanta.   He currently serves on the boards of Aflac, the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students and the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.  Dr. Knapp received his B.S. degree, with honors and distinction, from Iowa State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin Madison. Dr. Knapp previously served on the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. He and his wife Lynne live in Big Canoe, Georgia.
  2. Jennifer Rippner
    • Ms. Rippner is an attorney and has spent her career working in education policy. She currently serves as a consultant for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and as a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Georgia where she is pursuing her Ph.D. in Higher Education. Ms. Rippner received her B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Florida. She previously worked as a Senior Policy and Legal Advisor at Education Counsel, LLC; as Education Policy Advisor to Governor  Sonny Perdue and Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement; Charter Schools Program Manager for the Georgia Department of Education and Director of the Charter School Accountability Center at Florida State University. Ms. Rippner also served as the director of a charter school in Micanopy, Florida. She previously served as Chair of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. She resides in Acworth, Georgia.
  3. Tony Lowden
    • Mr. Tony Lowden is the Executive Director of STONE Academy, an after-school enrichment program that serves at-risk children in the Macon-Bibb County area. He also serves as a youth pastor at Lundy Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Mr. Lowden earned his B.A. degree in Government and Economics from the University of Southern California and his M.Div. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served in numerous civic organizations in the Macon-Bibb area, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission, the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development Board and the Board of Directors for the Center for Racial Understanding. He was a member of Leadership Georgia’s 2011 Class. He lives in Macon, Georgia.

 

Lt. Governor Cagle’s Nominations

 

  1. Tom Lewis
    • Mr. Lewis has years of experience in state government, economic development and currently in his position as Senior Vice President for External Affairs with Georgia State University. His previous service on the former charter schools commission will serve him well if appointed. As Senior Vice President for External Affairs, Tom Lewis provides Georgia State University with leadership and direction in the areas of government and corporate relations, and serves as the university liaison to federal, state and local governments.  He has led Georgia State to new levels of public awareness by directing a comprehensive effort to remake the university's identity and communicate its unique urban mission.  In his twenty-two years as vice president and senior vice president, he has advanced the university's legislative agenda, strengthened relations with alumni, engineered an expansive marketing effort and improved Georgia State's internal and external communications. Tom came to Georgia State in 1991 from the Office of Governor Joe Frank Harris, where he served as Chief of Staff.  Prior to joining the governor's staff, Tom served as executive vice president of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce (1978-1983), where he guided economic development during a critical period of the county's growth; and executive director of the Georgia Franchise Practices Commission (1974-1978), where he developed new standards to regulate this fast-growing industry.
  2. Paul W. Williams
    • Mr. Williams has more than thirty years of financial experience working with companies in metro and rural Georgia, including his current service as Chief Financial Officer of Brickstream Corporation, and prior CFO and other executive positions at Harvest Advisors, Aldridge, Riverbrooke Capital Partners, Fairfield Financial Services, Colony Management Services, Community Bancshares, Bank Corporation of Georgia, Deloach & Company, and Howard, Moore & McDuffie. He is a licensed CPA, a former board member of the Georgia Society of CPAs, and former adjunct professor of accounting at Mercer University. Paul is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the J. M. Tull School of Accounting from the University of Georgia and also a graduate of Middle Georgia College. Paul’s involvement with Georgia’s 4-H program and love of public education will serve him well if appointed as a member of the charter schools commission.

Speaker Ralston’s Nominations


  1. Jose R. Perez
    • Mr. Perez served on the State Board of Education as the 7th Congressional District representative from 2004 to 2011. During those years of distinguished service, he honed his skills as a state-level charter authorizer as a member of the Charter Committee and helped greatly in formulating the current approval processes which prepares him well for service as a State Charter Schools Commission member. Mr. Perez is the President of Target Market Trends, Inc. (TMT), a Peachtree Corners, GA business consulting firm that helps clients develop market and business strategies that target market trends to increase earnings using fact-based information to leverage the firm’s assets. Mr. Perez was born in Havana, Cuba, and his parents sent him to live with his grandparents in Key West, Florida at the age of 12. He and his wife Yolanda have three children who attended the Norcross Cluster of Gwinnett County Public Schools and all graduated from the University of Georgia. Mr. Perez has an M.A. in Economics from Florida Atlantic University, and strongly believes that knowledge and determination are the keys to success. 
  1. James E. Hogg
    • With more than 30 years in public education at every level from teacher to principal to RESA administrator to state department of education to technical college director, Jimmy’s career demonstrates a deep commitment to working to achieve what is best for students.  His experience as Interim Director for Charter Schools at the Georgia Department of Education, as well as his work with the Walton County Career Academy in his role as Athens Technical College Walton Campus Director, prepare him well for involvement in the creation of high quality charter schools as a state-level charter authorizer.

January 18--  The mayor of Lyons has been hired by the Toombs County school system.

Toombs County School Superintendent Dr. Kim Corley says Willis NeSmith was hired at a called meeting of the school board Thursday night.

He will fill a newly created Director of Facilities position.  Dr. Corley says he will be the primary liaison for construction of the new Toombs County High School as well as oversee maintenance of the school system's facilities.

January 18--  Junior ROTC cadets from the local Thunderbolt Regiment are headed to national drill team competition hosted by the U.S. Army in Louisville, Kentucky.

Command Sergeant Major (Retired) David Draughn says it's a feather in the cap to be selected for the competition.

"Most schools won't even apply until they've been in operation for four or five years.  This is our second year.  We want to represent the local communities to the best of our ability.  This is one of the few things where we can brag, hopefully, that we are bringing a national championship home to Vidalia, Montgomery, Toombs and Treutlen High School and that's nothing to sneeze at," he notes.

Four teams of Thunderbolt cadets will make the trip to the national competition in April and compete with a hundred other schools.

"We're working on keeping the same kids in the same squads and having them work together to tighten the teamwork up.  I guarantee you that one person can spoil the show here.  The difference between first place and third place is a thousandths of a point, it's like the Olympics. We're trying to approach our training program with that in mind," CSM Draughn says.

Thunderbolt cadets are competing in a regional drill competition January 26 in Liberty County and will host a drill meet in Vidalia February 2 as part of their preparation for nationals where they'll be judged by active duty U.S. Army drill sergeants.

January 17--  Medical experts discuss how you can be healthier each weekend on NewsTalk 970, WVOP, in Vidalia.  Topics this week are:

Diabetics Have No Idea How To Eat - they didn't know before they were diagnosed... and it's even harder after the diagnosis.

Coca Cola - a prime example of what is wrong with America

The fountain of youth can't be found in the plastic surgeon's office

Saturday 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. (ET)

January 17--  Vidalia police are looking for a man who robbed a local restaurant manager.

Police Sergeant Garrett Palmer said the holdup occurred about 2:30 a.m. Thursday behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Highway 280 West.

Night manager William Cartwright reported he locked the back door to the store and was about to enter his car when he was struck in the back of the head by an assailant.

Cartwright rolled over and saw a man with a handgun who was dressed in black and wearing dark glasses and a hoodie.  He told police the man took the store's bank deposit bag and fled on foot to the southeast.

Palmer says Cartwright may have been struck with a beer bottle and did not suffer serious injuries.

January 17--  Gov. Nathan Deal today named state Rep. Chad Nimmer (R-Blackshear) to his House floor leader team, replacing Rep. Amy Carter (R-Valdosta) who will now serve as chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee.  

As floor leader, Nimmer joins Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin) and Rep. Christian Coomer (R-Cartersville), who will carry the governor’s legislation in the House and who serve as the governor’s office liaisons to their fellow members.

Chad Nimmer

Nimmer was elected by special election in 2011 and represents Pierce and Brantley counties as well as parts of Wayne and Appling counties. He currently serves on the Natural Resources and Environment, Transportation, and the Information and Audits committees. He began his professional career in forestry with Georgia Pacific in 1998. In 2001, he joined the family-owned dealership of Pierce Timber Co. as a procurement forester. In 2005 , Nimmer started his own business, Suwannee Forest Products, and currently serves on the board of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. He is a member of the 2012 Class of Leadership Georgia, the Georgia Forestry Association, Southeast Woods Producers Association, the Georgia Agribusiness Council, and the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association. Nimmer and his wife, Amy, have three children and reside in Blackshear.

 

January 17--  Public school officials in Georgia are bracing for more state cuts to the education budget as the legislature convenes in Atlanta.

Some are concerned that the voter-approved Charter School Amendment to the state constitution will siphon off money which is needed by local school systems, however, State Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia disagrees.

{mosimage}"I understand some people were opposed to the Charter School Amendment, but it's not going to take any money from our local school systems.  The legislation specifically prohibits that.  What we need is a growing economy and that's how we invest in public education through a thriving local economy," Morris said.

