Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
The Savannah Morning News on the threats levied against Delta Airlines by Georgia's lieutenant governor, over ending a fare discount for National Rifle Association members:
Be careful where you point your legislative gun, lieutenant governor.
Casey Cagle may have shot holes in his gubernatorial chances earlier this week by threatening to kill a tax incentive bill that would have benefited Delta Airlines, among others. Cagle, whose job also makes him state senate president, vowed to defeat a jet fuel tax incentive bill in retaliation for Delta ending a fare discount for National Rifle Association members.
Cagle tweeted the following Monday: "I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."
Cagle's defence of the NRA aside, he is contradicting perhaps the biggest conservative tenet of all: To leave private business operating decisions to private businesses.
He'd be well inside the Republican tent if he opposed the jet fuel tax incentive on the basis of it being an unnecessary, taxpayer-supported corporate crutch. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who will run against Cagle for governor in the May primary, took just that approach.
"I oppose the proposed tax break because it puts special interests — not hardworking Georgians - first," Kemp tweeted Tuesday. "Even after spending countless (dollars) on lobbying &campaign contributions, the jet fuel tax exemption remains a raw deal for (Georgia) taxpayers."
Kemp pulled the trigger on his own governorship hopes a few hours later, though. He advocated, again via Twitter, for killing the jet fuel tax break and replacing it with a sales tax holiday targeting . wait for it . firearms sales.
No word yet on whether Cagle or Kemp will claim "Ready . fire . aim" as a campaign slogan. Maybe they can duel, Alexander Hamilton-style, for it.
Such political shortsightedness is staggering. This is pure pandering to a relatively small group of primary voters - many of whom were certain to vote for Cagle or Kemp anyway.
Consider this: the NRA claims 5 million members nationwide. State stats are not available, but using the national percentage as a guide and applying it to Georgia's adult population of 7.8 million, the Peach State's NRA membership is probably around 235,000.
Assuming a significant percentage of those are registered Republicans, the political loose cannons are aiming at approximately 5 per cent of party voters. And neither is differentiating himself from the other.
Meanwhile, they are alienating the much larger conservative constituency that believes in small government and is pro-business when it comes to tax breaks. And in a state with open primaries, Cagle and Kemp are peppering tens of thousands of prospective voters who work for aircraft-related businesses with their rapid-fire stupidity.
Delta alone employs 33,000 in Georgia, making it the largest private employer in the state. The jet fuel tax incentive also impacts local business aircraft manufacturer Gulfstream, which employs more than 10,000 Georgians. Several thousand more voters work at the state's airports, including the world's busiest in Atlanta. The bill is a competitive boost for those airports, the lower taxes allowing them to draw flights away from other airports. And what's good for the airport is good for its employees and those who work for airport concessionaires and other related businesses.
Then there's the post-primary trauma. Should Cagle or Kemp win in May, their tweets will put them in Democrat crosshairs. The NRA is under serious fire for hiding behind the Second Amendment at any suggestion of stricter gun control laws, such as age limits and bump stock bans, and the retort is sure to grow louder in the months ahead.
Granted, a Democrat hasn't held Georgia's top executive spot since Roy Barnes was voted out in favour of Sonny Perdue 15 years ago. But given the public outrage being voiced by all but the most gun-loving conservatives in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, the gun control issue will give the Democratic primary winner a bipartisan platform to blast away from this fall.
The top contenders have already released a few salvos.
"I applaud Delta's decision to listen to feedback from its customers and reject NRA extremism that has prevented common-sense reform for too long. Our obligation is clear: reduce the risk of gun homicide and suicide in Georgia," said Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams.
Added her main primary opponent, Stacey Evans: "Casey Cagle once again confirms he puts ideology ahead of Georgians and Georgia's economy. . Georgia deserves better."
Cagle and Kemp would be wise to walk back their Twitter comments and revisit their stances.
Cagle needs to show leadership in the senate and encourage his fellow Republicans to vote on the jet fuel tax incentive bill on its merits and stop treating it as a hostage awaiting execution. Kemp should bite the bullet, admit his tone-deafness and stop with the firearms sales tax holiday nonsense.
Otherwise voters should make sure neither of these active shooters are in the fight come fall.
The Gainesville Times on public transportation:
Along with North Georgia's steady economic growth comes the quandary of how to keep the influx of people and goods moving efficiently from place to place. With metro Atlanta traffic growing worse by the year, and that gridlock finding its way to the exurbs of Hall County, the clock is ticking on finding answers.
Anyone who has to negotiate Atlanta downtown traffic or similar backups on Ga. 400, Interstate 985, I-85 or other major arteries know the math doesn't add up: Too many vehicles crammed onto too few roads at the same time, leading to a panorama of brake lights, frustration, late arrivals and unproductive time. The Department of Transportation's efforts to improve major highways often seem too little and too late as volume outpaces upgrades.
After years of tinkering around the edges in creating a comprehensive transit plan, Georgia lawmakers seem to finally have a grasp of the problem and are seeking solutions. The House, led by Dawsonville Rep. Kevin Tanner, chairman of the Transit Committee, has proposed an ambitious plan that would create a regional approach across metro Atlanta counties and more co-operation between various transit systems. The Senate has its own version, similar in scope but with differences the two chambers are seeking to work out before the plans come to a full vote.
The proposed transit governing body would be known as the Atlanta-Region Transit Link Authority, or ATL, like the airport code. The new authority will eventually include MARTA as part of a rebranded full-scale regional transit system beyond the few counties it now serves.
