Houston & Peach

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: All’s not quiet at the Capitol

Rest easy, everybody: The Georgia General Assembly will be back in session in less than three months.

Right now, things seem quiet. But rest assured, policy is taking shape behind the scenes.

“This is sort of our talking-to-the-caucus phase,” said state Rep. Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican and co-chairman of the Republican caucus’ off-session policy development committee.

In another few weeks, the House leadership’s priorities should come into focus for the session, Lindsey said. But several elements will obviously be important: Where Atlanta can get more water, how to find new funding for transportation and how to balance the budget once again in the face of struggling state revenue streams.

Lindsey said the details of a transportation funding plan, which has divided House and Senate Republicans for two years now, are still being worked on. But he said he thinks “there is a commitment to move forward with a united transportation bill.”

Last month, the details of what that might look like emerged, with the two sides talking about splitting the difference between a House plan for a statewide vote to approve a new penny tax and the Senate plan allowing counties to partner and pass their own regional penny taxes.

Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson and other House leaders insisted last session on having a coordinated statewide plan. But several more months of a bad economy may have changed their tune. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for a statewide sales tax right now, because things have gotten so bad. ...” said state Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican who has been loyal to Richardson on major issues. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see (a transportation bill) come out early and get done.”

“Let’s let the metro area address (its transportation problems),” Peake said. “And if the Middle Georgia (counties) want to join together ... hey, let’s do a T-SPLOST so we can raise some money.”

Jobs creation is likely to be another big legislative issue this year, with the Republican majorities in both houses looking to pass tax credits and regulatory changes to boost economic development. Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed several of those measures earlier this year, and Lindsey and Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, both said similar measures will be priorities again.

Rogers said legislators will work with the governor “because we don’t want another bill vetoed.” He said some measures from last session will likely be part of the new effort, but “we’re not wedded to those.” He also said legislators have been looking at what other states are doing to boost jobs creation.

The idea is to ease tax and regulatory burdens so businesses can create jobs, he said.

Lindsey also said property tax reform will probably come back again, though not the complete phase out Richardson pushed two years ago with his GREAT Plan. There is still talk, though, of “how to make the property tax system fairer” and the possibility of giving school systems more flexibility to raise and spend sales tax money, Lindsey said.

Lindsey said he expects House Resolution 1, last session’s constitutional effort to cap property tax assessment increases, to come back up this year as well.

A separate effort to do away with annual ad valorem taxes on automobiles will also come back up. The House passed its version last session, and the Senate will be “looking very seriously at that” and may pass a version with some changes, Rogers said.

Meanwhile, the heavy lifting on the state budget begins this month, with departments making their budget proposals to the governor later this month, Perdue’s communications director Bert Brantley said.

BIBB DEADBEATS?

Rare is the week when the Bibb-Monroe county border dispute doesn’t get more odd.

Take this week’s transcript of a deposition that wasn’t. Surveyor Terry Scarborough skipped the meeting, excused in effect by a Monroe County motion that questioned whether the deposition should be held. But Monroe and Bibb attorneys were there — and Monroe County added to its arguments that in effect defend Scarborough.

A Monroe County attorney, Carolyn Burch, said such a deposition isn’t even authorized by state law. Then she argued Bibb County can’t hold its $173,000 payment to Scarborough until the deposition is complete, which has been Bibb’s plan as it fights Scarborough’s decision that parts of north Bibb are actually in Monroe County.

“I think (the money) is currently due,” Burch said. “Monroe County has therefore paid its portion and thinks that Bibb County’s portion is also currently due.”

A Bibb County attorney, Marc Treadwell, said the depositions were modeled on proposals created by Scarborough’s own attorneys. He’s now on his third set of legal representatives.

Last week’s deposition was to have been Scarborough’s third. Asked if he were willing to risk a contempt of court charge or jail time for not arriving, he told The Telegraph in an e-mail, “I must be in violation of the law for that to occur. ... I do not believe Monroe is ‘backing’ me in any way. I believe that, if anything, Monroe is forcing attention to the LAW which is what I have been doing all along.“

The only thing seemingly missing from the border dispute — which involves more than a century of history, $1.3 million in taxes and 400 parcels — are the appearance of extraterrestrials in the disputed zone. Will crop circles appear soon?

END OF AN ERA

An annual meeting for a regional planning agency was, in a sense, the last.

Thursday’s gathering at Lake Tobesofkee marked the official end of the Middle Georgia Regional Development Center — and the beginning of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission. The new-old agency still has the same member counties and the same mission, but brings a new logo, Web site and council members. A new state law lets the commission also directly serve the public on behalf of local governments.

Executive Director Ralph Nix circulated through a crowd of dozens still clad in an old denim RDC shirt, quipping that it’s something he only gets to wear once a year.

On the sidelines, a group of Macon and Bibb County stalwarts were comparing notes on service. They were Larry Justice, with 28 years on the county commission; Joe Allen, with 20 years on the county commission; and David Carter, bringing up the light end with 18 years on the city council.

Carter — who also served in the Korean War and oversaw thousands of Junior ROTC students here in Macon — declined a suggestion that he return to serve more time in the political realm.

THREE DOZEN CANDIDATES CONFIRMED FOR ANNUAL HOBNOB

Nearly three dozen political candidates for offices across the state have confirmed their attendance at the second annual Cox Communications Middle Georgia Regional Political HobNob.

This year’s event, from 5-8 p.m. Oct. 29, will be held in the newly renovated Conference Center at The Galleria in Centerville. The function’s purpose is to give the community a chance to meet with candidates and ask any questions they have at that time. According to the Warner Robins Chamber of Commerce, all candidates from the 2009 local and 2010 statewide elections have been invited to participate in the event.

So far, gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, state Sen. Robert Brown, Attorney General candidates Sam Olens and Rob Teilhet and others have said they plan to attend the HobNob. Also expected to be on hand are the mayoral candidates from Centerville, Perry and Warner Robins, as well as various city council candidates from the three cities.

TELEGRAPH PLANS FORUMS

The Telegraph will host candidate forums in Perry and Warner Robins over the next two weeks.

The Perry political forum will be held from 6-8 p.m. Monday at the Houston County Board of Education offices. Monday’s forum is a joint venture between The Telegraph and the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Warner Robins forum, in cooperation with the Warner Robins Area Chamber of Commerce, will be held from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 27 at Oak Hall on Macon State College’s Warner Robins campus.

Telegraph staff writers Travis Fain, Mike Stucka and Marlon A. Walker contributed to this report.

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