Morris and State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons discussed the state budget at the annual pre-legislative forum in Vidalia.

Senator Williams says lawmakers do all they can to protect the education budget given the realities of the state's economy.

{mosimage}"The education budget is about 45% of our budget, but you can't cut everybody else and leave education alone because we have to balance the budget.  Nobody says cutting the education budget is a good ide, but over the years, as we've made cuts, the percentage of cuts made to education is always the lowest.  Education is not all about money.  It has a lot to do with policy and getting creative.  I'm not saying it's easy for school boards.  It's really not and frankly we get worn down by having to make these cuts and explain to educators that we have to make the cuts," Williams says.

January 16-- President Barack Obama wants the federal government to fund research to look at the impact of violent videogames on users.

Getty Images
At a press conference Wednesday detailing his proposals for tighter gun laws, the president said that the scientific community needs to discover if there is a link between gory entertainment and the recent spate of mass-shootings.

Also read: Obama Disses Talking Heads in Gun-Control Speech

While he called out violent videogames, he did not make any specific mention of violence in the movies or on TV in his remarks.

"We don’t benefit from ignorance," Obama said. "We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence."

The president has been pushing for more restrictions on gun ownership in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month that left 26 people dead including 20 children.

Also read: Movies, TV Come Out Unscathed in Meeting on Violence With Biden

Obama said that he is instructing the Center for Disease Control to study the roots of violent behavior, and is asking Congress for $10 million to fund the research. That research will include investigating the relationship between videogames, media images, and violence, according to an executive order the president issued Wednesday.

The film industry must be relieved not to have been singled out in Obama's remarks, but if the president or Congress decides to target the entertainment business, the White House will have a fight on its hands. Hollywood executives and Motion Picture Association of American Chairman Chris Dodd have said they will hit back on any efforts to restrict violence in movies.

Members of the movie and television industry briefed Vice President Joe Biden and other members of the president's task-force on gun violence at the White House last week about content ratings systems, which give parents tools to regulate what kind of TV programming and movies their children watch.

Dodd, the National Association of Broadcaster's CEO Gordon Smith and National Cable Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell were among the industry figures present.

In his remarks Wednesday, Obama called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for gun buyers.

"When it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now, Obama said.

In addition to the killings in Newtown, Obama also cited the shootings at an Aurora, Colo., screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" last July that left 12 people dead as evidence that there need to be more limits on what types of guns can be purchased by civilians.

"Weapons designed for war have no place in a movie theater," Obama said.

The National Rifle Association has already begun a television campaign against Obama's proposals, but the lobbying group may be more sympathetic to research into media companies' role in inciting violence.

At a press conference last month on the Newtown massacre, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said the blame for these killings rested on "blood-soaked" films like "American Psycho" and violent games like "Grand Theft Auto."

January 16--  Here's what Governor Nathan Deal had to say this morning in his address to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's "Eggs and Issues" breakfast in Atlanta.

"Members of the Georgia Chamber, Lieutenant Governor Cagle, Speaker Ralston, state legislators, elected officials, judges, justices, ladies and gentlemen:

Let me begin by congratulating you. We have had one of the best years of economic development in quite some time. A few notable companies that have chosen Georgia include Baxter, General Motors, and Caterpillar, along with numerous others. We did this with your help, with both the private and the public sector doing their parts!

Several weeks ago, the lieutenant governor, along with Sandra and I hosted a reception at the Governor’s Mansion to honor Georgia’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes who competed at the London Olympic Games. This was an outstanding group of young people of whom we are extremely proud.

One of the men in the group was Aries Merritt, a native of Atlanta and a graduate of Wheeler High School in Marietta. Aries won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 110 meter hurdles.

Unlike sprinters who travel in a straight line with no obstacles other than the lane markers assigned to them, hurdlers, as the name implies, must jump over obstacles that are placed in their path.

Making analogies between sports and government is always risky, but I want to suggest to you that the business of governing our state is somewhat similar to running the hurdles.

As governor, my goal is to see Georgia become the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business. I have made that clear from the beginning, because I believe that is the best path to economic growth and the quickest way to get Georgians into jobs.  And we are not all that far off from reaching our target: For two years in a row, we have ranked in the top five for business climate by Site Selection Magazine, and we ranked No. 3 for doing business in 2012 by Area Development Magazine. But we certainly still have some hurdles that we must overcome before we get there. 

This morning I will focus my remarks on one of the highest hurdles facing state government, that of healthcare. In Georgia, we have had many successes in the realm of healthcare. With rising healthcare costs, we have worked to keep Georgians healthy so that they can avoid some of these expenses rather than react to them when they become ill.

We have launched the Georgia SHAPE program as a way to combat childhood obesity, a growing problem in our state. I proclaimed this past September “Georgia SHAPE Month,” during which we emphasized physical activity and proper nutrition for our state’s children. In its inaugural year, the Governor’s SHAPE Honor Roll had 39 schools achieve Gold Medal status for their dedicated work in making our state’s youth healthier.

These healthier young people generally perform better in the classroom, and many will continue their healthy lifestyles into later years, making these programs an investment in the economic and cultural well being of our state.

The State Health Benefit Plan just finished the first year of its Wellness Program—the largest such program in the country, with more than 245,000 enrollees. We would like to take the next step by growing and developing it; we want to see employees taking responsibility for their own health through preventative action … and receiving lower premiums as a reward.

Even with all of these cost-saving approaches, it still costs approximately $10 million per day in claims to provide health benefits to active and retired employees and teachers. Those costs have and will increase because of Obamacare’s mandated benefits; in FY2014, the State Health Benefit Plan is projected to incur $106M of additional costs due to Obamacare. And because our State Health Benefit Plan is classified as a Self-Insured Plan, it is subject to the three-year Obamacare reinsurance tax. This means we would pay an additional $35M in 2015.

Of course, even among the healthy, not all illness can be prevented; so last year, we grew graduate medical education by adding funding in the budget for the development of 400 new residency slots in hospitals throughout the state, helping keep Georgia’s doctors in Georgia.

These are just a few of the great things we have going for us in healthcare. 

But we also face hurdles that we must overcome, like how to fund the state’s responsibility for Medicaid. Right now, the federal government pays a little under 66 cents for every dollar of Medicaid expenditure, leaving the state with the remaining 34 cents per dollar, which in 2012 amounted to $2.5B as the state share.  

For the past three years, hospitals have been contributing their part to help generate funds to pay for medical costs of the Medicaid program. Every dollar they have given has essentially resulted in two additional dollars from the federal government that in part can be used to increase Medicaid payments to the hospitals. But the time has come to determine whether they will continue their contribution through the provider fee. I have been informed that 10 to 14 hospitals will be faced with possible closure if the provider fee does not continue. These are hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid patients. I propose giving the Department of Community Health board authority over the hospital provider fee, with the stipulation that reauthorization be required every four years by legislation. They have experience in this area, having had authority over a similar fee for the nursing home industry since around 2004. Of course, these fees are not new. In fact, we are one of 47 states that have either a nursing home or hospital provider fee—or both. It makes sense to me that, in Georgia, given the similarity of these two fees, we should house the authority and management of both of them under one roof for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. 

Sometimes it feels like when we have nearly conquered all of our hurdles, the federal government begins to place even more hurdles in our path. 

I am, of course, referring to the various mandates of Obamacare that put a strain on our state, its businesses and its citizens.

As most of you are well aware, the United States Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate as a tax. Therefore, most Georgians, beginning in 2014, will be forced to get insurance coverage or else pay a minimum of $95 (and potentially far more) in penalties. So what does this mean for us? It means that Georgians must pay out dollars to either an insurance company or the federal government—whether they want to or not.

But ultimately there still is a choice, albeit a rock-and-a-hard-place kind of choice. As more individuals enter the marketplace, younger, healthier Georgians might begin deciding they would rather pay the penalty than deal with the potentially much higher cost of coverage, causing the price of insurance for everyone to climb; this increase will drive even more healthy individuals out of the market, further swelling the cost. This potential cycle is one of the inherent flaws in the federal law.

The employer mandate means that businesses with 50 or more employees must provide affordable health insurance to their workers or else pay the rather large penalties. Costs can increase here, as well, as the pool of insured becomes less healthy.

These costs stand to hurt our state’s private sector. Because as all businessmen and women know, the higher your input costs, the lower your profits; the lower your profits, the less you operate, expand or employ. But whether it’s through fewer employees and less equipment purchases or higher costs, this mandate will negatively impact many of our state’s businesses and, of course, the would-be employees themselves.

Georgians who have already received a paycheck this January have no doubt noticed that their payroll taxes went up and their take-home salary went down. This is the cost of entitlements. If you think your taxes went up a lot this month, just wait till we have to pay for “free health care.” Free never cost so much.