Currently, most transit options end at county lines, each municipality with its own systems that don't work with others. Roads and rail lines seldom begin and end in one county; commuters need modes of travel that cross jurisdictions. In one example, a state legislator found it took hours to travel from one metro area to another via different transit systems, a trip that should take half an hour or so as the crow flies. Yet creating a regional authority has been a hard sell in areas accustomed to local autonomy.
The desire to keep local control was one of the reasons the statewide transportation sales tax plan failed in 2012. Voters rejected a 1 per cent special purpose tax in nine of 12 Georgia regions, including all in North Georgia, by big margins. The sticking point for many was that money raised in one county might be spent in another included in that region, meaning folks would pay for roads on which they may never travel.
The House plan seeks to resolve that concern by specifying that money raised in a county be spent there, even if projects include multiple counties. In addition to local sales tax referendums to pay for such needs, funding sources will include a statewide 50-cent fee for all taxis or ride-hailing services and a 1 per cent tax on services at the Atlanta and Savannah airports.
Lawmakers seem to realize a piecemeal approach to solving traffic problems could ultimately drive away major corporations seeking to locate here. It's no coincidence these plans come as Atlanta sits on the short list for attracting a $5 billion headquarters for Amazon and the 50,000 jobs it would bring. A city with effective and multimodal transportation options for people and freight is high on Amazon's wish list for its new home, as it is for any major corporation looking to locate here.
"We cannot continue to grow in this region when we have companies telling us that they will not locate in an area that does not have mobility services offered to their employees," Tanner said.
The plan also is an overdue acknowledgement of metro Atlanta's over-reliance on automobiles to get around. Many younger workers in particular prefer to bypass car ownership for alternative transit, the kind more readily available in other major cities. That's why transit solutions should cover highways, buses and expanded rail service.
In the past, extending MARTA into counties like Cobb and Gwinnett was met with resistance, mostly from those fearing it would bring "undesirable" elements to their suburban enclaves. Read that as you will, but that archaic thinking was based on false concerns, and there finally may be the motivation to move past it.
The proposed regional authority would include all metro counties, Gwinnett and Forsyth being the closest to our area. So what's in it for Hall County and others outside of the Atlanta doughnut?
Surely getting more cars off the road would help all commuters headed down I-85, I-985 and Ga. 400 from our area who face hour-plus drives to reach sites near the city. The bottlenecks on a few major thoroughfares extend miles northward and could be eased by giving more people a way to get off those roads. If rail and bus lines were extended into neighbouring counties, Hall transit could connect to give local commuters another choice. Other options could include park-ride lots at the county line, express buses to key locations such as Athens or the airport, incentives for employers to allow more telecommuting and staggered hours, and use of existing rail lines between cities.
The bigger impact here might be for businesses that want to ensure clear transit paths to Atlanta, the airport and beyond to move goods and people efficiently.
The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization's Policy Committee recently launched its own regional freight study suggesting $1 billion in road improvements over 25 years to keep up with commercial and residential growth. Projects targeted could include bridge upgrades, the Exit 14 interchange off I-985 at Martin Road and the potential widening of I-985. Other efforts would target downtown Gainesville traffic, including the idea to add roundabouts to either end of Green Street.
Like the roads themselves, all these ideas are linked to the common goal of helping people get around better, faster and easier than they do now. Growth comes too quickly to wait, as the plans put in place now won't bear fruit for several years down the road. But taking that initiative now is crucial to getting the ball moving in that direction. We hope the legislature takes that step and works out an effective regional transit plan during this session the governor and voters can approve.
Valdosta Daily Times on making the names of lottery winners public:
The names of lottery winners need to remain out in the open.
State Sen. Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain, has proposed granting anonymity to lottery winners - including those who win massive cash awards.
Even though the Georgia Lottery does not always make the names of big winners public — if the winners request their names not be disclosed — the information can still be obtained through an open records request.
Disclosure is important to keep both the lottery and people who play the lottery honest and above board.
The public has a right to know if one person has won cash awards repeatedly, if one location has sold winning tickets at a higher than expected percentage, if a member of the lottery commission or one of their family members has been a lottery winner and there is also important public interest in the outcomes for people who have won big in the state lottery.
An odd part of Henson's proposal would have required a winner pay the lottery commission up to 4 per cent of the prize to cover any cost associated with maintaining confidentiality. At least the Senate nixed that part of this short-sighted piece of legislation.
Still, state Senate passed the bill that allows the lottery commission to withhold the names of anyone who wins more than $250,000
We urge the House to reject the bill.
More specifically, we encourage our legislative delegation to live up to its commitment to government transparency and vote "no" to the notion of secrecy.
No one makes people play the lottery.
It is a choice and choosing to play a public lottery should come with some public scrutiny.
As Georgia First Amendment Foundation President Richard Griffiths said secrecy opens the door to potential shenanigans.
We understand the argument that large lottery winners sometimes become the victims of crime.
We believe the public's interest in a trustworthy, above-board system outweighs those concerns.
We agree with Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, who told members of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation last week, "It still should be public information. You're getting funds paid out to you by a governmental body."
Georgia's lottery, essentially a tax, funds pre-K education and HOPE college scholarships and grants. The money the public pays into the system, in the form of buying tickets, become the public purse and it should be watched carefully.
We agree with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation that the measure would "set a dangerous precedent," further eroding the state's open records laws.
Willard suggested delaying the release of the names, giving winners time to prepare for the notoriety, or perhaps meet with an attorney or financial planners, before their identity is made public.
We can live with that compromise.