The 2009 legislative session will go down as one of missed opportunities, lack of leadership and failure to deal with the real problems that affect every life in our State. Correcting the systemic budget problems and effects of the recession on the state budget and proper funding for transportation met a dismal ending. What the good people of Georgia got was a state budget patched like a quilt with more tax shifts to local property owners, no Homeowner Tax Relief Grants, 1.2 Billion more bonded debt, Federal stimulus converted to bailout funds, cuts to public safety and the list goes on and on
As in all sessions there were some positive and negative laws passed. I will report on these in the coming weeks thanks to our local newspapers, for you to become informed.
2009 will be remembered as the session when the legislative leadership failed to effectively deal with Georgia’s budget problems. Despite a shortfall of $3 billion in state revenues because of bad spending policies of the past six years and the economic downturn, the leadership was unwilling to seize the opportunity to implement zero-based budgeting. Instead, they used a Band-Aid in the form of federal stimulus/bailout money to heal a gunshot wound caused by years of excessive spending, bonded debt and school tax shifts to local property owners.
The state’s disastrous budget policies are nothing new. But at least more rank-and-file legislators are starting to take notice. More than 40 of my House of Representatives colleagues joined me this year in voting against the budget, but it was not enough to cut into the fiscal irresponsible culture developed during the past seven years.
Because this budget fails to fund the Homeowner Tax Relief Grants, Georgians will suffer a $400 million-plus property tax increase, the largest in history. The elimination of these grants will cause an estimated $200 to $300 increase for the average Georgia homeowner on the property tax bills sent out by local governments later this year.
Immediately after final adjournment, the Department of Revenue announced a 14.5 percent decrease in March proceeds from the same month last year. This is another $167 million addition to the state deficit. If this trend continues, the General Assembly could very well be called back into session later this year to rewrite the budget
2009 will be remembered as the session when the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker gained more political power but failed to deliver a solution to Georgia’s transportation problems. SB 200 creates a new position of Director of Planning at the Department of Transportation, who is appointed by the Governor and responsible only to the Governor. This planning Czar operates outside the control of the DOT Board and Commissioner. This appointed person is charged with developing a long term plan for DOT projects which is submitted by the Governor to the General Assembly for approval. But DOT board members, Senators and House members, who have a say in what projects are funded now, would have their voices limited under the bill. Members of the General Assembly currently elect DOT board members from the state's 13 congressional districts. This plan was adopted in 1966 to stop the political corruption of ‘road politics’ and political power being controlled from the Governors office.
Top Senate and House leaders and the Governor will now have greater power over the DOT appropriations process than they have since the 1950s. As the old saying goes, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
For the second year in a row, however, the legislative leadership failed to agree on a method to allow voters to decide on a proposed transportation funding solution. Georgia is at least 10 years behind on dealing with Atlanta traffic as well as developmental highway systems in rural areas. Despite this issue being a top priority coming into the 2009 session, the Senate rejected a House proposal a for a statewide sales tax referendum for transportation. Likewise, the House gave thumbs-down to the Senate’s regional sales tax plan.
2009 will be remembered as the session when Georgia taxpayers and utility rate payers had to foot the bill for misplaced priorities and fiscal irresponsibility. If shifting more of the school tax burden to local property owners and ending the homeowner relief grants was not enough, the legislative majority found it necessary to allow Georgia Power to raise its customers’ rates to finance the construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, six years ahead of when they are scheduled to be up and running. The expansion is expected to cost $14 billion. I question the philosophy of paying for services not yet received to build plants that may not get built.
This action is of special concern to those of us who live in the Lake Hartwell area, because company officials have acknowledged this power plant expansion could actually double the consumption of water flow from the Savannah River, threatening Lake Hartwell’s water levels for years to come.
I like Powell. He is a democrat who's going to tell it like it is. Unlike some other dems who just roll over for the GOP & go along with them, Powell is the type who is going to fight for the little guy & is going to fight what he believes is right. Powell who is 58 needs to take that kind of attitude & run for statewide office or for congress. One of the few bright spots demcorats have in Georgia.