The individual mandate has a second tier of impact involving Medicaid and its cost to the state. I have said clearly that Georgia will not expand Medicaid under the federal government’s guidelines. Even so, in Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014, Medicaid and SCHIP funding will be the second largest portion of the state funds budget with more than 13 cents of every dollar going straight to one of these programs. And with just the portions that our state must do, Obamacare is expected to add more than 100,000 new individuals to our Medicaid rolls and mandate other requirements, costing our state nearly $1.7B over the course of 10 years—and that’s on top of the $2.5 B we already pay annually. The reason: These Georgians qualify for Medicaid under the current system but have yet to enroll in it.  With the individual mandate requiring either insurance or a hefty fee, they will likely think that Medicaid looks like a pretty good option.  And since they fall under the current system, the state of Georgia and its taxpayers must pay the current rate of 34% and not the 0 to 10% rate proposed for the expanded population group.

We constitutionally must balance our state budget—a wise requirement instituted by those who have come before us. This increase in costs to the state means we have to find that money somewhere in our already tight budget; we cannot simply create more. As such, I have instructed the Department of Community Health to reduce its budget by at least three percent in Amended Fiscal Year 2013 and by five percent in Fiscal Year 2014—a difficult but necessary task. They have already identified $109M in cost-saving measures between the two years. But this hardly covers the additional nearly $500M in needed funds caused by growth in Medicaid expenses during the same time frame. That means we must make necessary cuts in other agencies and core functions of government since raising taxes is not an option I will accept! 

As I have indicated, I have rejected the Medicaid expansion in Georgia already, but let me emphasize that the expansion would have put our additional costs over 10 years closer to $4.5B—and that’s operating under the dubious assumption that the federal government, with its ever-growing national debt, would have fulfilled their promised share. The 620,000 new enrollees would have stretched our resources and our state to the limit. But whether the cost to our state would have been $2B, $4B or $6B, it does not make much sense to ask for more hurdles when you are already utilizing every muscle in your state’s body to overcome the ones you currently have before you and that you must face. So unless the federal government changes it to a block-grant program and allows Georgia to design the benefit plan, I cannot justify expanding Medicaid.

The irony to me is that there are those in the medical community who are urging the expansion of the Medicaid program while at the same time, we are seeing more and more medical providers refusing to accept Medicaid patients. Their reason for doing so is that they claim the reimbursements for their services are below their costs. It is for that reason that the previously discussed provider fee is so important since that revenue is used to pay providers. If providers are already having difficulty covering their costs for care to Medicaid patients, how will they accommodate 34% more people on the Medicaid rolls? If you are losing money now, how do you reconcile the number of patients on whom you will lose even more money? Add to that the fact that the new enrollees would be higher on the economic scale, and some will be leaving their higher-paying, employer-provided health insurance plans to enter the taxpayer-funded Medicaid program with its lower reimbursements for the providers. If we have to depend on provider fees now to keep our reimbursements to Medicaid providers at a “tolerable” level, just imagine the pressure that will come when hospitals and doctors are losing more money on a larger portion of their patient base. Expansion of the Medicaid rolls does not solve the problem, it only exacerbates the one we already have.

As many of you know, I also turned down the federal government’s offer to let us put our name on their insurance exchange program. I have no interest in seeing our state’s name, or its taxpayer dollars, used on something that we would have very little input in designing. If the purpose is to let those closest to and most knowledgeable about the population design the program, then we should be allowed to do so. It does not appear that is the pattern for the exchanges. I see no benefit to our citizens to have a program bearing the name of the State of Georgia over which our elected or appointed officials have little if any say so. While many federal programs come with strings attached, these strings turn states into marionettes to be manipulated by federal bureaucrats. If there is one thing we don’t need, it is another puppet show directed from Washington, D.C.! 

We cannot always determine what obstacles will be laid in front of us, but we can decide how we deal with them, and whether we approach them with anger, indifference or decisive action. The first two provide very little in productivity, but the latter offers opportunity to grow our state (and our businesses) in spite of newfound hurdles. Therefore, we must choose to work diligently. We must choose discernment over acquiescence, which is what I have aimed to do in my decision-making. And we must choose to confront these hurdles together, because discussion and determination, without bitterness, lead to the greatest forward progress.

Despite all that is in front of us, we will still make Georgia the No. 1 state in which to do business.

One last note: For those of you not attending in person, tune in tomorrow at 11 a.m. as I outline the rest of my plan for Georgia in this year’s State of the State Address, or go to my Twitter account, where my staff will be live Tweeting my remarks or at least the good parts.

(Editor's Note:  The State-of-the-State address will be broadcast on NewsTalk970, WVOP in Vidalia.)

 

 

 

January 16--  The Georgia legislature convened this week and the state Senate wasted no time passing a resolution concerning ethics rules for its members and issued a press release calling it a bold move.  It sets a $100 cap on lobbyists' gifts to senators, however. it immediately drew fire. 

The senate rule is voluntary, does not limit the number of gifts, does not include junkets for lawmakers and only a senator can bring a complaint against another senator plus complaints are sealed from public disclosure.

State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons told us before the session he favors tough ethics legislation and thinks it should also cover campaing contributions.

"It's the amount of contributions that needs to be addressed, not just taking somebody out to dinner.  If we're going to address it, we ought to get at it and I'll support a very tough ethics law," he said.

The senate rule has no force of law, however, in the House, Speaker David Ralston wants ethics legislation and a total prohibition on gilfs from lobbyists to lawmakers.

"I think this is what happens when you play around with gimmicks and you're more interested in having publicity stunts than doing real reform.  Our bill will have a prohibition on spending on individual members of the General Assembly by registered lobbyists, period." Ralson promises.

Unlike Speaker Ralston, State Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia thinks there should be some leeway on lobbyists dealing with legislators as long as what they spend is made public.

"The public is concerned about it at the very least and trust between the people and those they elect is important.  I think the main thing is transparency, having the ability to see every dime that I've taken in meals or going to ballgames and make the judgement for themselves whether I'm doing right and then communicate that with me," Morris says.

 

January 15--  Montgomery County Commissioner Vernon Sumner is the new chairman of the county commission and presided at the first regularly scheduled meeting of the new year Monday night.

The Vice-Chairman is new commissioner Frank Brantley with commissioner John Carpenter serving as the deed commissioner.  

Vidalia lawyer Macky Bryant has been reappointed as county attorney.

Monday night the commissioners named former commissioner Brandon Braddy to the Montgomery County Development Authority and appointed commissioner Carpenter as their representative on the Authority.

January 15--  Georgia Governor Nathan Deal makes his yearly State-of-the-State address to the General Assembly this week.

You can hear the speech Thursday morning at eleven o'clock on NewsTalk970, WVOP in Vidalia.

January 15--  Twelfth District Congressman John Barrow's son was arrested in Athens on DUI and drug charges, according to The Athens Banner Herald.

"The teen son of U.S. Rep. John Barrow was arrested in Athens early Saturday.

Athens-Clarke police charged James Pentlarge Barrow, 18, with driving under the influence of drugs, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and speeding, all misdemeanors.

According to the Clarke County Jail booking recap website, Barrow was arrested about 5:30 a.m. Saturday. He was released to Athens Bonding about 10:40 p.m. that day on a $2,000 bond.

James Barrow lives in Athens. His father, a Democrat from Augusta, is divorced from his mother. An Athens native, John Barrow once served on the Athens-Clarke County Commission.

Richard Carbo, a spokesman for John Barrow’s office in Washington, D.C., said there would be no statement from the congressional office.

“This is an issue between Congressman Barrow and his family, and we are respecting his privacy,” Carbo said in a brief phone interview."

 

January 15--  The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons objected to a move by the state Senate Monday restoring power to Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle.

"The counter-revolution in the Georgia Senate is complete.

Senators began the 2013 legislative session Monday by adopting new rules restoring the powers Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle had enjoyed as presiding officer before a coup staged by a group of Senate leaders four years ago.

Most significantly, Cagle will control three of five appointments to a reconstituted Committee on Assignments that essentially runs the Senate.

During the last four years, the committee was dominated by former Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and former Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock.

Rogers resigned from the Senate last month to take a job with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

But Williams, who stepped down from leadership last summer, was on the Senate floor Monday to rail against the rules changes as an unconstitutional intrusion of the lieutenant governor, a member of the executive branch of state government, into the legislature.

“It’s dangerous to give one person absolute power,” Williams told his Senate colleagues. “You’re the legislature. You have powers. … What you’re doing is rendering that [power] to a person who is not a senator.”

But other senators pointed out that previous lieutenant governors have wielded similar authority in the Senate as presiding officers.

