Political Notes: July 2010

Balanced And Fair? One of the methods used by the 2010 legislature to balance the budget was to let sales tax exemptions expire. Nine of the more than 500 sales tax exemptions – totaling more than $500 billion – in the Georgia code were to sunset this year. Only two were renewed: an exemption for contractors working for the U.S. government, such as aircraft manufacturing giant Lockheed-Martin, and an exemption on fuel taxes for mass transit systems.

Sadly, exemptions for community food banks and volunteer health clinics will expire. Is there actually a planet on which that makes sense?

Biofright, Perhaps: Interesting that in a state that has talked the talk of making itself a bioscience leader, Georgia Bio, a research advocacy group, had to cancel a set of debates on science and industry in Georgia, due to apparent lack of interest on the part of Republican and Democratic candidates for governor.

Only five of the 14 declared candidates – Democrats Thurbert Baker, David Poythress and Carl Camon and Republicans Nathan Deal and Otis Putnam – accepted. (Camon later cancelled after being injured in an automobile accident.)

Other candidates cited schedule conflicts. Glad to hear they weren’t simply reluctant to participate in a forum at which they might be asked to state their positions on something like embryonic stem cell research.

Saying Goodbye: Once George Israel announced his retirement as Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, a post he had held since 2002, it didn’t take long for folks to start buzzing about whether he might jump into the State School Superintendent’s race as an Independent or be appointed to fill out the remaining months of Kathy Cox’s second term.

(Cox dropped out of the race and resigned her elected office to take a job with a Washington, D.C.-based education nonprofit.)

But Gov. Sonny Perdue named William Bradley Bryant, a well-regarded state school board member, to the state post.

Still, it’s easy to understand the buzz. Israel, Georgia Trend’s 2006 Georgian of the Year, had a super-successful tenure as head of the state chamber.

Under his leadership, the organization increased its membership and was able to influence passage of business-friendly legislation on issues like tort reform and corporate tax abatement.

Georgia Power President and CEO Mike Garrett, 2009 chamber board chair, says, “There are few people who have dedicated as much time and energy toward the betterment of our state.” Atlanta Gas Light President Suzanne Sitherwood, 2010 board chair, lauds Is-rael’s “experience and political savvy.”

Not Exactly A Shock: Johnny Isakson, Georgia’s junior senator, who is running for re-election this year, and Saxby Chambliss, Georgia’s senior senator, who won a tough re-election bid in 2008, have both been recognized as ACU Conservatives by the American Conservative Union, which rates members of Congress annually. Isakson scored 96 out of a possible 100 for 2009; Chambliss scored 92. Both have upped their conservative profiles considerably since the 2008 ratings, when they had identical scores of 76.

Blast From The Past: It was the summer of 1884 when the Republicans tried to draft early slash-and-burn proponent and most unwelcome Georgia visitor Union General William T. Sherman as a presidential candidate, an overture that prompted him to issue his famous statement: “If nominated I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.” So he wasn’t and he didn’t. He certainly wouldn’t have won many Georgia votes.

Buckle Up, Folks: Finally, Georgia lawmakers were able to pass a law requiring pickup truck drivers to wear seat belts. Some proponents believe the measure will save as many as two dozen lives and as much as $30 million in hospital costs each year. It may also help bring additional federal funds to the state.

Hard to fathom why this was so long in coming. Some opponents tried to turn this into a personal freedom vs. government interference issue, but it’s actually common sense prevailing. State Sen. Don Thomas (R-Dalton), a physician who is leaving office at the end of his term, was the driving force behind this legislation.

Seniors, Yes; Hospitals, No: Georgia’s retirees were the big winners in a piece of legislation that has been signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue. The law eliminates retirement state income taxes on middle- and high-income seniors. It also levies a new tax on hospitals, many of which are already struggling. Looks like it’s better to get old than sick in Georgia.

Arrivals and Departures: Heidi Green is the new Department of Economic Development commissioner, replacing Ken Stewart. Green was deputy commissioner for global commerce. Stewart will become senior advisor on industry strategy at Georgia Tech in mid-July.

Trey Childress, director of the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, takes over as Georgia’s COO; Jim Lientz is stepping down.

Categories: Political Notes