In defending the new arrangement, Sen. Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, Rogers’ successor as majority leader, alluded to the internal bickering that has dogged the Senate since the coup against Cagle, a rift that frequently got in the way of the chamber conducting business.

“It’s no mystery what this body has gone through the last few years,” Chance said. “It’s my hope we can move forward as a united Senate doing what we were elected to do.”

The Senate also elected Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, to succeed Williams as president pro tempore.

 

January 15-- The Senate Committee on Assignments has selected the following state senators to serve as standing committee chairs for the first term of the 152nd Session of the Georgia General Assembly:

Agriculture: Sen. John Wilkinson (R – Toccoa)

Appropriations: Sen. Jack Hill (R – Reidsville)

Banking: Sen. John Crosby (R – Tifton)

Economic Development: Sen. Frank Ginn (R – Danielsville)

Education and Youth: Sen. Lindsay Tippins (R – Marietta)

Ethics: Sen. Rick Jeffares (R – Locust Grove)

Finance: Sen. Judson Hill (R – Marietta)

Government Oversight: Sen. Bill Heath (R – Bremen)

Health and Human Services: Sen. Renee Unterman (R – Buford)

Higher Education: Sen. Bill Cowsert (R – Athens)

Insurance and Labor: Sen. Tim Golden (R – Valdosta)

Interstate Cooperation: Sen. Hardie Davis (D – Augusta)

Judiciary (Civil): Sen. Josh McKoon (R – Columbus)

Judiciary (Non-Civil): Sen. Jesse Stone (R – Waynesboro)

Natural Resources and Environment: Sen. Ross Tolleson (R – Perry)

Public Safety: Sen. Buddy Carter (R – Pooler)

Reapportionment and Redistricting: Sen. Don Balfour (R – Snellville)

Regulated Industries: Sen. Jack Murphy (R – Cumming)

Retirement: Sen. Fran Millar (R – Dunwoody)

Rules: Sen. Jeff Mullis (R – Chickamauga)

Science and Technology: Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R – Cassville)

Special Judiciary: Sen. Curt Thompson (D – Tucker)

State and Local Government Operations: Sen. William Ligon (R – Brunswick)

State Institutions: Sen. John Albers (R – Roswell)

Transportation: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)

Urban Affairs: Sen. Ronald Ramsey (D – Decatur)

Veterans, Military and Homeland Security: Sen. Ed Harbison (D – Columbus)

“I’m humbled to preside over a Senate that is strongly unified and filled with individuals that are hard-working, intelligent and dedicated to solving problems,” Lieutenant Governor Cagle said. “I look forward to working hand-in-hand with these committee chairs, who are extremely well-versed and passionate about their respective subject matters, to deliver Georgians real results on the major issues facing this State.”

"We are fortunate to have a wealth of talent and experience in the State Senate," said President Pro Tem David Shafer (R-Duluth). "I have every confidence in our new committee leadership team."

“Our new committee chairs have proven themselves to be tremendously dedicated to their constituents and their work as state senators. I am looking forward to a productive and proactive legislative session,” said Sen. Majority Leader Ronnie Chance (R-Tyrone).

Once a piece of legislation is introduced in the Senate, it is assigned to a committee depending on its topic.  If the committee gives the legislation a “do pass” recommendation, the proposed law is then sent to the Rules Committee for consideration. 

The appointed chairs will oversee the operation and order of Senate committee meetings; including calling for action on bills, resolutions or other matters assigned to that committee.

 

January 14--  The Lyons city manager has retired.

Mayor Willis NeSmith says Rick Hartley retired effective last Thursday, January 10th and that the city will advertise statewide for his successor.

Mayor NeSmith says the city council is in agreement that the city charter should be amended to authorize a city manager form of government and that local legislation will be sought during the current session of the General Assembly to make the change.

The legislation will give the city manager more authority to oversee city operations while the council and mayor will direct city plans and policy.

January 14--  The President of the Georgia Baptist Convention will speak at Brewton Parker College in Mount Vernon.

{mosimage}Dr. John Waters will address those attending the college's Heritage Chapel in a service intended to honor the college's history Tuesday, January 22 at 11 a.m. in the Saliba Chapel.  

Dr. Waters is a 1986 graduate of Brewton Parker and is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Statesboro.

January 14--  Political Insider Jim Galloway reports on State Senate ethics proposals.

"We’ve got a copy of the new Senate rules about to be approved by the chamber. Click here for your copy.

From a quick reading:

– The same rules that put a $100 cap on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers include a large loophole for travel, and also bar private citizens from lodging complaints against senators. You’ll recall that the recent complaint against Senate Rules Chairman Don Balfour was filed by a junior majoring in political science at Georgia Gwinnett College, who compared Balfour’s mileage claims and found lobbyists reported buying Balfour meals on the same dates in August in New Orleans and San Antonio.

Complaints could only be brought by “a Senator or Senate staff, aides, or interns.” The rules also seal off any such complaints from public disclosure.

Here are the exceptions to the $100 gift cap contained in the rules:

– Awards, plaques, mementos “in recognition of the recipient’s civic, charitable, political, professional, or public service;

– “Food, beverages, or event registration or admission made available to all members of the General Assembly, the Senate, or any caucus, committee, or subcommittee of such bodies.” Call it the “Wild Hog clause.”

– Expenses for “admission, registration, food, beverages, travel, and lodging attributed to participating in events, seminars, or educational programs sponsored by or in conjunction with a civic, charitable, governmental, educational, professional, community, or business organization or institution where attendance is related to the Senator’s official duties.” So junkets – er, informational searches – would still be allowed.

– “Promotional items generally distributed to the general public or to public officers”;

– “Unsolicited items temporarily loaned to the Senator for the purpose of testing, evaluation, or review, if the Senator has no personal beneficial interest in the eventual acquisition of the item loaned;”

– “Informational material, publications, memberships, or subscriptions related to the Senator’s staff, aides performance of his or her official duties.” Free magazine subscriptions for everybody.

According to these same rules, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle would wield the balance of power in the Senate via a newly constituted committee on assignments composed of the lieutenant governor, the Senate president pro tem, the majority leader, and two senators designated by the lieutenant governor.

Other items worth noting:

– Tthe new rules appear to limit the ability of the lieutenant governor to pick and choose who can wield the gavel over the chamber in his stead. The new rules state that he can only give that duty to the president pro tem.

– The rules also establish a new committee and, thus, a new chairmanship: The Senate Judiciary, Non-Civil, Committee.

– Points of personal priviledge – those short speeches made by senators on topics of their own choice – have been moved back to the top of the daily calendar. The previous Senate administration had positioned them at the bottom, amid grumbling that the move was intended to stifle dissent.

– Maybe it’s new, and maybe it isn’t, but rules for media in the Senate now include this:

Photographers and television camerapersons may NOT film or record the desk or any document or object on the desk of a Senator, unless permission is granted by the member.

Those senators who play solitaire on their laptops now have protection.

January 14--  The ribbon-cutting for the new home of the Toombs County Boys and Girls Club in Vidalia is this afternoon at four p.m. at the corner of Winona and Third Streets.

Former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Evander Holyfield is the guest speaker for the occasion.

{mosimage}Evander Holyfield is known by fans and admirers the world over as the only heavyweight ever to win a world championship five times. One of history's most decorated and revered prizefighters, he has earned more money in the ring than any other fighter and holds several all-time gate and pay-per-view records.

Those numbers alone are enough to seal his place in history, but adding to his legend are a string of incredible incidents including Mike Tyson biting off part of his ear, a motorized hang glider disrupting his title fight against Riddick Bowe, and going the full distance against Michael Moorer after tearing his rotator cuff in an early round.

The last of nine children in a poor but proud family in the deep South, he was raised by a loving and strong-willed mother who was determined to see him rise above his humble beginnings. She also planted the seeds of a passionate spirituality that, more than any other influence, shaped the man he spent his life trying to become and enabled him to bounce back from such bitter disappointments as the unfair loss of a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games and the frightening pronouncement that he'd suffered a near-fatal heart attack in the middle of a title fight.

As soon as he turned professional following the 1984 Olympics, Holyfield tore his way through the light heavyweight and cruiserweight classes, so dominating his opponents that there was soon no one left to seriously challenge him. Despite knowing that he would always be the smaller man in the ring, he moved up to heavyweight and began thrilling fans with a series of epic battles against some of boxing's most luminous stars. Two years after entering the division he knocked out Buster Douglas, "the man who knocked out Tyson," and became undisputed champion of the world. He went on to defeat the likes of George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Tyson himself, the most feared man in the sport.

Through it all, Holyfield never forgot where he came from and what he wanted his life to represent. He donated a significant portion of his winnings to causes he believed in, and established the Holyfield Foundation to help disadvantaged young people become healthy, successful and productive adults. His interest in philanthropy and serving his community continue to this day.

Live radio coverage is on Your Favorite, 98Q and Sweet Onion Country 1017FM courtesy of the Meadows Regional Medical Center and Altamaha Animal Clinic.

January 13--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville has some encouraging economic news in his "Notes From The Senate" report.

"ST. NICK" DELIVERS-JUST IN THE "NICK" OF TIME!

December's growth over 2011 of $150.6 million or 9.8% on revenues of $1.68 billion was timely-very timely.

 

After five months of mostly dreary revenue reports and the scary negative report in November, Santa left a December Revenue Report under the tree that was just what the state needed.  Even though press reports had related a sluggish Christmas buying season, December Revenues (which only reflect November Sales Taxes) may have benefitted from the miserable month the state suffered a year ago in December, 2011.

 

Now if that will hold true for January as well (revenues were off in Jan. 2011) then maybe this 2013 budget can be salvaged and some of the economic activity will begin to pay dividends in state revenue increases.

 

Of course, last year, after the first quarter of FY2012 grew at a 7.2% rate, everyone (economists and would-be economists) thought the state was bursting through the clouds of recovery.  Unfortunately the next three quarters averaged less than 5% and the state barely made budget.  After five months of FY013, the growth rate had slipped to 3.7%.  So this encouraging December report does two things: 1. Gives us hope that January will also be positive and start a positive trend and 2. Raises the YTD revenue growth to 4.9%.

 

INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAXES LEAD THE WAY IN DECEMBER

For the first time in a while, Individual Income Tax collections topped 11% (11.8) and produced almost $100 million in revenue.  Estimated Payments were up 19.1% or $17.2 million but the big jump was in Individual Withholding payments showing a huge increase of $97 million or 13.1%.  Individual Refunds were also up $15.7 million, but the overall increase of the category was a healthy 11.8%.

 

State Sales Taxes grossed $440.6 million with an increase of $38.6 million or 4.6%.  Overall Sales Taxes showed only a 3.9% increase.

 

Motor Fuel Taxes were up a combined 4.6% in both Excise and Sales Tax categories at 7.1% and 2.7% respectively, for an overall increase of $3.5 million on revenues of $81.4 million.

 

Corporate Tax collections were up another $10.2 million at $302.1 million.

 

YEAR TO DATE NUMBERS INCH UPWARD

After six months of  Fiscal Year 2013, state revenues stand at $8.6 billion with a gain of $400.0 million and a cumulative increase of 4.9%.  That one positive month of December helped most every category and brings the state closer to making budget.

 

Individual Income Taxes show $4.6 billion with an increase of $237.3 million or a respectable 5.4% YTD.

 

Year to Date (YTD) Sales Tax Collections overall are lethargic, at 1.2% increase or $58.5 million increase on overall collections of $2.6 billion.  The state portion actually increased to $70.3 million or a 2.7% increase.  Adjustments/refunds decreased during the period by -$39.1 million compared to -$71.2 million a year ago.

 

Motor Fuel Taxes are slightly down for the year at -2.5% or minus $12.7 million.  Excise Taxes are slightly up at 0.2% but Motor Fuel Sales Taxes are down -4.5%.

 

Corporate Income continue to be positive after six months, at $302.1 million total, a $78.8 million gain so far or 35.3%.  

 

Tobacco taxes are down for the year by -2.6% and Alcoholic Beverages is up slightly at 0.8%.

 

Total revenue collected for the state so far in FY013 exceeds $8.6 billion with six months to go.    

So as the Legislature assembles for the 2013 Session, December will be seen either as a month that the FY 2013 year turned positive or simply a good month in the middle of a bad year.   Let's pull for the former!

 

CONCLUSION ON JOBS-FROM LAST WEEK

Most metro areas will see employment growth between 1% and 2% with only Columbus slightly higher.  Manufacturing jobs are increasing and expected to grow from the 6000 jobs created in 2012.  Similar increases of 1.4% to 1.5% are seen for the next 18 months in transportation, warehousing and utilities.  Professional and business services outlook is good while education and health will continue solid growth.   

 

 

January 12--  Twelfth District Congressman John Barrow spent his week off from Washington making stops at various locations in the district including a visit to Vidalia Wednesday. 

{mosimage} He stopped by the annual pre-legislative breakfast sponsored by the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce.

Congressman Barrow is one a few Democrats who voted against President Obama's economic package to keep the country from going over the "fiscal cliff."

"Well it made some necessary and appropriate changes to the tax laws.  It took some of the sunset provisions out of some of the Bush tax cuts to make those permanent, but in other places it actually raised rates.  While there a lot of things that needed doing in the fiscal cliff package, it spent a whole lot more money than it raised and that's why I couldn't be a party to it.  It basically kicked the can down the road on the question of cutting spending and that's a necessary part of the cure for what ails the federal government.  It only kicked the spending can down the road for a couple of months and that's just not enough," he said.

Congressman Barrow says he's hearing a lot of frustration from his consitituents because Congress can't get anything done.

"That's the theme I've heard all across the district and I know why.  One of the reasons they're frustrated is they see folks up there who seem more interested in fighting with each other than they are in coming together and working things out," Barrow reports.

The Congressman says redistricting along party lines is partly to blame for the impasse.  He claims the fringes of both parties have influenced congressional district lines to the point that centrist politicians find it hard to get elected and take their more moderate views to Washington.

"That's the glaring omission in Congress. We have lots of people who represent the extremes on both sides, but not nearly enough people who represent the moderate majority in this country, the centrists, the folks who want us to practice the politics of cooperation and compromise," he said.

Congressman Barrow campaigned with the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and says he doesn't think the House of Representatives will go along with President Obama's stated aim to limit gun ownership.

"The Constitution is very clear.  It confers a personal right to keep and bear arms and the Supreme Court has decided that is the way the Constitution has to be interpreted.  We have a lot of friends of the Second Amendment in the House and nothing can be enacted into law that doesn't go through the U.S. House of Representatives.  Between the House, members like me who support the Second Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court, I don't think we have to worry about anything happening anytime soon that will infringe on anyone's Second Amendment rights," Barrow said.

The Congressman is also doubtful about the legality of President Obama using Executive Orders to go around Congress even though some believe there are statutes in place regarding homeland security and even health and human services which could provide a basis for such orders.

"Executive orders can only be issued to implement authority conferred by statute upon the Office of the President, so if there's not a statute to back it up, an Executive Order is not worth the paper it's written on," he believes. 

January 11-- For farmers, the decision to start exporting their products can be daunting or even down right confusing.

UGA’s 2013 Farm to Port Ag Forecast economic outlook series will feature local producers and business people who will share how they broke into the exportmarket and the benefits they’ve seen since making the leap.

 Jon Schwalls, director of operations for Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetables in Norman Park, will speak about he global fruit and vegetable market at the Feb. 1 Ag Forecast in Lyons.

Southern Valley Fruit and Vegetable produces cucumbers, peppers, squash, watermelons, green beans and other vegetables. In addition to their 3,000-acre farm in Georgia, Southern Valley operates a 1,500-acre farm in Mexico so that they can provide vegetables to their customers year-round.

 “As we continue to move toward a global economy, there are new opportunity overseas and across our boarders that can provide a positive economic impact on Georgia’s farmers,” said Kent Wolfe, executive director of the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, which is helping to organize the 2013 Ag Forecast. “However, being aware of these opportunities and the issuesassociated with accessing foreign markets can be an overwhelming task.

 “Hopefully, our local speakers will be able to share some insight and their experience in exporting Georgia products hopefully paving the way for others to take advantage of existing and emerging foreign markets.”

UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences coordinates the seminars in conjunction with Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Department of Agriculture. The Ag Forecast seminars were made possible through an endowment funded by Georgia Farm Bureau. This is the seventh year the program has been offered.

This is the first time UGA has offered an Ag Forecast session in Lyons. The program at the Toombs County Agri-Center will run from 10 a.m. until noon, with lunch following.

The two-hour program brings together agricultural economists and economic development experts from around the state to give producers and business owners a preview of what they can expect from the market in the coming year.

Georgia Department of Economic Development Director of International Trade Kathe Falls will deliver the keynote, and Schwalls will address the specific challenges and benefits of exporting from their region of Georgia.

Registration is now open and information about the 2013 Ag Forecast is posted at georgiaagforecast.com and on Twitter through @GaAgForecast. For more information, contact your local UGA Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-275-8421.

The seminar series will also be held in Athens on Jan. 25, Rome on Jan. 28, Macon on Jan. 29, Tifton on Jan. 30 and in Bainbridge in Jan. 31. Those Ag Forecast sessions will have different local speakers.

January 11-- The former president and six other officers of First National Bank of Savannah were indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of defrauding First National Bank and other banks out of millions of dollars.  The long-running scheme allegedly contributed to the failure of First National Bank in 2010, which will cost the FDIC deposit-insurance fund over $90 million.

            The 35-count indictment, returned today in federal court in Savannah, charges the following former officers of First National Bank:

 

                        *          Heys Edward McMath III, 58, who served as the President and CEO of the bank.  McMath is charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, misapplication of bank funds and false statements to influence a bank.

                        *          Stephen Michael Little, 65, who served as the Executive Vice President and CFO of the bank.  Little is charged with conspiracy and bank fraud.

                        *          Robert Wilson Dailey, 51, who served as the City President and Senior Lending Officer of the bank.  Dailey is charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, and false entries made in bank records.

                        *          Jay Patrick Gardner, 62, who served as a Vice President and the Chief Credit Officer of the bank.  Gardner is charged with conspiracy and bank fraud.

                        *          Isaac Jefferson Mulling, 53, who served as a Senior Vice President and commercial loan officer of the bank.  Mulling is charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, false statements to influence a bank, and false entries made in bank records. 

                        *          Alan Robert Fleming, 36, who served as the City President of the Tybee Island branch and a commercial loan officer of the bank.  Fleming is charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, misapplication of bank funds, false statements to influence a bank, and false entries made in bank records.

                        *          Jeffrey Allen Farrell, 44, who served as the City President of the Richmond Hill branch and a commercial loan officer of the bank.  Farrell is charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, false statements to influence a bank, and false entries made in bank records.

            United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver said, “The State of Georgia leads the nation in bank failures, with 84 banks failing since 2008, including First National Bank.  As the nation still recovers from a banking crisis of epic proportions, citizens should know this: no matter the complexity of the scheme, bank officers who place FDIC-funds at risk through fraud and other criminal conduct will be brought to justice.”

             According to the allegations in the indictment, as First National Bank’s financial condition began to deteriorate, the Defendants schemed to hide from the bank, members of the bank’s Board of Directors and from federal regulators millions of dollars in non-performing loans.  The Defendants accomplished the scheme by unlawfully loaning money to unqualified nominees to make interest and other payments on other non-performing loans; enticing others to take over non-performing loans with hidden promises, side deals and other terms unfavorable to First National Bank; and recruiting other banks to fund non-performing loans based upon fraudulent misrepresentations about the quality of the loans.  To assist in their scheme, the Defendants falsified and fabricated numerous bank documents and records.

            This case is the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve Office of Inspector General; the FDIC Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Secret Service; and the United States Attorney’s Office.  First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham and Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Solari are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

           

January 10-- Three new members of the Toombs County school board took their oaths of office Thursday night at the school board's first meeting of the new year.

{mosimage}Trent Akins representing District 2, Toni Wilkes from District 6 and Michael Grimes from District 4 were sworn in by Toombs County Probate Judge Larry Threlkeld.  They replace three former board members who had 50 years combined experience on the school board.

After reviewing the system's financial report, School Superintendent Dr. Kim Corley noted expected increases in health insurance cost and alerted the board that an increase to the school property rate may have to be considered to pay for budgets in the future.

She also briefed the board on the projected timeline for building of the new Toombs County High School.  Dr. Corley said construction could start as early as this July and be completed by May, 2015.

The school board elected District 1 board member Russ Benton to serve as the board vice-chairman and voted to keep the school board meetings this year the same as in the past, the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. 

It also voted to award a $16,400 contract to Bridgecom for the purchase and installation of 32 digital security cameras at Toombs County High School.

 

January 10--  The most recent school construction project in the Vidalia City School System is complete.

At its first meeting of the new year, the Vidalia school board got a summary of the project from architect Mike Parker and learned that it came in under budget and on time.

The project included renovation of J.D. Dickerson Primary School and construction of a field house at J.R. Trippe Middle School.  Parker told the board much of the project's success was due to cooperation and communication between the project manager, McDonald Construction Company, and the school officials.

"Jeffery Williamson, the on-site superintendent, did an excellent job communicating with the administration and teachers so they could continue teacning while he was doing his construction.  They did a good job of working the schedule and coming in under budget," Parker said.

Parker says the renovation saved the school system millions of dollars.

"In this case, had we built a new school, we would have been in the $10 to $12 million dollar range whereas we renovated Dickerson and built the field house at Trippe for less than $6 million," he noted.

Parker also said 70 percent of the work was done by local contractors and suppliers.

The project is being financed by sales tax revenue and is expected to be paid off in April.  In the meantime, the school board is taking out a tax anticipation loan of up to $800,000 to cover interim payments.

In other business, School Superintedent Dr. Garrett Wilcox reported on a school security meeting Monday with law enforcement and emergency responders.   He said it was a good first step and that future meetings are planned to coordinate emergency reaction plans at schools in Vidalia.  

Tim Truxel, the new school board chairman, presided at the meeting.

January 9-- Gov. Nathan Deal announced today that Georgia’s net tax collections for December totaled $1.69 billion for an increase of $150.75 million, or 9.8 percent, compared to December 2011. As of the midway point of the fiscal year, net revenue collections are up $400 million, or 4.9 percent, compared to last fiscal year.

The following sections summarize net revenue changes within major tax categories during the month:
 
Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections in December totaled $945.25 million — up from $845.75 million in December 2011 — for an increase of $99.5 million, or 11.8 percent.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax account for the increase: 
•      Individual Withholding payments were up $97 million, or 13.1 percent
•      Individual Income Tax refunds (net of voided checks) were up $15.75 million, or 102.9 percent 
•      All other Income Tax categories, including Estimated payments, combined for an increase of $18.25 million

Sales and Use Tax: Net Sales and Use Tax collections for December totaled $440.75 million — up from $402 million in December 2011 — for an increase of $38.75 million, or 9.6 percent. Both gross sales tax collections, which improved $31 million, or 3.9 percent, compared to last year, and the distribution to local governments, totaling nearly $373 million, increased over December 2011. In addition, sales tax refunds declined by $20.25 million, which helped contribute to the year-over-year improvement in net tax collections relative to December 2011.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections for December increased $10.25 million, or 8.2 percent, compared to last year’s total of $125.25 million. Even though net corporate refunds were up as well, gross corporate revenue growth relative to last year far exceeded the impact of refunds during the month.

The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the increase:
•      Corporate Tax Estimated payments were up $52.25 million, or 56.2 percent

•      Corporate Tax refunds (net of voided checks) were up $14 million, or 109.4 percent

•      All other Corporate Tax categories (including S-Corp) combined for a decrease of $28 million

January 9--  The Georgia Department of Labor announced today that some recipients of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) in Georgia will lose extended unemployment benefits after Saturday, Jan. 12. EUC was established in 2008 to aid the long-term unemployed.

Georgia will “trigger off” EUC’s Tier 4 unemployment insurance program during the week ending Jan. 12 because the state’s jobless rate has declined in the last three months, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Georgia’s jobless rate was 9.0 percent in September, but declined to 8.7 percent in October and 8.5 percent in November.  

Federal law mandates that a state in which EUC is provided must have a three-month seasonally adjusted unemployment average of 9.0 percent to remain “on” in Tier 4. The last three months dropped Georgia’s three-month average below 9.0 percent.

As a result of “triggering off,” the week ending Jan. 12 will be the last week EUC claimants can exhaust Tier 3 benefits and establish Tier 4 eligibility. However, under provisions of the phase-out, claimants who establish Tier 4 by Jan. 13 will be eligible to receive the remainder of Tier 4 either until benefits exhaust or the EUC program ends on Dec. 28, 2013.

For additional information, visit the GDOL website at www.dol.state.ga.us.

January 9--  The Toombs County Commission wants to turn a new leaf with the county's municipalities.

Three of the five commissioners are newly elected and joined two incumbents Tuesday night in voting not to appeal a recent court decision which rejected the county's position of the distribution of Local Option Sales Tax revenue.

{mosimage}New Chairman Blake Tillery said he hopes the vote will send a signal to the cities that Toombs County wants to be a partner in the future.

"I appreciate your votes on this matter.  I think it's a good decision and works well for our county and says a lot for the new commissioners and the old commissioners to put this behind us and to help us work with the cities.  There are a lot of efficiencies if we can work together and I hope this is the first step in that direction," Tillery said.

{mosimage}

Before the meeting, Toombs Probate Judge Larry Threlkeld conducted a ceremonial swearing-in for the newly elected commissioners (L-R) Darriel Nobles, Wendell Dixon and Blake Tillery.

Tillery appointed Commissioner Jeff McCormick as vice-chairman and named standing committees to include McCormick and Roy Lee Williams on Roads and Bridges, Darriel Nobles and Wendell Dixon on the County Landfill, Nobles and Williams to Recreation and Dixon and McCormick to Public Safety.

The commission agreed to seek a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant this year on behalf of the Mercy Medical Clinic assuming the Meadows Hospital board can provide property for the clinic.  Mercy Exexcutive Director Nancy Stanley says the old hospital property on Meadows Lane is being considered.

County manager John Jones reported the county ended the year with nearly $5.5 million in the general fund and certificates of deposit, almost $470,000 in the 911 account, nearly $144,000 in the jail fund, more than $2 million in SPLOST funds, about $2.1 million in the landfill account and CD's and just over $600,000 in the EMS fund.  Jones also said EMS had its busiest month ever in December with 551 calls.

He also reported sales tax collections in the county last year were about 7% more than in 2011 and amounted to just over $2 million.

January 8--  The Montgomery County school board held a called meeting Monday night and elected new leaders.

Dr. Jim Paul Poole was elected board chairman and Henry Price who is returning to the board was named vice-chairman.

The Montgomery County school board has changed the day of its regular monthly meeting.  Meetings are now held the third Monday of the month at six p.m. during Eastern Standard Time and at seven p.m. during Daylight Savings Time.

January 8--  Tombs County High School teacher Matt Jones discusses the article posted below.  

Click here to hear Matt Jones

Lawmakers ignore their moral and constitutional duty to support public education

{mosimage}Here is an essay by Matt Jones, president of EmpowerED Georgia, a statewide education advocacy organization of students, citizens, parents and educators. He has taught world geography, civics, and English literature. He now teaches Engineering Technology at Toombs County High School in Lyons and is the Toombs County Teacher of the Year.

By Matt Jones

In a recent speech to the Marietta Council of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said that due to a $300 million shortfall in Medicaid, this upcoming session of the General Assembly would be “another year where you’re going to see budget cuts as opposed to adds.”

This means, unfortunately, that it is likely to be another year — the tenth consecutive — in which funding for Georgia’s public schools is less in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars than it was in FY 2002.

While most members of the General Assembly claim to support public education — and may actually believe that they do — the statistical evidence does not indicate even lukewarm support. In fact, the overall record of the Georgia General Assembly during the past decade indicates a greater willingness among many legislators to support alternatives to public schools than to support local public schools.

In the last decade, the actual per-student spending by the state has decreased by 25 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars—a total of $6.6 billion. The result: Two-thirds (121 out of 180) of Georgia school districts have had to shorten their school year and the number of classroom teachers has decreased by more than 4,000 while the number of students has grown by 37,000.

Most veteran members of the General Assembly claim that the recession beginning in 2008 left them with no choice except to cut public school spending, but that does not explain why K-12 programs have been reduced virtually every year since 2002. Nor does it explain how, under these dire budgetary restrictions, the General Assembly has miraculously been able to find funding for a private school tuition program and a new system of state charter schools.

If you ask your state representative or state senator whether he or she supports public education, it is almost a certainty that he or she will argue strongly in the affirmative and go on at length about the value of public education to our state.

Give public officials the opportunity to participate in a major school event where voters are present — or welcome local teachers and students to the state capitol—and they will generally fall all over themselves to smile, shake hands and praise the wonderful educators and students in their local schools.

The time has arrived when legislators must be held accountable for their votes on education issues and not be allowed to show support for public schools simply by posing for photos with school children and attending an occasional school event in their hometowns. No longer should legislators be allowed to give speeches at evening school meetings praising public education while voting during the day to cut public school budgets — especially when they are also voting to increase spending on alternatives to public schools.

It is certainly possible that most of our state legislators do value public education, but the day of truth has arrived. Given what Speaker Ralston recently said — that this is to be a year of budget cuts rather than increases — any legislator who votes to increase funding for programs such as Georgia’s private school tuition tax credits cannot claim to be a supporter of public education.

In past years, legislators who supported programs such as tuition tax credits, have claimed that the amount of money involved —$50 million— is just a drop in the bucket compared to the amount the state allocates for public schools, and therefore should not be viewed as a vote against public education. That excuse can no longer be accepted for two reasons.

1. Supporters of the program will continue to push for increased funding. (A bill will be introduced this session to double the tax credits allowed from $50 million to $100 million.)

2. The effects of more than a decade of reductions in state support for public schools have left many school systems in such dire financial conditions that a share of $100 million, or even $50 million, could make a major difference in their education programs. For example, in some south Georgia school systems, less than $1 million in additional funding could allow their schools to open for a full 180 days instead of the current abbreviated schedules.

This year’s session of the General Assembly will be a crucial one for public education and it will be a defining one for our legislators. With little or no additional revenue available for FY 2014, legislators have a clear choice. They can support efforts to provide additional funding for private school tax credits and other alternatives to public schools, or they can allocate that same amount of money to help rural public schools provide students with a full 180-day school year.

Any legislator who votes to provide state funds for private schools over public schools not only abandons their constitutional duty, but also their moral duty to provide the resources needed for every child to have a quality public education.

That is why in the upcoming session, EmpowerED Georgia will monitor how every legislator votes on every issue affecting public schools and let the public know which legislators support public schools in their actions as well as their words.

January 7--  Kids who go to school have seen or been victims of bullies, however, it has taken a different tone in recent years.

"The responses and reactions of young people have escalated.  Back in the day, kids fought and got upset and then they'd go play ball together.  In the last 20 years, we've had kids who, in response, bring a knife or gun to school.  The responses have escalated and we're concerned that the words are not just words anymore and the reaction to them is causing us great concern," according to Mark Brown, a former employee of Reader's Digest, who has made it his mission the last 16 years to help kids cope with bullies.

Brown spoke to students at Robert Toombs Christian Academy and said often the bullies themselves are crying out for help.

"Some have been bullied so much they become what they despise.  It is a way to fight back against those who have hurt them in the past and to get respect from their peers," he said.

Brown advises students to avoid being targets and to seek help from adults.

"Some young people walk around with head down and shoulders drooped and become a prime target.  If they can learn how to carry themselves more confidently and build their self-esteem, that 's one way to become stronger. I think above all young people should not be afraid to talk with an adult they can trust," he says.

"A favorite teacher, a coach, a band or chorus director.  Every child needs an adult ally.  That cool teacher they can call on without being concerned that they will criticize or make them feel even more a victim.  When you think about it, why surrender control of your life to a teenager when you have adults in your life who want to help you," he advises.

Brown has addressed more than 1.5 million students in his career and says postive feedback he recieves from his audiences in the form of letters and emails makes him know he is making a difference.  

January 4--  The New year brings a new one penny sales tax to shoppers in the 17-county Heart of Georgia-Altamaha region.  Last summer voters in the area agreed to pay a penny more in sales tax to finance regional and local road improvements.

If you've been shopping in the area, you may have already noticed the increase.  However, Vidalia Finance Director Bill Bedingfield says he doesn't think the state has been proactive enough getting the word to local merchants.

"Much to my dismay, the state hasn't notified a lot of the merchants.  We've had a lot of them calling us and I've gone to the Department of Revenue website.  Merchants can do that and print off a list telling them the law and telling them to start collecting the extra one percent.  I've printed off a copy and they can call City Hall and we'll try to help them with it," Bedinfield says.

"Actually there's a separate line for this TSPLOST so there will be some additional reporting requirements for merchants," he adds.

State officials estimate the regional sales tax will fund $350 million in road projects over the next ten years.  The project list includes 753 local projects and 11 regional projects.

Bedingfield says he expects the first distribution of funds will start in about 90 days.

"We'll see our first check in March from the TSPLOST.  That's when the first projects should start to move forward.  Obviously, we've got to collect some funds ahead before we start these projects so it will be some months after that before they actually start," he notes.

Todd Long, the Deputy Commissioner with the Georgia Department of Transportation, says many of the local projects don't require a lot of engineering and should be ready to go once adequate funds are accumulated.  It's going to be a steady stream over a ten-year period," he reports. 

January 3--  Thirteen newly elected and re-elected Montgomery County officials took their oaths of office Monday at the county courthouse in Mount Vernon.

{mosimage} 

L-R: Tim Williamson - Commissioner, Joe Strickland - Coroner, John Carpenter - Commissioner, Clarence Thomas - Commissioner, Vernon Sumner - Commissioner, Ladson O'Conner - Sheriff, Frank Brantley - Commissioner, Eugene "Pete" Ward - BOE, Henry Price - BOE, Terry Outler - BOE, Loretta Lane - Tax Commissioner, Rubie Nell Sanders - Probate Judge, Keith Hamilton - Clerk of Superior Court

 

 

January 3--  On Monday, January 7, 2013, U.S. Congressman John Barrow (GA-12) will kick off his annual Rural Listening Tour of the 12th Congressional District. Congressman Barrow will visit 16 counties during the four-day tour: Columbia, Burke, Screven, Jenkins, Candler, Emanuel, Treutlen, Wheeler, Laurens, Toombs, Appling, Jeff Davis, Coffee, Tattnall, Evans, and Bulloch Counties.

"This annual tour is an opportunity to visit with folks where they live, because I don't think you should have to drive a long distance to meet with your Congressman. More importantly, this will be my first chance to meet with folks who are new to the 12th District as their representative," said Congressman Barrow. "There's a lot we can all do to help each other, but in order to do my part I need to be as accessible to the people I represent as possible. I encourage folks to come out to meet with us, and I look forward to beginning the next Congress with a tour of our district."

The 2013 Rural Listening Tour will visit the following locations, and the public is invited to attend:

Monday, January 7, 2013

8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.
Columbia County
Appling Justice Center
1958 Appling Harlem Road
Appling, GA 30802

10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Burke County
Chandler Farms
6765 Highway 24 South
Sardis, GA 30456

2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Jenkins County
Jenkins Ag Center
434 Barney St
Millen, GA

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
Candler County
Hendrix Produce
Highway 129 South
Metter, GA

10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Emanuel County
Swainsboro Farm Bureau
320 Lambs Bridge Road
Swainsboro , GA

12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
Treutlan County
Location TBD

2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Wheeler County
County Extension Office
Community Service Center
16 West Forest Avenue
Alamo, GA

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Laurens County
Morris Bank Training Center
310 Academy Avenue
Dublin, GA

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
Toombs County
Vidalia Onion Research Center
8163 Highway 178
Lyons GA

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Appling County
Cooperative Extension Building
83 South Oak Street
Baxley, GA

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Jeff Davis County
Ag Ext. Office
14 Jeff Davis St
Hazlehurst, GA

3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Coffee County
Ag Ext. Office
701 E. Ward St. (Hwy 32)
Douglas, GA

Thursday, January 10, 2013

9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Tattnall County
Farm Bureau office
101 Memorial Drive
Reidsville, GA

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Evans County
Harry's BBQ
7600 Hwy 280
Hagan, GA

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Bulloch County
Bulloch Agriculture Center
151 Langston Chapel Road
Statesboro, GA

January 3--  East Georgia State College in Swainsboro starts the New Year with a new president even though he's not really that new.

{mosimage}Dr. Bob Boehmer was the interim President during most of last year and was appointed as the college's fifth President by the University System Board of Regents in November.  Previously he'd spent 23 years at the University of Georgia after giving up his law practice in Oregon to pursue a career in higher education.

Facing a three percent cut to the college's budget with possibly more to come in 2013, Dr. Boehmer says he and other college president's are searching for private donations.

"We have to live with the reality of declining state dollars and the very real pressure of keeping college affordable for students.  Both of those things mean we need to go to our community and say having an institution of higher learning here is critical to the economic and social health of our community.  Presidents need to spend a high percentage of their time conveying that and asking for private support," Dr. Boemer says.

He also believes East Georgia is more attractive to many students because it's an affordable path to a four-year degree.

"A lot of students come here and spend two years at relatively low cost and then transfer to Georgia Southern, Georgia or Georgia Tech.  For example, our top graduate here last year completed two years here and earned her Associate Degree and then went on to Georgia Tech where's she's very successful," he notes.

Dr. Boehmer says he hopes to lead the college based on the traditions established since it's founding in the 1970's.

"We have an excellent faculty and small classes, higher education with a personal touch, a rapidly growing campus with a larger number of on-campus residents and expanding athletic programs which I expect will continue to grow plus our new Bachelor's Degree in Biology which could lead to more such programs in response to workforce needs," he says.

"We're doing a lot of things to do more with less," he observes. 

 

January 1--  This story reprinted from www.ajc.com website.

Hugh Gillis, Georgia’s longest-serving lawmaker, has died

5:46 pm January 1, 2013, by jgalloway

Former House Democratic leader DuBose Porter sends word that Hugh Gillis, who before his retirement had become the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, has died.

For decades stretching back to the Great Depression, the Gillis family epitomized rural power in Georgia. Hugh Gillis’ father headed up the state’s road-building authority. Hugh Gillis served 56 years in the Legislature – first in the House and then in the Senate. It was a career that began when Democrats, led by Eugene Talmadge, ruled the state, and ended in 2004 after the Republican era spear-headed by Sonny Perdue.

From the entry in the Georgia Encyclopedia, which puts Gillis’ birth in 1918 – which would have made him 94 at his death:

Gillis first served in the House of Representatives from 1941 through 1944, then served eight more years from 1949 to 1956. “When I first came in ‘41, I was right out of college,” he said. “Back then the governor ran most everything and if you didn’t agree with the governor’s program, you were on the outside looking in. I found out right quick that was not the thing to do.” He served a two-year senate term for 1957-58, then was reelected to the senate in 1962—winning a legislative seat he would hold for the next forty-two years.

…Gillis is the only lawmaker who voted on both landmark bills to change the state flag—in 1956, when the Confederate battle emblem was added to the design, and in 2001, when the Confederate version of the flag was replaced by the blue version. He voted both times in favor of the Confederate version of the flag.

Porter said that Gillis’ health had been good until lately. But he confirmed something that former Gov. Zell Miller had mentioned a few months ago – that a bout with shingles had robbed the former Senate president pro tem of his sight.-

By Jim Galloway, Political Insider 

 

January 1--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville discusses the state's economic conditions and the impact on the state budget.

 

FY2014 GENERAL BUDGET ISSUES-PART II

Last week this column started a look at the budget issues and needs facing the Governor and the Legislature when the 2013 Session convenes.  They are considerable.  Part I examined the largest single issue: a $400 million shortfall in the state's Medicaid program.  This is not reflecting any expansion, just meeting current obligations of this entitlement program.  The hospital provider fee is included and if not passed, would increase state funds needed to fill the Medicaid hole by at least $150 million.

 

This week is a discussion of the other budget issues and some sense of where the funds may come from to fill these holes.  If the state was growing at a 6% rate, just revenue growth would meet these budget needs.  Unfortunately, after five months, not only are state revenues not meeting the 013 estimate of 5%, but the current growth rate is only about 3.7% and falls under 3% when the growth of Corporate Income Tax collections, a volatile category, is taken into account.   

 

EDUCATION ENROLLMENT GROWTH, RETIREMENT FUNDS AND SHBP HIGHLIGHT BALANCE OF FY014 ISSUES

 

K-12 EDUCATION

FY14 - Enrollment/Formula Growth: $200 million
K-12 education will require approximately $130 million to cover enrollment growth according to the latest projections.  This is a jump over the $100 million we had come to expect.  Step increases for teachers will probably require between $50 and $60 million in additional funds.  The remainder will go towards complying with the charter school amendment passed in November.  The underlying law required the state to match a certain level of local funds lost to charter schools.

 

HIGHER EDUCATION

FY14 - Formula Growth: $100 million

Technical Schools are not anticipated to need additional funding due to flat enrollment growth in FY14.  But the University System, due to enrollment growth, health insurance costs and maintenance, needs approximately $100 million.

 

This is a tricky area when it comes to the budget.  The University System is seen as an economic development engine for the state and is often a reason that businesses relocate to the state.  The University System did not receive growth funding two years ago but did a year ago. 

 

OTHER AREAS

FY14 Hole - Retirement, Mental Health, SHBP: $200 million  Employee retirement obligations due to increasing number of retirees, a shrinking state work force to contribute to the retirement system and wavering stock market performance will require over $150 million to be added to the budget to beef up retirement funds.  Our continuing settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice in the area of mental health will also require additional funds.

 

HOW TO MEET THE SHORTFALL

According to projections given to bond rating agencies, Georgia is expecting $600 million or 3.5% tax revenue growth in FY14 over FY13.  The remainder of the deficit will have to be covered by agency cuts.

 

We discussed the Medicaid reductions earlier in the column.  The QBE formula and Equalization funds are off the table in terms of cuts to the base.  The majority of funds going to K-12 education go to fund teachers' salaries.  In fact 37% of the entire $19.3 billion state funds budget goes toward teachers' salaries

 

The primary tactic that Georgia will have to cover the remaining deficit is through agency cuts.  The Governor has called for 3% reductions in the FY14 General as well. With the exclusions he outlined, this will only generate approximately $300 million for the general budget.  Medicaid has offered up $100 million in cuts; Higher education, $64 million; Corrections and Public Safety agencies, $52 million and all other state agencies $77 million.